All posts by ThumbWind

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,

The Burning Great Lakes


The Drought over the Midwest

The summer of 1871 was dreadfully hot and dry in Michigan’s Thumb. Farmers watched their crops wither in the dry heat. In the fall, relief from the drought was no better. Folks began to worry that there was to be some lean winter months ahead. The heat and the lack of rain did not only affect eastern Michigan. The conditions stretched west into Wisconsin and northern Illinois. The whole region was a tinderbox. Michigan was in the midst of a lumber era. Lumberjacks and woodsman from Maine used a slash and grab method of timber harvesting. The endless piles of branches, stumps and pine debris from the once numerous white and cork pine dried in the heat all summer long.

The Mysterious and Sudden Start of the Fires Across the Great Lakes

pish

It was Sunday October 8 that fires near Peshtigo Wisconsin and Chicago came to life. No one is certain how they started. Popular lore of the Chicago fire tells that a cow, owned by Mrs. O’Leary, purportedly knocked over a lantern in her barn that set off the blaze. While in Wisconsin, a sudden fire mysteriously starts outside of Peshtigo. A few hours later, across Lake Michigan, fires erupt in Holland and Manistee. By later in the day the fire rips across Michigan only to be stopped by the shores of Lake Huron north of Port Huron at the southern end of the lake. Historians and meteorologists point to a cyclone like system of winds parked over the eastern plains in early October that fanned and fueled the fires.


The Chicago Fire was Famous but the Peshtigo Fire Was Horrific

People_escaping_the_Chicago_Fire_fleeing_into_Lincoln_park_1871

The fire in Chicago burns about three square miles of the city, consuming more than 17,000 buildings and taking 300 lives. In Wisconsin the survivors jumped into rivers to escape the flames, and witnessing firestorms, or “tornadoes of fire,” that devastated enormous areas. Some who went into the Peshtigo River during the fire boiled alive in the 2000 degree firestorm. Please for assistance from the area go unheeded as there was no telegraph service. The Peshtigo fire takes up to 800 lives and goes down in history as the worst fire disaster in the US of all time.


The Conflagration Begins in Michigan

That same Sunday across Lake Michigan, residents of the shore side town of Holland gather to fight small fires that suddenly were to flare up on the southern part of the town. By late afternoon, winds increased to hurricane strength. As night sets in there was no hope of saving the town as buildings on the western edge of the town caught fire. Within hours “The entire territory covered by the fire was mowed as clean as with a reaper; there was not a fencepost or a sidewalk plank and hardly the stump of a shade tree left to designate the old lines,” said one resident.


The Fire Moves in to the Thumb Area

1871 Thumb Fire

In Michigan’s Thumb, the situation could not be worse. The prevailing winds brought embers and dense smoke from the other Michigan fires burning in the west. In just over 30 hours the forest fires that started in Manistee, marched through Grayling and Big Rapids. Then following the slash loaded timbering trail, it swept through Isabelle, Midland and Bay counties and halted in Gratiot County where there had been no lumbering. The respite was to be short lived. Burning embers, ignited small piles of slashings along the Cass river until it reach Caro. Once there, piles of dry logging brush allowed it to blast across and up the Thumb.

Blinded by smoke and pushed the rushing 100 foot flames, residents jumped into wells or rushed to the lakeshore, where they saved themselves by wading into the water. One small boat held nine children from Rock Falls and drifted for three days across Lake Huron to Canada. All but one child survived the ordeal.

 


Towns Try to Fight Back the Fire

Port-Huron-Fire-1871

Like in the other close communities of Michigan, the entire town of White Rock fought the fire all day Sunday, but when the hurricane winds fed the fire it went out of control. The town folk took to the lake and remained for the rest of the day in the cold battered by waves caused by the maelstrom. When the fire died down, they dried themselves from the embers of the fire until the steamer Comet rescued them.

By the evening of Tuesday, October 10, all the fires across the Midwest begin to end. Rain moved into the area and damped down the fires into a smoking monster that lasted for days. Michigan’s Thumb area was devastated. Most of Huron, Tuscola and Sanilac Counties went up in flames and residents took to the shore looking for rescue.


The Survivors Trek to the Tip of the Thumb

In the days after the fire, accounts trickle in that survivors make their way to Port Austin. Houses are filled with residents from Port Hope and Grindstone City. Victims walk into town with singed or missing hair, blistered faces and clothes practically burned off their back.  There is an announcement made in Detroit that any donations made on the Griswold dock in Detroit will find there way to Port Austin. 


The State Responds 

Steamer SS Comet Great Lakes

The Thumb communities of Glen Haven, White Rock, Forestville, Sand Beach, Port Hope, Grindstone City, Elm Creek, Huron City, Forest Bay, Center Harbor, Rock Falls, Verona Mills were almost totally obliterated and the residents were left destitute, without food, shelter and with only the clothes on their backs. Winter was only weeks away. 

In the days that followed a relief and recovery, effort was headquartered at Port Huron. Please for ships were sent across the Great Lakes. The Wisconsin steamer Comet cruising from Lexington to Pointe Aux Barques reported seeing continuous flames up the entire coast.

Ships bringing refugees back from the upper thumb reported that the smoke was so thick out on lake Huron they had to lite their lamps to avoid collision.

The Toll is Enormous

While Michigan’s official death toll numbered at least 10 there was likely many more. In 1871 there were hundreds to thousands of lumberjacks, labor and peddling salesmen spread out across the state, along with a thinly populated settlements in the remote area across Michigan, making it impossible to ensure an accurate number of lives taken. In the end the fire raged across the upper Midwest over an estimated 2 1/4 million acres of land and destroyed at least 4 billion feet of prime timber. It took almost 2,500 lives, including approximately 800 in Peshtigo alone.

For weeks after the fires newspapers tracked accounts of relief committees set up at Port Huron, Manistee and Holland. In some cases, residents were returning the area to start the rebuilding process. Small homes were being built for shelter during the winter months. Lumber companies offered men pay rates up to $35 per month during the winter to go into the burned out areas and harvest the available timber. Sand Beach was totally burned out. Store goods that managed to be salvaged were purchased by Packs, Jenks and Co in Rock Falls. It was looking like Sand Beach was finished as a town.

A Wild Theory Emerges After the Fires

Shortly after the Great Midwest Fires of 1871, Minnesota Congressman, Ignatius Donnelly wrote a book called “Ragnarok”, and suggested that the fires were started by Biela’s Comet. The comet was first discovered in 1821 and had a six year orbit cycle with earth. Since it was not seen again it was proposed that it broke up on its approach toward earth in 1872. The suggestion that the near simultaneous fires across the upper Midwest could have been an autumn meteor shower. This theory persists to this day.

Sources Consulted


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Port Crescent – A Ghost Town in the Thumb


Port Cresent State Park Beach South

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’s Saginaw Bay, the park offers excellent fishing, canoeing, hiking, cross-country skiing, birding, and hunting opportunities.  However a little known aspect of this park is that it sits on the location of a ghost town.

What’s In a Name – Pinnebog Confusion

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. However, a post office established some five miles upstream also took its name from the river. To avoid confusion the  town changed its name to Port Crescent for the crescent-shaped harbor along which it was built.


Port-Crescent-Village-Plat-Map-1870s


Port Crescent – Industrial Powerhouse

Port Crescent had two steam-powered sawmills, two salt plants, a cooperage which manufactured barrels for shipping fish and salt, a gristmill, a wagon factory, a boot and shoe factory, a pump factory,  two brewerys, several stores, two hotels, two blacksmith shops, a post office, a depot and telegraph office, and a roller rink. Pinnebog employed hundreds of area residents.

By 1870 a 1,300 foot well struck 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 ans sawdust for fuel to boil the salt water. At one time a this 17 block village boasted of a population of more than 500

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 in 1871 that it added a 120-foot brick chimney to help power the plant. In 1881, another fire swept through the Thumb region, destroying the area’s timber resources.


Port Crescent Grist Mill
Port Crescent Grist Mill


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. 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, began to export white sand which was used in the manufacture of glass. This continued until 1936.


Port Crescent State Park

Port Cresent State Park River Bank

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.

Today little remains of the former town. Foundations can be seen, in the Organization Area, where a structure stood. The lower 10 feet the old sawmill chimney is a prominent part of the park entrance.


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Trihalomethane Found in Caseville’s Water System


Updated April 2, 9:15 am.

Online reports from WNEM and other news outlets have reported that recent tests of Caseville, Michigan’s water supply showed excessive levels of Trihalomethine. Trihalomethanes are formed as a by-product when chlorine is used to disinfect drinking water. Trihalomethanes forced the first water safety regulations to be issued after passage of the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974.

Chemical Byproduct in Water System Seen in 2016 Testing

Caseville said they are seeing 2017 average test results at of Trihalomethine at 88 parts per billion.  Caseville’s 2016 Water Report showed measurements of Trihalomethine ranging from 40 to 100 parts per billion.  Four tests were conducted in 2016 with an overall average at 74 parts per billion. The safe standard is 80 parts per billion.

We spoke with Troy Hartz, Superintendent of the Caseville Water Plant. Caseville’s water supply comes from Saginaw Bay. He noted that the measurements in August have the highest level of Trihalomethine due to the warmer water from the lake. Hartz noted that the Michigan DEQ informed him that there are other Michigan water systems who draw surface water from lakes who are also experiencing the high Trihalomthine measurements during August testing. 

Steps Being Taken 

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has been brought in to the Caseville Water Plant to determine the best way to address the problem and comply with the water safety standard. Hartz indicated that adjustments may be made of the amount of chlorine applied at Caseville’s pumping station to address the concern.  

Caseville has not asked residents to seek other water sources but have asked residents with heath concerns to consult with their doctor.

Long term exposure to high levels Trihalomethanes can lead to kidney or liver damage and an increased risk for cancer.


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Attract Hummingbirds and Orioles to Your Cottage


We were at the market in Caseville about a week ago and someone brought up the topic of when the hummingbirds will show up. I’ll admit that in the Upper Thumb there is a big nectar feeder culture. We look forward to seeing these migratory visitors show up each spring as a sign of warmer days ahead. 

 The robins make their way here about mid-March to feast on insects and worms emerging from the frozen earth. The next anticipated migratory birds to swoop in on the scene is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Baltimore Oriole. After spending, the winter in Mexico, Cuba and Central America theses migratory birds make their way to the Great Lakes by mid April.

With a little persistence, you can attract hummingbirds and orioles to your cottage within a few weeks and enjoy this colorful resident for the entire summer season.


oriole-feeder

For Orioles Set up Colorful Feeders Early

  • Orange is the New Black – Orioles are attracted to bright vibrant orange. We found that having an orange or bright red feeder draws the birds in for the feast. Set the sliced orange halves in a shallow bit of water to discourage ants. Replace the oranges daily. If you see mold, clean out the feeder. Mold can be harmful to the birds.
  • Set Up Feeders Early in the Season – We think orioles have a great memory and hummingbirds are demanding. One early spring we noted that the hummingbirds were buzzing us until the feeder was placed. Placing your feeders out early will catch the early arrivals and may turn those passing through to seasonal residents.
  • Keep Oriole Feeders Out in the Open – We have seen the most active oriole feeder posted in the middle of the yard. Orioles will fly in, take a sip or two of the sweet nectar then fly off to a nearby perch to finish up, preen and do it again.

    Ruby-throated-HummingBird

If You See an Oriole Nest, Switch to Bugs

  • Mealworms – If you are lucky enough to see one of the small sack like nests in your yard change up the diet to mealworms. In the spring, the birds crave the sweet from fruit nectar after their long migratory flight north. Once breeding and nesting season starts they will begin to seek out insects. Mealworms are a great high-protein food that will build them up for their fall flight south.
  • Leave Oriole Nests in Place – The bird won’t reuse the nest but the will reused the material. Orioles will set their nests out on slender green twigs to discourage predators. We found nests in small trees about six feet off the ground. Experts suggest offering lengths of twine or horsehair. Sadly we have seen small spreads of plastic wrap incorporated in a nest.

    Baltimore-Oriole

Create a Bird Spa

  • Water  – Orioles are attracted to shallow moving water. Pick a shallow basin and add a small pump or bubbler to keep the water moving. Change the bath when you see crud or droppings 
  • Place Oriole Feeders Away from You – Orioles are typically shy. They do not like a lot of traffic from humans or animals. Try to locate your feeder in an open area where it can be seen from the air and treetops. Placement in a high branch or on top of a pole is ideal. We have place one feeder on a tree outside our kitchen window with great success. 
  • Multiple Hummingbird Feeders – If your successful drawing in the small birds, consider placing several nectar feeds in close proximity. 

    Ruby-throated_hummingbird_on_feeder

Hummingbird Food Tips

  • Offer Clear Sugar Solution – We use the same recipe for both orioles and hummingbirds. Add one cup Big Chief granulated sugar to four cups of boiling water. Stir and let cool. Refrigerate unused portion. Never use food coloring. Or Orioles, some experts recommend diluting the sugar water to eight parts water to 1 part sugar.
  • Grape Jelly is OK – A favorite alternative to sugar solution is a small amount of grape jelly. A couple of tablespoons in an secure dish is like ringing the dinner bell. You may see some aggressive behavior by the orioles as they vie for feeding rights. Hummingbirds will also visit a jelly station.  Experts suggest mixing a ¼ cup of water into the jelly.
  • Clean Feeder Means Healthy Birds – If you see black mold form in and around your feeder take it in and wash it out. This advice is especially true for hummingbird feeders. The sweet nectar will draw in ants and other critters.

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