In 1871, a young man named Josiah L. Littlefield graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in civil engineering. The 28-year-old then moved on to settle in the new rural, lumbering community of Farwell, Michigan, where he was engaged by his uncle, Edmund Hall, to use his surveying skills to help plan the proposed "state road" from Ionia to Houghton Lake.
This initial position ultimately led to the platting of the town of Farwell, and over the next 30 years Littlefield expanded his horizons into multiple occupations including surveying, lumbering, operation of the major planing mill in Farwell, and developing a cement factory which almost ruined his career after a crippling bankruptcy. After the virgin white pine and hardwoods played out, he became a farmer, raising sheep and cattle and starting new agricultural crops such as alfalfa and sugar beets, as well as corn and soybeans.
Throughout his entire career, Josiah Littlefield had a vision of land preservation. In 1922, he started the first "school forest" in Michigan in cooperation with Farwell Public Schools. He loved the fragrant forests of pines; and after the logging era ended, he thought that there "will [never again] be any forest like that in Michigan. My forest companions are gone forever."
As part of his land preserves, Littlefield ultimately acquired a block of land approximately 3 miles long by 1 mile wide, located about four miles to the west of Farwell. With this holding, he envisioned the creation of another "Biltmore" modeled after the famous Vanderbilt estate in Asheville, North Carolina. At the core of his tract of land were 80 acres of hardwood forest - a beech-maple woodland that had never been logged except for some cleaning up that followed the historic ice storm that struck the area in February 1922.
Josiah Littlefield died in 1936, which was about the same time that the state of Michigan built state highway M-115 right through his important 80-acre hardwood preserve. Fortunately, his descendents held on to much of the estate, and from 1959 to 1968 they transferred almost 252 acres of the original Littlefield land to Central Michigan University. Professors Wakelin McNeel and George Wheeler served as intermediaries between the family and the university. A key portion of the transferred land was approximately one-half of the original 80-acre special hardwood woodland preserve that Josiah Littlefield had protected for so many years.
William Neithercut, a banker from Flint, was instrumental in helping CMU to obtain the property from Littlefield's descendents. Neithercut was a former resident of Clare County and a former president of the CMU Alumni Association. It was his financial support that sustains to this day the vision that originally inspired Josiah Littlefield.
Named after William Neithercut, the 252-acre Neithercut Woodland is located approximately five miles west of Farwell and is accessed directly from M-115. The university constructed a small lodge for non-overnight uses such as workshops, retreats, and social gatherings and named it after Wakelin McNeel. The woodland contains miles of marked nature trails including a half-mile "Freedom Trail" which is a hard surface, barrier-free, easily accessible area for those with disabilities. The woodland provides a treasure trove of opportunities to see wildflowers, plants, and animals in a great variety of habitats.