A Vanished Company Town – New River Michigan


Loggers-two-man-saw


All signs of this once thriving town have been erased by time and nature. It was located about a mile from Huron City and eight miles from Port Austin. From initial land grants in 1845 to J. Spikerman and Walter Hume this fishing village developed quickly. A sawmill was built in 1853 over New River Creek so sawdust was carried out into the lake. (Note…this contrasts to operations at Port Crescent which used sawdust and lumbering waste as a source of fuel) This ventured ended in failure in 1865. A grist mill came in 1856. By 1858 industrialists Howe & Clark employed up to 100 men and built docks for shipment of lumber.

In the creek at New River, fish were so plentiful that it was a common practice for early settlers to catch them in the Spring in huge nets. Often a year’s worth of fish could be put away in barrels and cured. Sturgeon was common and frequently caught.


michigan-lumber-mill


By 1870, Cooper, Creevy and Noble came and operated mills, established two salt wells; one was 1040 feet deep and the other was 1003 feet deep. These wells produced on an average of 150 barrels of salt a day. The salt was shipped to Detroit, Toledo and St. Louis. Near the mouth of the New River Creek there are still the foundation pilings driven in the ground where the salt blocks were located.


new-river


The company owned almost the whole village. They owned the cooper shop and made their own barrels for transporting salt, the houses in which the workers lived, their own lumber mills, and blacksmith shop. The company built and maintained a boarding house. This town had a long dock where steamers regularly stopped for freight and passengers.

The salt block was discontinued in 1886 due to economic downturn of the late 1800’s, the low price of salt and the increasing costs of fuel, (likely coal as lumbering operations waned). Per Mr. James Kilpratrick a state Geologist who visited in 1937, New River had the finest grade of salt found in Michigan. One of the final acts of New River took place in 1895 at the Michigan Supreme Court. The case Noble vs. Thompson involved the debts and mortgage and taxes of the salt block at New River.

Today all that remains of New River is the cemetery.

Advertisements

The Best Burger In the Thumb


[Ed Note: This pub has not been visited in several years. I’m uncertain where Julz is these days. But the Hitching Post is an Oasis during the high crowds at Cheeseburger Festival]

I’m a cheeseburger hound. I’m one of those who never seem to turn down going to some pub to grab a cheeseburger and a beer. At my age the waistline seems to have come more front and center. So I find myself getting more fussy about where I’m going to indulge on one of my favorite peasant foods.

You would think that the annual Cheeseburger festival in Caseville would turn out some of the finest burger on bun concoctions in the area. However the event has swelled to such a size that the rule is quantity not quality and cook it until it resembles a hockey puck. I haven’t had a burger in Caseville in several years.

When the party is in high gear during Cheeseburger festival in Caseville we find ourselves in the little town of Elkton about ten minutes away. There you will find the Hitching Post Inn. The Post is located in a historical hotel that was also once a church. (The stained glass still is place). This is a great Bar Burger joint. The owners are working to establish a solid business and have won over the locals. In 2011 they put in a new bar so updating is constant. This is a great place to come when the crowds in nearby Caseville get on your nerves.

It’s the best cheeseburger in the Thumb…period. Is it up with Michigan’s best? No. My designation of a great bar burger goes to the Shamrock in Utica Michigan.  However the Hitching Post uses fresh local beef and all the staff pitch in and cook. Even the head bartender, Jelzs, can really cook up a bit of paradise on a bun.  The establishment has their own Facebook Page and a loyal group of subscribers. I’m one of them. Menu choice…Blue Cheese Burger.

Wilderness Surveyor to Victorious General


In the mid 1800’s much of Michigan was wilderness. While many settlements were established on the shore, there was few government maps and almost no official documentation of water depth and shore topology.  Local knowledge from “fisherman and coastals” was depended on.  By the 1840’s the US Army was tasked with conducting the first accurate survey of Lake Huron from the St Mary’s River to the St Clair


George-meadeIn 1857, Captain George Meade relieved Lt. Col. James Kearney on the Lakes Survey mission of the Great Lakes. Meade had already established a successful assignments of building lighthouses and mapping the shoals and reefs of the Florida Keys. It’s shallow reefs have ravaged shipping since the Spanish plied the Caribbean in the 1500’s.

George Meade came to Michigan in 1857 to make the first survey of Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron. As a civil engineer of the US Army he “leveled the base line” The method was to use a series of triangulated line-of-site towers that based on angle could be accurately measured from point to point.

The line-of-sight signaling towers erected on Charity Island, Oak Point, Sand Point, Tawas Point, Point Au Barques, Forestville and others assisted in the survey measurement. These towers measured from 82 to 169 feet above the water level and were considered the highest artificial structures ever made for triangulation measurement in the United States. Measurement was done a survey instrument called a theodolite capturing the flashing mirror of a distant tower.


signal-tower-circa -1860Captain Meade needed a Prime Meridian point. He established a this at a base camp on located on Sand Point.  The jut of land extended out into  Saginaw Bay offering large line of site vantage point. Meade cleared an area and placed a marker while surveying to denoting the new Prime Meridian line for Saginaw Bay and all of Lake Huron. From the United States Land Survey Station, Sand Point, Saginaw Bay all “geodetic positions of all points of triangulation” were calculated. There is record of Latitude and Longitude observations and calculations made from Sand Point from July 2 through October 9th 1857. They calculated the longitude position of Sand Point Station Latitude at 43° 54’ 39” 79 N , Longitude 5h, 33m 22s.976 west of Greenwich at (conputed at 83° 20’ 44” .64 ) [ Note that the original longitude convention was added.  Page 1266 “Message of the President of the United States Communicated to the Two Houses of Congress”, 1858]

Completion of the survey of Lake Huron and extension of the surveys of Lake Michigan down to Grand and Little Traverse Bays were done under his command. Prior to Captain Meade’s command, Great Lakes’ water level readings were taken locally with temporary gauges; a uniform plane of reference had not been established. In 1858, based on his recommendation, instrumentation was set in place for the tabulation of records across the basin. In 1860, the first detailed report of Great Lakes was published.


meade-report-1859In 1861 when the war was declared between the North and the South Washington sent notice calling Captain Meade into active service as a brigadier general. The orders were delivered to Detroit as Meade was making preparations to return to Washington DC to take over a new Topographic group authorized by Congress. Local lore tells that notice of his assignment was delivered to the Sand Point Station from Port Austin as there was no Post Office in Caseville. Before he left the Great Lakes for the war he urged Congress to fund further survey work on Lake Michigan and Superior noting that economic growth and safety of the waterways could be achieved. General Meade won the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863 which is considered the turning point of the war.


ThumbWind-Mercantile-banner

A Dozen Must See Thumb Sites


We encountered many folks who have come up to the Upper Thumb for their entire lives but never have seen these interesting sites. How many have you been to?  Check these out and let us know if you have a “must-see” from the tip of the Thumb.


1_turnipTurnip Rock – Is a small geological formation in Michigan. It is a limestone stack located in Lake Huron, in shallow water a few meters offshore, near the rock called the Thumbnail which is the extreme tip of Pointe Aux Barques, a small peninsula in Pointe Aux Barques Township which in turn is the extreme tip of The Thumb.

Turnip Rock has been severely undercut by wave action,so that its top has a significantly larger cross-section than its base. Its consequent unusual form, reminiscent of a turnip, has made it an attraction for viewing by canoe and kayak. It’s only accessible from the water as it’s privately owned and not open to the public. Port Austin, the nearest large community, is the usual base for kayaking trips to Turnip Rock.


The Arc – A dilapidated barn from the late 1800s, carefully taken apart piece by piece, has IMG_0475[1]been rebuilt by Detroit artist Scott Hocking as a huge wooden ark.

Originally conceived as an “Emergency Ark,” the project plays into the Hocking’s fascination with mythic forms and structures from the ancient world.

“Many of Scott’s projects are in hidden spaces, where you can’t necessarily see them,” one enthusiast noted. “But this is enormous — and so visible. I drove in from the east, and could see right away the great presence it will have in that landscape.”


1_caseville_breakwallCaseville Break Wall – Its one of the few break walls anywhere that encourages you to walk out and take a look at the bay up close. You can fish, walk and catch a cool breeze on this 1/4 mile sprig of concrete and stone out into Saginaw Bay.

Watch the boats come in and out in the early morning and late afternoon. However ifs its stormy be prepared to get wet.


Charity Island – Also called Big Charity Island, is the largest island in Saginaw Bay, in the1_charity Island Michigan waters of Lake Huron. The island is 222 acres in area and has about 3 miles  shoreline. The island was named by lake mariners for its location, placed ‘through the charity of God’ at the entrance to Saginaw Bay midway between the city of Au Gres, Michigan and “The Thumb”.

Geologically, the island contains pockets of chert that are believed to have been quarried by Native Americans. Offshore, the gravel reefs to the south creates a shallow-water channel separating Charity Island from its smaller neighbor, Little Charity Island. The area between the two islands is a favorite spot for fishing. On the northeast end of the island, a small bay is lined with limestone bedrock, offering good holding ground as a place to anchor during storms. The harbor of refuge is accessible by small boat, though access is controlled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The island also contains an 11-acre  pond, literally a ‘lake within a lake’, fed by springs.


1_portaustinPort Austin LighthouseIs a lighthouse off the shore of Lake Huron, about 2.5 miles north of Port Austin, Huron County Michigan sitting on a rocky reef,  which is just north of the tip of the Thumb and a real hazard to navigation. The light was first lit in 1878, and its pier was modified in 1899. It is still operational and is automated. The foundation materials are a pier, and the tower is constructed of yellow brick, with buff markings. It is an octagonal, 60-foot tall tower, with an attached keeper house. In 1985 the lens was replaced by a 12-volt solar-powered Tideland Signal 300 mm acrylic optic, which eliminated the need to maintain the submarine cable


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse – The Pointe aux Barques Lighthouse ranks among the oldest lighthouses in Michigan. It is an active lighthouse maintained by the US Coast Guard remotely, located in Lighthouse County Park on Lake Huron near Port Hope, Michigan in Huron County. “Pointe aux Barques” means ‘Point of Little Boats’, a descriptor of the shallow shoals and reefs that lurk beneath these waves, presenting a hazard to boats as they round Michigan’s Thumb.


Port Austin Farmer’s Market – One of that states largest on-going farmer’s market in Michigan. Every Saturday farmers, local artists and craftsman offer a unique blend of  local Wagon Rides at Port Austin Market.flare for each weekend. Be ready to walk as parking is at a premium in this small town. Enjoy a early Bloody Mary at the” Bank”and proceed to get your weekend stock of fresh corn, vegetables,  local fruit and an amazing assortment of local craftsmen offering clothing, rugs, collectibles to  to furniture. The market is open each Saturday though mid-October.

 


Octagonal Barn – The Thumb Octagon Barn is an historic and unique barn located outside 1_octGagetown, Michigan. It was built in 1924 by local businessman James Purdy. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources bought the property from the bank in 1991 to be incorporated into the adjacent Gagetown State Game Area. The farm buildings including the octagon barn had fallen into disrepair and was in danger of demolition. Local citizens banded together and organized the first Octagon Barn Festival in 1994 to raise funds to repair the barn. The Friends of the Thumb Octagon Barn was formed that year.

After the barn, historic farmhouse, garage and electric power plant were restored, other buildings were moved or built on the old Purdy farm. Moved to the site were a one-room schoolhouse and grain elevator. New construction included a schoolhouse museum, a large multipurpose building, a covered bridge and a sawmill. A blacksmith shop is planned.


1_petroSanilac Petroglyphs – The Sanilac Petroglyphs historic site is located near Cass City. Take M-53 to Bay City-Forestville Road and proceed east to Germania Road. Head south one-half mile on Germania; the site is on the west side of the road. The carvings, known as petroglyphs, were discovered by residents after a fire swept through the area in 1881 and revealed rocks bearing the designs. Because they are made in relatively friable sandstone, geologists have been able to determine that the carvings were made 300 to 1,000 years ago, dating back to the Late Woodland Period. The Bow Man, believed to represent a hunter, is the most well-known of the Sanilac Petroglyphs, rock carvings etched into a sandstone outcrop.


Sand Point – The Sand Point Nature Preserve is one of the most critical protected coastal 1_sand pontlands in the Saginaw Bay Watershed, and probably one of the most important in the Great Lakes. Through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act the Saginaw Bay Herpetological Survey found Sand Point Nature Preserve to be the most biologically diverse site along the Saginaw Bay shoreline.

 


Bay Port – This is one of the Upper Thumb’s tiniest lake shore Bayport Fish Companyvillages but it overflows with history and sites unique only to Michigan. Home of the Bay Port Fish Company, operates between spring and fall, depending upon the weather and has four boats: the Osprey, the Argo, the Patsy, and the Sunflower. You can see the Osprey and the Argo tied up in Caseville harbor at the fish house just south of the break wall. Fresh, smoked, and frozen fish can be bought from the retail store in Bay Port. They also can be found at several Farmers Markets in Michigan. Look for booths at the Port Austin Farmer’s Market, Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market, and the Eastern Market in Detroit.


Huron Co Nature CenterHuron County Nature Center – Located midway between Caseville and Port Austin the wilderness arboretum offers over 120 acres of woods, dunes, marsh connected by a intensive trail system. This offers a glimpse of the upper thumb has it appeared 100 years ago. Alternating sand dune ridges, (now with mature growth), and wide areas of pine, oak, fern and huckleberry.

There is no charge to visit and walk the trails. Donations are welcomed.


ThumbWind-Mercantile-banner

Advertisements

Fun in Michigan's Upper Thumb

%d bloggers like this: