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History of the Thumb’s First Industry

A Great Lakes Storm Starts Grindstone City

Great Lakes Ship
Shipping on the Great Lakes

The history of Grindstone City starts with a ship seeking shelter from a Lake Huron storm. The schooner Rip Van Winkle, captained by Aaron Peer, came into a natural harbor west of the Pointe Aux Barques lighthouse in 1834. After anchoring and securing his ship, the crew explored the dense virgin forest and rocky beach for shelter and firewood. This was a wilderness of cedar, pine, beech, ash, and maple. The tall cedar canopy was so thick that snow remained in places even though it was midsummer. The men came across huge flat rocks lying about the shore and forests.

Captain Peer took some of the pieces of this flat stone to Detroit. They found the samples to be impeccably suited for paving streets, replacing Ohio flagstone as the preferred surface. It’s said that this stone was used to pave a few blocks on Detroit’s Jefferson and Woodward Avenues. It was later used as foundation material on several buildings in Port Huron Michigan.

Within a couple years, Captain Peer and his crew took advantage of the stone to sharpen their tools, and began shaping them into grindstones. Shortly thereafter a small port grew from the natural harbor as his men worked inland bringing the sandy abrasive stone out of the forest.

Grindstone City was a Boomtown

Grindstone City Quarry

In 1836, Captain Peer purchased 400 acres of land to establish a grindstone quarrying and manufacturing operation. The area that Peer discovered this abrasive stone it’s fine grit was unique to the tip of Michigan’s Thumb and part of the of Marshall Sandstone formation. The stone is easy to work with and ideal for shaping. Peer and his team built a horse powered grist mill to make grinding wheels and whetstones. The company produced grindstones that varied from small kitchen grinding wheels to large grinding stones weighing 3 ½ tons or more. The largest stone ever turned out weighed over six tons.

Demand for the large sharpening stone soon earned the Upper Thumb the nickname of Grindstone Capital of the World. The Company town, started with a stone-cutter grist mill, and grew with a wharf out into Lake Huron, two quarries, company store and offices. A salt block was built to extract salty brine and evaporate it. The operation produced 125 barrels of salt each day. By the 1870s the first railroad built was built into Grindstone City to offer less reliance on ships.

Grindstone City became a fast growing industry that produced the largest and finest grindstones, scythestones, and honestones in the world.

New Technology Dooms the Town

Shaping Grinstones
Shaping Grindstones

The boomtown days were numbered as a new technology was developed. Carborundum was discovered in 1893 by E.G. Acheson. This silicon powder has a crystal structure like that of diamond and is ideal for cutting, grinding, and polishing. Economical to produce, Carborundum started taking the place of grinding stones, and the quarries could no longer be operated at a profit. The Grindstone City quarry slid into decline from 1900 and ceased operations in 1930.

Grindstone Lures Tourist and Cottage Seekers

Grindstone City Harbor
THe Harbor Looks the Same Today

Today Grindstone City is a vacation destination and retirement community. Remnants of the town are still visible. The General Store is still operating as a ice cream and gift shop. The church is now an art gallery. The former headquarters and offices of the quarry operations is now a charming and restored ice cream parlor. You can walk on the long pier that once took the large finished grindstones to ship via railcar.

Grindstone City Pier
Grindstone City Pier

Grindstone City is also known for sports fishing in Lake Huron. Charter boat captains take angelers out in the big lake for salmon, lake trout and brown trout, steelhead, walleye, and yellow perch.

Massive grindstones can still be seen along the shoreline of the long vacant pier that juts out into the lake. The natural harbor still looks as it did in the 1830’s when the first grindstone rock was discovered.

Finding Grindstones Today

Grindstones on the Beach

Grindstones can still be seen on the shore north of the city. Abandoned stones littered the beach for years. People started to pick them up and use them as lawn decorations for their cottages in the Upper Thumb. Today only the largest of the old grindstones remain.


Owners of the Grindstone Quarry and Operations

Grindstone Quarry One

OwnerYear
Pease & Smith1834
Peer1839
Wallace & Prentiss (aka: Lake Huron Stone Company)1841
Cleveland Stone Company1888

Grindstone Quarry Two

OwnerYear
W. Cooper1865
Worthington & Sons1871
Cleveland Stone Company1888

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Mike Hardy

Author of a fun loving and event blog covering topics of the Upper Thumb of Michigan , the wind energy capital of the Great Lakes. Offering great trove of information on Wind Energy, Cheeseburger in Caseville, Saginaw Bay, Sailing.

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