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12 Quirky Roadside Attractions to See in Michigan’s Thumb

We encountered many folks who have come up to Michigan’s Thumb for their entire lives but never have seen these interesting and sometimes quirky Michigan Roadside Attractions. Sometimes they are just off the road or tucked in out-of-the-way places. If you’re visiting Caseville, Port Austin, Bay Port, Gagetown, or Harbor Beach, make a small detour and check out these roadside attractions. They don’t cost a dime and usually have a story to tell.

Michigan Thumb Roadside Attraction Map

#1 – A Tribute to Jenny, Quanicassee’s Beer Drinking Bear | M-25

Jenny The Beer Drinking Bear
Jenny The Beer Drinking Bear

In the 1900s, Michigan was known for its roadside attractions to draw tourists to stop. An early attraction in the Thumb region was Jenny, the Beer Drinking Bear in Quanicassee. Today an unusual statue pays tribute to the bruin.

During the early days of the auto, Frank Vanderbilt came and invested in Quanicassee at the base of the Thumb. The name “Quanicassee” is of Native American origin, meaning “lone tree.” The entire area had been a fishing village, and the marshes were known for wild rice long before European pioneers’ arrival.

Vanderbilt started collecting wild animals for a roadside zoo. One of his early acquisitions was a female black bear. The cub was supposedly orphaned after a fire in the Clare area. Frank’s acquired young bear is truly unknown, but it became part of the saloon’s attraction. The bear was smart and performed for pieces of bread, milk, and meat. Frank named the famed cub Jenny.

Read the rest of the tale and directions to the unusual statue tribute to Quanicassee’s Beer Drinking Bear

#2 – The Auto Fountain at Bay Shore Grill | M-25

There is nothing like stuffing a water hose through an old car to make a fountain that makes a mini waterfall out under the hood. But hey, you now have one of the quirkiest roadside attractions along M-25. The folks at Bay Shore Bar & Grill did just that. It’s unusual enough to stop and take a look and click a selfie.

The bar itself is in an interesting location. Overlooking the water of the Quanicassee river, it offers a pretty neat view. If you have ever been to Key West, it reminds us of the famous Turtle Kraals restaurant that looks out over the Key West Bright.

#3 – The Emergency Ark Near Oak Beach County Park | M-25

Emergency-Ark-Barn-Art
The Emergency Ark

A dilapidated barn from the late 1800s, carefully taken apart piece by piece, has been rebuilt by Detroit artist Scott Hocking as a huge wooden ark.

Originally conceived as an “Emergency Ark,” the project plays into the Hocking’s fascination with mythic forms and structures from the ancient world.

“Many of Scott’s projects are in hidden spaces, where you can’t necessarily see them,” one enthusiast noted. “But this is enormous — and so visible. I drove in from the east, and could see right away the great presence it will have in that landscape.”

For directions and how to see other quirky roadside art attractions. Check out Barn Art in the Thumb.

#4 – Caseville’s Long Pier Out into Saginaw Bay | M-25

Caseville Breakwall

It’s one of the few break walls anywhere that encourages you to walk out and take a look at the bay up close. You can fish, walk and catch a cool breeze on this 1/4 mile sprig of concrete and stone out into Saginaw Bay.

Watch the boats come in and out in the early morning and late afternoon. However, if it’s stormy be prepared to get wet.

#5 – Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse | M-25

Michigan's Thumb

This Lighthouse ranks among the oldest lighthouses in Michigan. It is an active lighthouse maintained by the US Coast Guard remotely, located in Lighthouse County Park on Lake Huron near Port Hope, Michigan in Huron County. “Pointe aux Barques” means ‘Point of Little Boats,’ a descriptor of the shallow shoals and reefs that lurk beneath these waves, presenting a hazard to boats as they round Michigan’s Thumb.

See more about Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse at Lighthouse County Park.

#6 – Port Austin Farmer’s Market Each Saturday | M-52

Port Austin Farmers Market - Michigan Roadside Attraction

One of the states that the largest on-going farmer’s market has turned into a Michigan Roadside Attraction. Every Saturday, farmers, local artists, and artisans offer a unique blend of local flare for each weekend. Be ready to walk as parking is at a premium in this small town. Enjoy an early Bloody Mary at the” Bank” and proceed to get your weekend stock of fresh corn, vegetables,  local fruit, and an amazing assortment of local craftsmen offering clothing, rugs, collectibles, to furniture. The market is open each Saturday in the middle of Port Austin through mid-October.

#7 – Octagonal Barn Near Gagetown | M-52

Octagon Barn Gagetown Michigan
Octagon Barn Near Gagetown Michigan

The Thumb Octagon Barn is a historic and unique barn located in Gagetown, Michigan. It was built in 1924 by local businessman James Purdy. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources bought the bank’s property in 1991 to be incorporated into the adjacent Gagetown State Game Area. The farm buildings, including the octagon barn, had fallen into disrepair and were in danger of demolition. Local citizens banded together and organized the first Octagon Barn Festival in 1994 to raise funds to repair the barn. The Friends of the Thumb Octagon Barn was formed that year.

After the barn, historic farmhouse, garage, and electric power plant were restored, other buildings were moved or built on the old Purdy farm. It was moved to the site where a one-room schoolhouse and grain elevator. New construction included a schoolhouse museum, a large multipurpose building, a covered bridge, and a sawmill. A blacksmith shop is planned.

#8 – Sanilac Petroglyphs Near Cass City | M-52

Upper Thumb Petroglyph Archer

The Sanilac Petroglyphs historic site is located near Cass City. Take M-53 to Bay City-Forestville Road and proceed east to Germania Road. Head south a one-half mile on Germania; the site is on the west side of the road. The carvings, known as petroglyphs, were discovered by residents after a fire swept through the area in 1881 and revealed rocks bearing the designs. Because they are made in relatively friable sandstone, geologists have determined that the carvings were made 300 to 1,000 years ago, dating back to the Late Woodland Period. The Bow Man, believed to represent a hunter, is the most well-known of the Sanilac Petroglyphs, rock carvings etched into a sandstone outcrop.

#9 – Sand Point Nature Preserve Near Bay Port – M-25

Sand Point
From NOAA

The Sand Point Nature Preserve is one of the most critical protected coastal lands in the Saginaw Bay Watershed and probably one of the most important in the Great Lakes. Through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, the Saginaw Bay Herpetological Survey found Sand Point Nature Preserve to be the most biologically diverse site along the Saginaw Bay shoreline.

#10 – Bay Port Fish Market | M-25

Bay Port Fish Company - Michigan Roadside Attractions

This is one of the Upper Thumb’s tiniest lakeshore villages, but it overflows with history and sites unique only to Michigan. Home of the Bay Port Fish Company, operates between spring and fall, depending upon the weather, and has four boats: the Osprey, the Argo, the Patsy, and the Sunflower. Sometimes, you can see the Osprey and the Argo tied up in Caseville harbor. Fresh, smoked, and frozen fish can be bought from the retail store in Bay Port. The market is located a short drive from the center of the village in the historic Bay Port Fishing District.

#11 – The Historic General Store and Vintage Gas Pump at Kilmanagh | M-25

Kilmanagh Gas Pump - Michigan Roadside Attractions
Kilmanagh Gasp Pump

The restoration efforts of the Kilmanagh general store are showing great signs of progress. When this post was first published, many feared that the iconic general store would fall in. The store and the little town surrounding it were still life subjects for artists and photographers.

Today the store and the iconic vintage shell gas pump have been returned to be displayed. Except its now stored inside. See Where in the heck in Kilmanagh! for details.

#12 – Huron County Nature Center | M-25

Huron Nature Center

Our final Michigan Roadside Attraction in the Thumb is located midway between Caseville and Port Austin. The Huron County wilderness arboretum offers over 120 acres of woods, dunes, marsh connected by an intensive trail system. This offers a glimpse of the upper thumb as it appeared 100 years ago. Alternating dune ridges (now with mature growth) and wide pine areas, oak, fern, and huckleberry.

There is no charge to visit and walk the trails. Donations are welcomed.


End Of the Road In Michigan Podcast
End Of the Road In Michigan Podcast

4 thoughts on “12 Quirky Roadside Attractions to See in Michigan’s Thumb”

  1. 50 years ago we stayed in Caseville at the mc pykes cabin rentals. Walking about a mile on the beach to turnip rock. There were other large rock formations we could climb on. I’m going to try to get back there 1 more time before it’s gone.

    Reply
    • Turnip and Broken Rocks are still alive and well. Albeit surrounded by more of the lake this year. Keep visiting and let us know when you make it up here again.

      Reply

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