Utopia Lost in the Wilderness


Author’s Note: When researching place names of the Thumb I ran across the term “Ora et Labora”. Looking it up I found it was a popular game and the name of utopian community in the 1860’s near Bay Port. Amazingly I pass right by the attributed area of this 19th century colony on my way up to Caseville every week. Yet up until this now I’ve never heard of it. Now after hearing a podcast on Detroit’s public radio station; WDET and some further research I’ve come into contact of one of the foremost researchers and authorities on the German settlement. Over the next two years we will be taking the readers of ThumbWind on a voyage of this colony and pursue the goal of getting this noble experiment recognition by the State of Michigan.  This post officially kicks off that effort with a bit of highlights on the “German Colony” whose ultimate demise was a consequence of the best and worst of human endeavor.

What follows is the current published legend on the rise and fall of Ora Labora Colony on Wild Fowl Bay.

Ora Labora in Michigan’s Thumb

“Ora et Labora settlement was founded  by Emil Baur in 1857 between Bay City and Port Huron in an attempt to establish a religious, socialistic, ideal community. Over 288 German settlers based their settlement on Prayer and Work. Sponsored by the German Church, the Ora et Labora was established on the shores of Wild Fowl Bay, Bay Port in Huron County. Two hundred eighty-eight individuals signed the community’s initial articles of agreement” that reflected Methodist but also “intended to preserve German customs and language. Members worked on communal projects and were paid for their labor at the community’s store. By 1861, however, male workers were drafted away with the Civil War, the community’s isolation and the also contributed to the experiment’s failure.  Only 14 families remained when the colony disbanded in 1867.”

This is the published version. Most of it is wrong. What really transpired was much more dramatic.  

Visit our new site ora-labora.org  for in-depth discussion and research in this amazing piece of Michigan history.


The Ora Labora German Colony operated in the Upper Thumb for only a few short years until 1867. Yet its impact and legend continues today. 100% of the profit of each of our Ora Labora collection will go toward the Ora Labora Michigan Memorial Project.

Ora Labora Sweat shirt

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