September 26, 2023

The Loud & Wild History of Port Austin’s Cartwheel Inn

The Fireside Inn near Port Austin, Mi, is our go-to place for large groups of people. With its fantastic pizza and ample open space, it’s perfect for a family party. A couple of years ago, I came across these two black and white shots for the Cartwheel Inn outside Port Austin. It’s the same building. While the establishment has expanded, I find it amazing that much of the interior has remained the same.

The Cartwheel Inn was a Social Spot

The Cart Wheel Inn Near Port Austin

In the 1940s, the Cartwheel played host to graduation, social, and wedding parties. In addition, the Port Austin Rotary used the establishment to host events.  After World War II, the Rotarians hosted a party during the 1946-47 year at the Cartwheel Restaurant with NBC radio personality Edgar A. Guest, the featured speaker. 


There is a postcard from 1962 that shows the Cartwheel Inn almost has it looks today. In the 1970s, local lore tells that the Cartwheel was a gathering spot during the Upper Thumb’s biker days. Top bands from the Detroit area would play the venue. Some of the stories are as rough as the infamous Farmers Daughter at Oak Beach. But, they still spoke of a wild time.

Cartwheel Inn Postcard 1962
Postcard 1962

We found this ad in the back of a booklet for the Centennial Jubilee Book of St. Michael’s Parish in Port Austin, dated from 1969. It indicates Rich Knoblock as the owner.

Cartwheel Inn Ad
Cartwheel Inn Ad – 1969

The Wild 1970s At the Cartwheel Inn

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The Cartwheel Inn made a bit of a splash in the news in 1973. In April, “fireworks” erupted at a Port Austin township meeting when the board was asked to reissue a bar’s dance permit. The sheriff had yanked the bar’s permit the prior November. Then, in August, the tavern was sued by 19 nearby landowners claiming the establishment was a nuisance. The group cited blaring bands and public nudity as the primary reason.

The bar played host to many emerging bands in the 1970s. These include The Fadeaways,

Today the establishment still thrives as the Fireside Inn. It’s known for its pizzas and has a massive carry-out operation. If you have a memory or story of the Cartwheel Inn, please let us know.

1960s Postcard of Lightship Huron

The Lightship Huron on the St. Clair River – At the extreme southern end of Michigan’s Thumb lies Port Huron’s town. This lakeside town has close ties to the boating and shipping industry. It’s the starting point of the famous Port Huron to Mackinac sailboat race and was the first large-scale boatyards in the Great Lakes. One interesting little site, located in a county park, is the Lightship Huron.

Port Austin Farmers Market

How the Farm Market Brought Kayaking and Art to Port Austin – Drive from any point south of the Thumb north toward Port Austin, Michigan to its tip, and you will encounter small towns and villages hanging on by a thread. Vacant storefronts, abandoned shops, and roadside stands abound in the formerly robust four corner rural villages typical in Michigan at the turn of the last century.


Experience a Haunted House in Bay Port – If there is one area in Michigan’s Upper Thumb where the paranormal might reside, it would have to be Bay Port. The area was the site of the vanished Ora Labora German Colony from 1861-1867, the spooky and unattended Old Bay Port Cemetery, the famous but now vanished and presumed haunted Bay Port Hotel.

Garfield Inn Port Austin Cover

Garfield Inn, Pioneer Elegance in the North – President James Garfield’s close association with the Learned family and his devotion to Maria were documented in his diary. Garfield and Maria died within months of each other, she in January 1881 of tuberculosis and he from an assassin’s bullet in September 1881 after only six months as president. As Garfield lay mortally ill, he asked to travel to Port Austin and recover in the Learned home. That same month the devastation of the Great Fire of 1881 occurred in Huron County.

Ice Fishing Feature Image

Why You Should Eat Wild Caught American Fish – We have been following the plight of commercial fishing on the Great Lakes for several years. As a result, we have been contacted by folks around the country to let us know that the assault on commercial fishing for wild-caught fish is not only happening in Michigan but every fishing area in North America.

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Michael Hardy

Mike Hardy is the owner of Thumbwind Publications LLC. It started in 2009 as a fun-loving site covering Michigan's Upper Thumb. Since then, he has authored a vast range of content and established a loyal base of 60,000 visitors per month.

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2 thoughts on “The Loud & Wild History of Port Austin’s Cartwheel Inn

  1. OMG! Been over eighteen years since I’ve been in there…….. am now 71 years old. Parents had a cottage just down the road eight of a mile to the west. Use to go there a lot as a kid to the Cartwheel Inn. then later when parents were older and we use to stay the summer months a lot,,,,,, we’d get the cottage. . Also had many parties there, coming from Bad Axe….. Brings back memories.

  2. I remember one 4th of July, I think it was back in the late 60’s, there was a tragedy. A lady who had too much to drink, went out and sat down in the middle of the road. It was not long and she was hit and killed. It was more a Bar then restaurant and had a reputation as a ruff spot then.

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