Burt Lake named after Michigan Baptist pioneer

TitleBurt Lake named after Michigan Baptist pioneer
Publication TypeMiscellaneous
Year of Publication1961
AuthorsVoss EG

Most of our readers are probably familiar with scenic Burt Lake, the third largest inland lake in Michigan, visible not only from the local roads and resorts on its shores, but also from the state park and picnic area near the junction of highways U.S. 27 and M 68 at its south end, and from the new portion of Interstate Route 75 between Indian River and Mackinaw City. Burt Lake and its "sister" Mullett Lake are named for two of the early surveyors who worked in the region in the 1840's: William A. Burt and John Mullett. But William Burt was more than a Deputy Surveyor for the U.S. Government, in which capacity he was responsible for much of the government land survey in northern Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa, including a resurvey of the boundary between Michigan and Wisconsin. In 1844, he discovered iron ore in Michigan, at the site which became the Jackson mine. Deflection of the magnetic compass from true north on his surveys had led him to invent the solar compass, which he patented in 1836. Twenty years later, he patented a similarly indispensable instrument for the navigator, the equatorial sextant, developed as a result of observations on a trip to England. The first of his three major inventions, however, was patented in 1829, long before its great utility was to be recognized; this was the typewriter, for William A. Burt is credited by the Patent Office with constructing "a typewriting machine for the first time in any country." Mr. Burt was a prominent citizen of Mount Vernon, Michigan (in Macomb County, between Romeo and Rochester), where he settled in 1824. He was elected county surveyor and a member of the territorial legislature. In 1833, he received appointments as postmaster, as associate judge of the judicial district, and as U.S. Deputy Surveyor. As a member of the State Legislature in 1852-1853, he was chairman of the committee on the St. Mary's Falls Ship Canal, and to his efforts was largely due the favorable action to construct the canal and locks at the "Soo." He "also took active grounds in favor of temperance legislation," according to his biographer (in vol. 5, Michigan Pioneer Collections, 1884), who observed: "Mr. Burt was a religious man, and it influenced his every conduct. He was one of the founders, and a member of the Mt. Vernon Baptist church. ...He was a member of the Masonic fraternity, and helped to organize the third lodge in Michigan..." He died, "universally respected," over a century ago, on August 18, 1858. Next summer, as you admire this beautiful body of water from Burt Lake State Park or from some other point, recall that it is named for not only a prominent surveyor, inventor, and leading citizen of the early days of our state, but also a pioneer Baptist in Michigan.