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White Rock: The Sacred Cornerstone of Michigan’s Thumb

Indigenous Peoples of Michigan, the Anishinabeg, views the White Rock on the edge of the Lake Huron shore as a sacred site. The rock was much, much larger than it appears today. (Which in 2019 is mostly underwater). The Indian ensured that fresh game and food items were placed on the site as an offering. Gitchie Manitou, or Great Spirit would recognize the offering by the Anishinabeg as a token of thanks for the bounty and richness of the peninsula.

Indians Canoeing
Indians Canoeing / Library and Archives Canada,

Henry Schoolcraft, in his Survey of the Upper Great Lakes with Lewis Cass in 1820, documented the White Rock and its prominence.

“White Rock, an enormous detached mass of transition limestone standing in the lake at the distance of half a mile from the shore. This is an object looked upon as a kind of milestone by the voyageurs and is known to all canoe and boat travelers of the region. The White Rock is an object which had attracted the early notice of the Indians who are the first to observe the non conformities in the appearances of the country-, and it continues to be one of the places at which offerings are made.”

Henry Schoolcraft 1820

White Rock was so well known as a landmark that it was utilized as a boundary marker. It defined the territory ceded by Ottawa, Chippewa, Wyandot, and Potawatomi with the Treaty of Detroit in 1807. The land was denoted by a line from White Rock, southwest to a point roughly east of St. John’s then south Fort Defiance on the Maumee River in Ohio.

Indian Settlements in Michigans Thumb
Indian Settlements in Michigans Thumb 1837

Pioneer Settling of White Rock City

Edward Petit was the first white settler in Huron County. He opened a trading post within sight of White Rock and later moved to the growing village.

White Rock City Map 1875
White Rock City Map 1875

By the 1830s, White Rock City was a fishing and lumbering port and commerce hub. The city grew enough to warrant a Post Office in 1859 which operated until 1907. On a city directory published by Beers in 1875, White Rock had the following businesses listed.

  • Two Building and Carpentry Firms
  • Two Fishing Companies
  • Two Hotels
  • Two Dry Goods Stores
  • One Lumber Mill
  • A Wagon and Carriage Manufacturing and Blacksmith Shop
  • One Salt Block Operation
  • One Physician
  • One Stave Factory
  • One Cooper Shop

In 1871, the entire community was destroyed in the Great Fire. The fire turned out to be a fatal blow for the town. As a result, it was never rebuilt to the size it once was.


The Lighting Strikes of White Rock

White Rock
Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Local lore tells a story from around 1860 that a group of settlers decided to have a square dance on White Rock. Local Indians warned them not to have this dance, as the White Rock was sacred. Disregarding the warnings, two sets of square dancers piled onto the White Rock from canoes. One man decided to heed the Indians’ warning and remained floating in the water nearby. Suddenly, as they danced, a bolt of lightning struck the White Rock. It killed all the dancers, leaving only the nearby man to tell of the terrible tragedy.

White Rock From Shore
White Rock From Shore

Today White Rock is almost awash by the high levels of Lake Huron. The size has shrunk too. With erosion and lighting strikes the rock is about 12 feet. The landmark was used as a training target for bombing practice during World War II. Thus, it’s no wonder that the famous rock is a smaller shadow from what it was 100 years ago.


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