Captain Aaron Peer Founded Grindstone City In 1834 And Began a New Industry

Captain Aaron Peer, who founded Grindstone City, is the Upper Thumb’s first significant industry site outside of lumbering. The manufacturing of Grindstones went on for almost 100 years before a technology change wiped the industry and the town out. The following is an excerpt from a biographical sketch of one of Huron County, Michigan’s pioneers.


Captain Aaron G. Peer

Captain Aaron Peer Founded Grindstone City

Peer founded Grindstone City and is of the earliest settlers of Huron County. It is second to none in its business history, having begun developing one of the county’s resources in 1834. He owns the quarries at Grindstone City and is the manufacturer of- the first grindstone made here, and put up the first engine used to prosecution that business. The engine was prominent among the first things ” of Michigan, as it was the first built at Detroit and was the motive of the Argo,” the first steamer plied between Port Huron and Detroit. The land “he claimed” in 1836 was the first entered in Huron County.

Capt. Peer was born Feb. 27, 1812, in Dundas, Ont. His father, Jacob Peer, was a native of New Jersey and, in 1821, removed to Algonac, St. Clair County, where he settled on 160 acres of land. He continued its management until his death when he was 79. Jacob, another son, is now its occupant. Their mother, Mrs. Lucy (Powers), Peer, was born in New Jersey and died at the age of 74 years at Algonac.


A Mariner From the Beginning

Great Lakes Shipping
Shipping Helped the Upper Thumb Prosper

The subject of this sketch was a farmer after reaching manhood until 1833, when, in company with his brother James, he superintended the construction of a schooner, of which he took command and operated in the transportation business between Grindstone City, Port Huron, Detroit and Buffalo, conveying lumber and flour. In 1840, his brother James assumed command of the schooner, and two years later, she was lost between Huron and Vermillion, Ohio. She had on board her captain and a crew of six men and was laden with iron, coal, and merchandise. She went down in a gale, and all were lost.


Captain on the Great Lakes

Capt. Peer then built a topsail schooner, the “Henry Clay,” to ply between Buffalo and Chicago. After running her for several years, he sold her and built the brig, F. C. Clark,” at Marine City, which he sold, and bought the brig ” Crispin.” She was loaded with stone and ready for a trip when she sunk opposite Grindstone City; the loss was $7,000. It was this disaster that brought Peer to the area.

He afterward owned the schooner “Blish,” and in 1865, was on board with a crew and fastened to a crib in the lake when a furious gale came up, the moorings were broken, and the vessel went ashore a complete wreck. The captain and crew escaped by small boats. He was also the proprietor of the John Owen,  a freight and passenger steamer, and he used her as a tow boat for several years when she was finally burned, at Algonac, with a loss of $12,000.

Peer was the master of the steamer “Canadian,” which he ran in opposition to the line of the Wards of Detroit one season. He has had a long and eventful career on the lakes, which he finally abandoned in 1861.


Formation of Grindstone City

Grindstone-City-Michigan
Grindstone City Quarry Operations

Local lore states that Captain Peer came into the natural harbor with his schooner Rip Van Winkle to escape a passing storm. While exploring the shore, he and his crew noted a large number of large flat stones not dissimilar to the ones used in construction elsewhere. He took some stone samples to Detroit, where they were determined to be superior to the Ohio flagstone that city officials planned to use to pave some of the streets. Returning to the tip of the thumb, he took some of this rock to Detroit.

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He founded Grindstone City as a company with quarry operations in 1834. The fine stone was used in the Woodward and Jefferson Avenues pavement in Detroit. In 1836 he made his claim of 400 acres of land, including the stone quarries, and that year made the first grindstone and established the works to prosecute the business.

He brought the necessary help and facilities and shipped the products to Chicago and other points. The mills now standing also contain machinery for the manufacture of whetstones, which is of the most improved character. He employed about 40 men when conducting the work himself. They have been rented since 1881, the lease running until 1891.

The farm of Capt. Peer contains 225 acres, with 120 acres under -cultivation, devoted to grain and hay.


The Grindstone Quarry Headquarters Today

Rybak's Ice Cream
The former quarry headquarters is now a favorite ice cream shop

A fireproof stone building, 28 x 50 feet in dimensions, was erected by Capt. Peer at Grindstone City, in 1884. It is two stories in height, and he has his residence on the upper floor. The lower story is occupied as a store.

Captain Aaron Peer Was a Family Man

The marriage of Capt. Peer to Euphemia Westbrook took place on his farm near Marine City, St. Clair County, in 1839* Four children were born to them, viz.: Arthur H., who resides in Chicago and has been the owner and captain of a vessel several years; Charlotte E., who is the wife of William H. Cooper, a merchant at Port Austin, Two children are deceased. The mother died in 1859 at Port Huron. She was the daughter of Capt. Andrew Westbrook, prominent in the war of 1812, the second marriage of Capt. Peer took place at Port Huron, November 6, 1869, to Sarah L. Hawkins. She was born in Geneva, New York

Capt. Peer is President- of the Pioneer Society of Huron County and has been a member of it since its organization.

Source:  Portrait and Biographical Album of Huron County Michigan, Index of names for Portraits and biographical album of Huron County, Michigan / compiled by Katherine L. Cherry, 1884,  Chapman brothers. Book digitized by Google from the library of the University of Michigan and uploaded to the Internet Archive.

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