Port Crescent State Park is one of the largest state parks in southern Michigan. Located at the tip of Michigan’s “thumb” along three miles of sandy shoreline of Lake Huron Saginaw Bay, the park offers excellent fishing, canoeing, hiking, cross-country skiing, birding, and hunting opportunities.
It’s a popular tourist destination, and with its designation as a Dark Sky preserve, it gets stargazers every clear summer evening. However, a little-known aspect of this park is that it sits on the location of a Michigan ghost town.
Port Crescent – Once a Buzzing Lumber Town
What’s In a Name – Pinnebog Confusion In michigan’s history
Walter Hume established a trading post and hotel near the mouth of the Pinnebog River in 1844. From these humble beginnings, the area took the name of Pinnebog, taking its name from the river of which it was located. At the time, the thumb was an “impenetrable wilderness” of thickets and tall pine and hardwood forests.
The growth of the lumbering town began with the construction of a sawmill at the lumber camp in 1851 by Woods and Company. The economy of the town was initially based on the Production of finished lumber. Loggers cut and moved the trees in the winter and moved them downriver in the spring to the Company mill. By March, ships would arrive at the dock, and the finished umber would be shipped to towns all along the lower Great Lakes.
Christian Schlegelmilch ushered in the start of the agricultural aspect of Port Crescent with the first steam-powered gristmill in Huron County in 1868. The flour was known for its excellent quality
Around the same time, the town was assigned a post office. The postmaster named it Port Crescent, noting the shape of the large crescent-shaped beach. Some of the residents objected, preferring to name the town Pinnebog, the name of the river. However, the village of Pinnebog to the south was already established and the name of Port Crescent stuck. In 1871 telegraph service was established, putting the town in touch with the world.
Stagecoach service was available on a weekly basis. The two-day journey ran between Port Austin and Bay City with stops in Sebewaing and Port Crescent. The service included the delivery of mail and newspapers.
Port Crescent – Industrial Powerhouse now a Ghost Town
The booming lumber town had two steam-powered sawmills, two salt plants, a cooperage that manufactured barrels for shipping fish and salt, a gristmill, a wagon factory, a boot and shoe factory, a pump factory, two breweries, several general stores, two hotels, two blacksmith shops, a post office, a depot and telegraph office, and a roller rink. Pinnebog employed hundreds of area residents. Despite it not being a typical company town, it thrived and quickly grew.
By 1870 a 1,300-foot well-struck salt brine. This started a salt blockhouse operation where they extracted brine by evaporating the water to produce 65,000 barrels of salt annually. Port Crescent used the “slash” or leftover limbs, bark, and sawdust for fuel to boil the saltwater.
A notable fishing industry also was started, partially herring and whitefish. At one time this 17 block village boasted of a population of more than 500.
In 1871 the town built its first schoolhouse. It was a two-story building and noted as one of the largest schools in Huron County. The school could hold as many as 100 students.
Port Crescent prospered as a lumber town from about 1864 to 1881. One sawmill became so busy salvaging thousands of trees felled in one of the infamous fires experienced by the Midwest and Thumb area in 1871 that it added a 120-foot brick chimney to help power the plant. The remains of the chimney are still visible near the State Park entrance in the camping area.
In 1881, another fire swept through the Thumb region, destroying the area’s timber resources. This was the proverbial last nail in the coffin. Port Crescent never became an industrial town like Caseville after lumbering petered out. It was on its way to becoming one of many Michigan ghosts town’s of the lumbering era
The Town of Port Crescent Declines
When the timber in the Pinnebog River basin was gone, the town began to decline. The lumber mills closed, as did the firewood-fueled salt plants. Workers dismantled some of the buildings and an 800-foot dock, moving them north to Oscoda, Michigan. Some Port Crescent residents moved their houses to nearby towns.
Many of the sturdy buildings of the little village were literally taken off their pilings and hauled away to nearby Port Austin, Kinde Bad Axe, and other towns.
In 1886 a fire started at the Company mill. Lumber stored on-site ignited and the flames spread. The fire burned down the “Big House”, the finest home in the city that was built in 1872 and used by the mill owners and managers. The fire and loss of the Big House hastened the end of Port Crescent toward its status as a ghost town.
One of the newer buildings was the All Saints Church built-in 1884. By 1907 it too was moved to Kinde by the Lutherans. By 1890 the Huron Grindstone Company had purchased the mill, salt block, and dock of the former Woods and Company. The buildings were dismantled and moved to Grindstone City.
Related Reading About Port Crescent State Park
Sand Operations for Glass Manufacturing
By 1894, all of the buildings in Port Crescent were gone, leaving few traces of the town behind. Nathaniel Bennett Haskell, who owned the sawmill and salt plant on the west side of the river passed away.
Haskell’s daughter Elizabeth began to realize the value of the perfect location and excellent local sand quality for copper-smelting and glassmaking. Her family’s home was the last old building from the whole town of Port Crescent. The Haskell docks became a sand one of the many sand mining companies and hauling and shipping operations.
Elizabeth sold her holdings in 1918. By the 1920s the business became part of Sand Products Corporation. The lumber town of Port Crescent was all but gone. It was now truly a ghost town. Sand Products built a huge dock and rail line that enabled 500-foot freighters to dock and load right up at the beach.
The unique sand along the beach was exhausted in the 1930s and the operations were abandoned.
Port Crescent State Park on top of a Ghost Town
After World War II, the demand for public use areas along shoreline property stimulated interest for an additional state park in the Thumb. Twenty years later, the Michigan Department of Conservation acquired possession of 124 acres of fine woodland at this place for a new state park. Port Crescent State Park was officially established on September 6, 1959.
Port Crescent Is a Local Legend
Today little remains of the former Michigan ghost town. Some say the concrete foundations of the original buildings are still under the forest floor. However, after tromping around much of the surrounding area, I can say nothing is visible. In the organization’s area, just east of the campground entrance, a bit of foundation remains where a structure stood. A historical marker and a kiosk are outlining the tale of Port Crescent.
The lower 10 feet of the old foundations of the sawmill chimney is a prominent part of the park entrance. Hikers exploring the west side of the park in the trail system can still find evidence of the former old logging town, especially in the spring before the forest floor greens up.
The like dozens of towns in Michigan, the old cemetery for Port Crescent is located a quarter-mile south of the Dark Sky Tavern. It’s well kept and an ongoing genealogical resource for those looking for family members of the little town.
Known Residents and Businesses of Port Crescent
Allen John First Settler of Huron Country
Allison Robert Carriage and Wagon Factory
Armstrong James Purchased the Company Mill after the beginning of the Civil War
Ayres Millers from Port Austin. Purchased the Company Mill from Armstrong
Buttars Owned Company Mill Built the Company Mill
Cantelon Mr. Hume Sister
Carrington Mark Wrote an Almanac called the Mark Carrington’s Almanac
Church M. E.
Clark E. P. Rev
Cook O. S. Bookkeeper
Davis W. A. Manager of the Salt Block
Davis Sophia Wife of William Davis
DesJardins Samuel Architect
DesJardins Paul Minister
DesJardins Harriet Teacher
Eakins James Dr
Hay Jennie Teacher
Hazen George F.
Holmes E. F
Hume Walter Original Founder Founded the settlement in 1844.
Hume Walter Jr.
James S. M. Professor
Janks Owned Company Mill Built the Company Mill
Johnson Hattie Teacher
Johnson J. B. Real Estate
Kennedy H. C. Owned the Traveller’s Home
Kimball Chas Lighthouse keeper
Laidlaw James Early Resident
Learned Jonas B Manager Learned Ayres Millers from Port Austin. Purchased the Company Mill from Armstrong
Loosemore Hugh Hermit Lived at Loosemore’s Point found frozen to death in his “Castle”
McKenzie Mary Teacher
Mssrs Owned Company Mill Built the Company Mill
Peebles E. D. School Superintendent
Penoyar V. V.
Provost John Hunter
Quinn Frances Student
Schilling Mary Wife of Walter Hume
Schlegelmilch Christian Frederick Owned Schlegelmilch Griss Mill Built the GrissMill
Schlegelmilch Frederic Teacher
Schlegelmilch Mary Student
Sellars F. W. Doctor
Shine John Attorney
Shine Eliza Teacher
Smith Dan Logger
Spaulding Owned the Spaulding Mill
Templeton John G. Rev
Thompson Owned Company Mill Built the Company Mill
Varty James Poet
Varty Willaim Worked for Woods Co
Williamson WM. C.
Williamson WM. C.
Wiswall Miller Millers from Port Austin
Information provided by genealogy site ancestry.com
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