Rails in the Bay - Building Railroad in Michigan's Thumb

Railway at the Bottom of the Bay

Thumb Railroad - Pontiac Oxford and Northern Railroad


The Great Fire of 1881 Opens Opportunity

On October 20th 1881 construction of the thumb railroad Pontiac, Oxford & Port Austin began at Caseville Michigan to bring rail service to the Upper Thumb area. Just before construction began a huge fire devastated the entire region. The result was that the former lumbering area was now ripe for agricultural development. The fire opened up the land to farming.


Crawford's Saw Mill Caseville 1880's
Crawford’s Saw Mill Caseville 1880’s – Note Depot on Left

The P.O & N work starts in the Winter of 1881

Caseville’s first railroad engines were delivered by the ship C.R. Dumford from Cleveland. The track out of Caseville was laid out about a mile before heavy snow stopped the work. Francis Crawford financed the railway project and the rails were shipped in from Cleveland.


Caseville's Industrial Area of 1881
Caseville’s Industrial Area of 1881

A Shipping Disaster on Saginaw Bay

On one shipment from Cleveland the ship ran aground on the rocky shoals near Oak Point. During the salvage operation, 23 rails slipped into Saginaw Bay and were lost. It’s assumed that those rails are still at the bottom of the lake today. 


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