A Vanished Company Town – New River Michigan
A Vanished Town in Michigan’s Thumb
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 dated May 12, 1845, to J. Spikerman and Walter Hume, this fishing village developed quickly.
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.
New River Experienced Rapid Growth
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). A grist mill came in 1856. By 1858 industrialists Howe & Clark employed up to 100 men and built docks for shipment of lumber.
Other men who came there in the 1850’s were J. R. Chambers in 1851, John Ginn in 1853, Francis Palms, in 1854, S. Sharpstein 1855, Thomas Donahue in1856, and Alexander Miller in 1858. Here Cooper, Creevy & Go. used to operate an extensive salt block, their headquarters being at Port Austin.
The first official deed recorded in Huron County was from Lorenz M. Mason to the County of Huron. It is for a sum of $175 and describes what is now known as the New River Cemetery, consisting of four acres and described as being the burying ground now in use Huron township.
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 was a Company Town
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.
Per Mr. James Kilpratrick a state Geologist who visited in 1937, New River had the finest grade of salt found in Michigan. However, the salt block was discontinued in 1886 due to the economic downturn of the late 1800’s. The low price of salt and the increasing costs of fuel, (likely coal as lumbering operations waned) doomed the operation. One of the final acts of New River took place in 1895 at the Michigan Supreme Court. The case of Noble vs. Thompson involved the debts and mortgage and taxes of the salt block at New River.
Local lore from 1883 noted that this town had a long dock where steamers regularly stopped for freight and passengers. Had a store, church, and schoolhouse. When the salt industry declined the town began to go down. Finally every vestige of what had been a flourishing town disappeared.
Today all that remains of New River is the cemetery.