The Great Thumb Fire of 1881 opened an opportunity for agriculture development. 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.
The Pontiac, Oxford & Northern, (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.
A Shipping Disaster on Saginaw Bay
This was from The J.W. Hall Great lakes Marine Scrapbook, September, 1882.
“Intelligence was received in Chicago yesterday afternoon that the schooner J.E. GILMORE is ashore at Oak Point, somewhere near Caseville, Lake Huron. No particulars of the disaster could be learned beyond the fact that the vessel is stranded. She is from Chicago, and has a cargo of railroad iron on board. The GILMORE measures 290 tons. She was built at Three Mile Bay, by A. Wilcox, in 1867, and rates A 2½, with a valuation of about $10,000. Hull and cargo insured. A. Wilcox of Cleveland, is the owner. What arrangements have been made for assistance is not learned.”
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. This disaster delayed the start of the Thumb railroad building until December. It’s assumed that those rails are still at the bottom of the lake today.
The Pontiac, Oxford & Northern Railroad was completed with the final rail line into Caseville in October 1883
Related Links to Thumb Railroad
- Thumb Railway – Story of the Polly Ann – Local folklore states that the Pontiac, Oxford & Northern Railroad (P.O. & N) ran from September 1889 until the last service run of the full length of the line on February 9, 1984.
- Ship Building In Caseville – Shipbuilding in the Great Lakes was also an important industry. In 1861 Francais Crawford built a lake schooner. The “Frank Crawford was a large masted schooner that plied the waters all over the Great Lakes in the late 1800s.
- September 1882: With a load of railroad iron, the Gilmore went ashore at Oak Point, Caseville, Michigan, Lake Huron.
- Point of Pines Hotel and Summer Resort – Do a bit of research on Port Austin and you can help but run into this picture of a large building; the Point of Pines Hotel. Postcards indicate it was active from 1898 until 1935. But little else is recorded.