At one time Ottawa Center consisted of two general stores, a boarding house, saloon, wagon shop, blacksmith shop, a steam sawmill, a riverboat landing and a boat yard.
H.B. Jennings owned the sawmill there, with a partner named Smith. The business contributed greatly to the commerce of the settlement and many in the area ordered product from Jennings, which was transported by waterway.
But the largest order Jennings himself ever placed was highly unusual and actually went into the waterway.
According to an account written by Jennings, in June 1876, he received a shipment of 10,000 “fry” eels, of which approximately 3,000 were planted into Jubb’s Bayou, by the Crockery Bridge.
“I wrote to one of Michigan’s fish hatcheries for ten thousand eels,” Jennings wrote in a 1906 article recounting the event. “And one day in June I received a message to watch out for them as they were shipped from Cohoes Falls (Waterford, N.Y.), where they were caught with dip nets.”
The eels were purchased from Michigan’s first State Fish Hatchery under the direction of George H. Jerome, serving as Michigan’s first Fishery Superintendent. In 1874, Jerome experimented with Michigan’s first introduction of eels, shad and Atlantic and Chinook salmon.
Jennings’ life-long friend, Orin A. Jubb, was on hand with horse and rig to assist with dispersing the slippery little serpents. On a June evening, the two hauled their cargo of eels to the Crockery Bridge.
“I planted about three thousand at the Crockery Bridge on the Grand River, which was Jubb’s Bayou,” Jennings wrote. “There I procured a boat, took my young snake-lets, and with tender care, planted them in their western home in one of the finest bayous on the Grand River.”
Jennings was living in Cadillac, Mich., when he wrote this recollection.
He noted that he never had the opportunity to fish for the eels, as he had departed Crockery Township soon after planting them.
“I did not remain there long enough to have the pleasure of landing one of my black beauties,” Jennings wrote, “but have been told by those who caught some that the bayous in that vicinity were alive with eels.”
Apparently, most of the fingerling eels were eaten by fish in the bayous and river, and those that did mature did not flourish for very long.
By the end of the 1800s, a report of an angler catching an eel in Jubb's Bayou was rare.
Jennings never wrote as to what he did with the remaining 7,000 eels, but it is likely he planted those in other area waterways.
When the Jennings and Smith sawmill departed the settlement of Ottawa Center, the town began to disappear. By 1903, there was only one store left.
Today, lamprey eels have made headlines as an invasive species inhabiting Lake Michigan causing great concern. However, in 1876, someone could dump 3,000 eels into an area Bayou and no one gave it a second thought.