Grindstone City – The Thumbs First Industry

Within the Great Lakes region, the rim of the geologic formation of  Marshall Sandstone comes up to the surface at the Tip of Michigan’s Thumb.  This outcropping of abrasive stone can be found throughout Huron, Jackson, Calhoun, and Ottawa counties. At the extreme edge of this outcropping is Grindstone City.

Grindstone Manufacturing

In the mid-1800s, many quarries were opened in the area, and the Marshall Sandstone was used for building purposes. In the late 1800s, Grindstone City was one of the first flourishing industry towns and produced the world’s largest and finest grindstones.

Grindstone City Port Austin
Grindstones Used to Lie on the Beach at Grindstone Harbor

From the 1830s until the 1910s, Grindstone City produced the premier grinding wheels in the United States.  In 1888, the Cleveland Stone Co. Purchased the property owned by Worthington and Sons and became the sole owner of all quarry properties. They continued to operate the store and quarries but the salt works were discontinued, as operating costs made it no longer profitable.

They built a mill to make scythe stones, whetstones in addition to the grindstones. The grindstones made here vary in size and weight from small kitchen stones six to twelve inches in diameter, weight 3 ½ to 10 lbs. To large grinding stones weighing 3 ½ tons or more. The largest stone ever manufactured weighed over six tons.

The End of Grindstone Operations


Then came the invention that would ruin the city: artificial carborundum. In 1893, inventor Edward G. Acheson secured a patent for artificial carborundum, a material created while trying to make diamonds artificially.   Due to carborundum taking grinding stones, the quarries could no longer be operated at a profit. Grindstone City stumbled into swift decline, and all quarrying and production operations ceased in 1930.  Most of the machinery was shipped to Cleveland, Ohio. A steel cutter who came here from Detroit broke up the worn-out materials. This steel and iron were sold as scrap.

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