By Sterling McGinn
If you have an old stone fireplace and chimney in the Newberry area, chances are it is an Edwin Duflo original. A longtime Newberry resident, Edwin Peter Duflo was a master in the craft of stonemasonry. Many of his stone structures and chimneys have stood the test of time, and still dot our landscape. No two fireplaces looked alike. With his talent and ingenuity, he created works of art with split or rounded stone.
Duflo was born in Middleton, Mich. on June 12, 1884, to John and Matilda Duflo. He had two siblings: Frank and Olive. On October 10, 1906, he married Austa May Childers. The couple had four children: Mack, Corvin, Dale, and Olive.
Around 1913, Edwin and Austa May relocated to Luce County with Mack and Corvin, where they established a farm in Lakefield. His other two children were born in Luce County.
It is not known when or why Duflo became a stone mason, but he constructed many notable stone works during his stay in Luce County, which lasted more than 50 years.
One landmark familiar to many Newberry residents is the Duflo family home across from the football field on West McMillan Avenue. The small, nearly square house is still a masterpiece of stone masonry. It has been in the Duflo family since 1930.
In 1929, Duflo purchased the lots on West McMillan Avenue from Milton E. Beurmann, a local farmer and real-estate agent. Duflo began building a cobblestone house to use as his residence. Around the same time, the Newberry Presbyterian church burned, and Duflo salvaged some of the wood to help construct his house. He was also employed as a steam mason at the Newberry Charcoal Iron Company.
Duflo built a gas station on the west side of his residence, which he operated for several years. He sold Red Crown gasoline from two visible style pumps in the front of the building. Although it can’t be confirmed, it was rumored that notorious Chicago gangster John Dillinger stopped at the gas station while he was in the Upper Peninsula.
In 1933, Duflo was remarried to Mary Pochyla and together they had four children: Charles, Frank, John, and Bernice. His ex-wife, Austa May, married longtime Newberry pharmacist August Sherman.
In 1931, Duflo and his son, Mack, started building the iconic cobblestone building in McMillan. The structure was first owned by Harry Skinner and was operated as a gas station. The building transitioned into a restaurant and was known for many years as the Cobblestone Bar. It is now called the Offside.
The dining area in the front of the building was originally open air, and is where motorists pulled up to buy gas.
In 1936, the Newberry Village Council decided to build a fireplace for the village park. Material for the fireplace was furnished by the council and Duflo donated his time to build it. According to an article in the Sault Evening News, “The large stone fireplace, measuring eight feet wide and 10 feet tall, is being used daily by children, who roast wieners and marshmallows as part of their playground program.” The village park was located at the present site of Helen Newberry Joy Hospital.
He also constructed the chimney for the Methodist church in Hulbert in 1937, a chimney and stone wall for the Manakiki Lodge on Big Manistique Lake, the bridge over Helmer Creek, and numerous fireplaces on Round Lake and Big Manistique Lake. Several homes in the village of Newberry are adorned with his chimneys and fireplaces. He also constructed stone foundations for several area barns.
Duflo’s work can also be found in Naubinway, Munising, and other parts of the Upper Peninsula. Duflo built more stone structures in the area than can be listed here.
In addition to masonry, Duflo enjoyed making maple syrup. In the spring of 1953, he gathered 55-gallons of syrup.
According to an article in the Sault Evening News of April 25, 1953, “Duflo gathered all the sap from maple trees the hard way, using a yoke and two pails, each holding 30 quarts. Two hundred fifty trees were tapped. He averaged a walk on snowshoes approximately five miles a day.”
After the sap was gathered from his sugar bush on Locke Lake, Duflo cooked the sap in the woods in a pan seven by three feet, six inches deep. He then took the syrup home to complete the process. His syrup was placed in gallon, two quart, and quart containers which were labeled.
On October 1, 1969, Edwin Duflo died in Newberry. His wife, Mary, died in 1982.
Though he’s been gone for more than 50 years, Duflo’s stone buildings and fireplaces are holding up well, and are a living legacy to one of the U.P.’s most unique and prolific stone masons.