We can’t believe that summer is over. The weather is great but the daylight is shortening and the evenings are cool. So its no surprise that the last festival of the year rolls into Caseville this weekend. The Caseville Pumpkin Festival is a family oriented weekend of scarecrow making, pumpkin carving, hay rides and all kinds of contests.
Caseville Pumpkin Festival
This weekend’s event marks the 16th year of the fall festival. Created specifically for kids and families. The big event draw is the pumpkin rolling contest at Caseville County Park. A couple of new events are being added in 2018. The streets of Caseville will be the canvas with a sidewalk art with chalk. For added fun, there will also be wagon rides and a pumpkin eating contest.
The festival starts on Saturday morning with a kids pumpkin parade at 9am. Check out the Caseville Chamber of Commerce site for all of the events. We will be there and hope to share the fun on Twitter @Thumbwind.
The Butterfly House and Gardens give you a chance to see various Michigan species of butterflies up close and personal. The 30×50 netted house and surrounding gardens are beautifully landscaped and many of the plants are identified.
The butterflies are grown and collected in the late spring and raised for the summer season. They are set free to migrate south as the season changes to fall. Visitors can stroll through the inside enclosure to view the butterflies or the surrounding gardens. There are places to sit and quietly view the amazingly entertaining creatures.
A Garden of Ideas for Your House or Cottage
If you’re a gardener, the Butterfly House and Gardens offer a chance to see which plants are suitable to draw the butterflies into your own garden or yard. In 2017, bees were purchased and the hives were visible nearby.
Strong Community Support
The Port Austin Lions Club adopted the effort to bring the butterfly house to the city. It was completed in 2017 as part of the Lions Club 100-year Anniversary Centennial Project. Also chipping in with financial help and support was the Huron County Community Foundation, the Village Downtown Development Authority, United Way and the Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative.
Future Plans for Tower Park
The Butterfly Garden Project was completed by the local community to utilize a seldom visited park in Port Austin and transform it into a visitor destination. There are future plans for landscaped pollinator and gardens to be established and grow food in the park for donations to local charities and food banks. In 2017, senior landscape architecture students from Michigan State University presented a park and streetscaping plan for the village. The Port Austin city council will consider incorporating those ideas into a master plan for the water tower park.
The Butterfly House and Gardens are located next to the large water tower at the corner of Madison & Adams Street and offer plenty of parking.
Related Stories to the Port Austin Butterfly House
Drive from any point south of Michigan’s Thumb north to its tip and you will encounter small towns and villages hanging on by a thread. Vacant storefronts, abandoned shops, and remnants of roadside stands abound in the formerly robust four corner rural villages that were common in Michigan at the turn of last century. (Make that from 1800-1900) These small towns were social and economic hubs in the days before the car and paved roads. Stories of travel in the historical fiction murder mystery The Thumb Pointed Fingersnoted took a solid day or two to get from Bad Axe to Detroit via the railroad. The area’s remoteness made it sensible for each village or town to have several stores, hotels, and diners.
Today these small towns are struggling to survive. Caseville Cheeseburger Festival offers merchants a chance to make their year profitable in a single week. Thousands of tourists descend for a burger and a beer while wearing a grass skirt and having a good time. Indeed, summer festivals in the Thumb celebrate beans, polka, sugar, potatoes, fish sandwiches, and chicken wings. Each of these small rural towns is looking for ways to draw folks in and keep their local businesses going.
Port Austin – Not an Event but a Destination
The town at the tip of the Thumb has taken a different approach; offer the town has a destination for the entire summer season. It was the 4th of July weekend in 2005 that the Port Austin Farmers Market debuted with just over 50 vendors. Now with over a dozen years in operation, Port Austin claims to host one of the largest outdoor markets in Michigan. Today permanent vendor booths have been built and the market operates each Saturday for six months of the year with over 150 vendors participating. The Farmers Market offers one of the best examples of farm-to-table opportunities anywhere with fresh produce, fruits, meats, and fish along with baked and gourmet canned goods. It was the vision and early leadership of John and Lisa Pridnia who, along with many others had the energy and forethought to get the Port Austin farmers market to the success that it has become today.
A Lawyer Makes a Float Plan for Port Austin
Operating outside the fringe of the Port Austin Farmers Market was the paddler crowd. In 2007 Chris Boyle, a local attorney, founded Port Austin Kayak. (Affectionately called “PAK”) He invited paddlers to join him in 2008 to a summer of weekend paddles circumventing the entire Thumb shoreline on the Tip of the Thumb Heritage Water Trail along its 25 access points. In 2012 Boyle worked with Michigan State University faculty and students to create a concept of a “third place”; an informal gathering spot outside home and work to share and express ideas. As a further outcome, Boyle and his wife came up with the concept of C.R.E.A.T.E., which stands for Community, Recreation, Environment, Arts, Tourism and Entertainment. A moniker which has seemed to take on a life of its own in this coastal community.
Two Simple Kayak Trails Have Sparked a New Interest in Port Austin
Today the PAK offers novice and experienced kayakers the opportunity to explore some of the most scenic sea kayaking trails in lower Michigan. From the harbor, a few miles along the beach is all that separates one from a site deemed by CNN as the “Most Unique Rock Formation in America”, Turnip Rock, which lays a few miles east. While a gentle paddle to the west reveals the accessible and climbable Broken Rocks formations along the shore. This enterprise has offered 1000’s an opportunity to see a beautiful bit of Michigan and offer Port Austin as an entry point for the experience.
An Old Barn Offers a Blank Canvas
It was a simple idea. Paint a large mural on the side of a very weathered barn. Husband and wife visual artists Steve and Dorota Coy came to such a barn in the Upper Thumb in 2013 and changed the direction of Port Austin’s art scene. Their company, Hygienic Dress League works in the community combining business and art with its uses the platform of street art and public art to create their own marketing campaign and bring art to the masses. Their public interventions have surfaced in over nineteen different cities in nine countries spanning across three continents. With the painting of a pigeon on one side of the barn and a version of American Gothic in gas masks on the other, the barn has taken on new life. (However, the work has faded over the past 5 years) Its one of the 10 destination barns for viewing.
Barn to Ark in Port Austin
In June 2015 artist Scott Hocking came to Port Austin at the encouragement of former Port Austin native Jim Boyle to start a series of 10 projects around Port Austin. Finding an 1800’s barn south of Oak Beach, he transformed the structure into a larger than life form entitled “Emergency Ark”. The looming work denotes sanctuary and safety and took five months to construct. This represented another destination piece from a local project called 10 barns in 10 years. An effort to create works of art on barns that art and sculpture enthusiasts can travel about Huron country to view.
The Community Expands Beyond Port Austin
Efforts to make Port Austin a unique and welcoming destination seem to be paying off. The Detroit News ran an article over the 2018 Labor Day weekend that noted that Port Austin has become an “Artistic Beacon” of the region This series of investments by the Upper Thumb community, such as the nearby White Church Gallery, looks to have paid off with more visitors trekking up M-53 for a day trip or for a beachfront cottage for the entire summer.
Haunted, Creepy, and Spooky Sites in Michigan’s Thumb
Michigan’s Upper Thumb is full of colorful history—from the boomtowns of the 1800s lumber era to the resorts and vacation homes of today. The area has long been acknowledged as an active paranormal region and has been the subject of books and television. Here are the most active haunted and spooky sites in the area.
Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse
This iconic lighthouse sits near the eastern tip of Michigan’s Thumb and was built in 1857. The light tower overlooks a twelve-foot limestone bluff, while the light itself is 93 feet above lake level and visible for a distance of 16 miles.
The lighthouse and nearby Port Hope Life Saving Station were almost destroyed in the massive 1881 fire that swept across the thumb. The lighthouse keeper, Andrew Shaw, and the crew of the lifesaving station formed a bucket brigade and fought the fire by toting water from the lake.
The light is an active aid to navigation, so climbing to the top of the tower is not allowed. However, tours are conducted during Memorial and Labor Day weekend. Pointe aux Barques light is one of the oldest continuously operating lights on the Great Lakes.
This site is now known for paranormal activity, as tourists have reported seeing a mysterious form pull back curtains on the second story of the empty lighthouse. Some say this story goes back to the 1930s and that a former housekeeper haunts the main house.
In 2010, the South East Michigan Paranormal Society conducted an electronic analysis in the main house. The team recorded furniture moving, scraping, thuds, and giggling sounds in the empty house. After the study, the team leader of the investigators noted, “There is every reason to believe the lighthouse proper is haunted.”
A local radio station suggests that the lighthouse is haunted by the widow of the first lighthouse keeper who drowned on Lake Huron in 1849. It is said that the ghost of Catherine Shook has been seen walking along the cliff looking out on the lake for her long-lost husband.
Visiting the Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse and Park
Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse and Park are located 10 miles east of Port Austin. The park features a large, full hook-up campground, picnic areas, and a rock hound’s perfect rocky beach. The lighthouse museum is open daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day from noon to 4 pm.
Pointe Aux Barques Lifesaving Station
The area around Point Aux Barques is also known for its paranormal activity offshore. Reports by sailors coming into the mouth of Saginaw Bay near the Pointe Aux Barques Reef have told of seeing a white lifeboat with eight men rowing out to the lake.
As it turns out in April 1880 six men drowned when their surfboat overturned in high seas when going to the aid of the lumber scow J.H.Magurder. in distress. The sole survivor, Captain Jerome Kiah lived to tell the tale. Kiah had to resign his position several months later due to his exposure in the icy waters of Lake Huron.
Old (Colony) Bay Port Cemetery
In the 1860s, German immigrants started a religious colony called Ora Labora on the shores of Wild Fowl Bay. In its first year, 140 settlers established a hamlet in the wilderness. However, the colony was plagued by illness and within months of their arrival, the community suffered its first death of a little girl.
Ora Labora established the cemetery on the extreme southern edge of the colony. It is the final resting place for the pioneers of a town that has disappeared from all the maps. The burial ground still exists and is the only remnant of this long-lost colony. The Old Bay Port cemetery has 241 marked graves resting amongst wild trees and forests that beckon to take it over. The site located at the end of Sand Road off M-25 in McKinley Township. Look for the large rock marking the entrance to the site.
The Mystery at Old Colony Cemetery
There are over 300 graves in the Old Bay Port Cemetery. Yet there is a bit of a mystery as local lore states that the graveyard was established by the German Methodist Colony called Ora Labora which operated from 1861-1867. Yet no recorded graves are found in the records of the cemetery from the first residents of this famous historical colony.
Bay Port’s Sweet Dreams Inn
Local businessman and lumber baron William Wallace built the mansion in 1890. The site of the house is near the once famous Bay Port hotel and along the stagecoach route Build in the Victorian style, the Inn has five guest rooms in which to stay and overlook the Lake Huron shore. Wallace was active in politics and owned several businesses in the Upper Thumb. He owned the Wallace Stone Quarry which is located south of town and still in operation today.
The Inn is considered one of the most paranormally active residents in Michigan. Local legend states that his first wife, Elizabeth died in 1893 and that she passed away in the home. There also a bit of a mystery as to the final resting place of William Wallace. Despite the prominence of this individual, there is no record of his grave site. Thus it’s no coincidence that visitors say Wallace and his first wife still roam the inn with his heavy footsteps, as well as whispering in the ears of the guests. While they are considered friendly spirits some visitors leave the inn in the middle of the night as the ghost of Wallace wanders the mansion telling the guests to leave.
The Site of the Haunted Bay Port Hotel
Close to the Sweet Dreams in is the site of the formerly luxurious and imposing Bay Port Hotel. In its day the famous Bay Port Hotel. It was nestled among the beautiful trees on the shore of Saginaw Bay at Bay Port (1886-1907) This hotel was state of the art. Well planned and built of the finest materials having 117 heated rooms, six excellent cooks, hot and cold baths, bowling alleys, pools tables and an electric lighting system, Casino, and barbershop.
About 1900 local lore states that a despondent man committed suicide in one of the lower rooms by slashing his own wrists and throat. Before he died, the young man succeeds in making bloody handprints over of the beautiful papered walls of his room. Because it was difficult to cover up the stains this room was locked up and not used again.
Soon tales of voices and cold chills were told about the large imposing hotel. With the hotel failing the richest man in town, W.H. Wallace purchased it and sold the contents ‘by auction sale, before tearing down the building in 1907. Today all that remains are the front steps in front of an empty lot.
Port Crescent Cemetery
In the late 1860s, the town of Port Crescent was a booming lumber town. The town was considered one of the largest on Saginaw Bay with two steam-powered sawmills, two salt plants, a barrel making cooperage for shipping fish and salt, a gristmill, a wagon factory, a boot and shoe factory, a pump factory, roller rink, two brewers, stores, two hotels, two blacksmith shops, a post office, a rail depot, and telegraph office. The town employed hundreds of area residents.
However by the 1880s, the lumber era had peaked, and two large fires swept through the Upper Thumb destroying millions of acres of timber. The town was doomed and soon buildings were moved to other nearby towns. The remaining industry was the mining of fine silica sand used to glassmaking, but this too went out of business in the 1930s.
Rich History of Port Crescent Cemetery
Today, the site of the former town is now comprised of the trails and campground of Michigan’s Port Crescent State Park. A small part of the chimney is still visible near the campground and a steel girder bridge crosses the Pinnebog river for hikers. Nearby, the final bit of the town left is its cemetery. The final resting place for the residents of the ghost town is scattered among rolling, moss-covered sand dunes. It’s an eerie feeling to visit in the evening.
Port Crescent cemetery is located about 1/2 mile east of M-25 on Port Crescent road in Hume Township, Huron County, Michigan. Access is gained by walking past a vehicle gate down a country lane about 100 yards to the northeast corner of the cemetery.
Graves Among the Ancient Sand Dunes of Port Crescent
Walking among the gravestones of the Port Crescent cemetery today it like walking back into the time of the 1870’s. The sand dunes from the lake are still evident and many of the grave markers are askew from the shifting sands of time.
The Bruce Mansion – Brown City
This large and imposing Victorian home was built in 1876. The three-story mansion has a coal bin and cistern in the cellar. The more striking feature is the home’s tower copula which has the ideal look for a spooky haunted house. Which it is.
The mystery of the home begins a few years after it was built. A huge fire in 1881 covered and destroyed entire towns across the thumb but left the house untouched. In the 1920s, John Walker bought the home. Local legend tells that Walker accidentally killed someone with his car and that he hid and buried the body on the property. Riddled with the guilt he fell into despair. Soon his wife had left him and the mansion was facing foreclosure. It was said that he hanged himself in the tower copula, however, the official cause of death is not recorded.
The large house has been the focus of paranormal investigators and tourists. There have been two investigations that have denoted numerous apparitions. Amazingly, there have also been reports of a ghost cat running through the rooms and a growling dog in the cellar.
Today, the owners offer tourists interested in seeing the mansion tours on Saturday evenings. The Bruce Mansion is 15 miles north of Imlay City, 6 miles south of Marlette, and 5 miles west of Brown City on M-53.
The Haunted Bruce Mansion An Orb Flies by in the Bruce Mansion
It’s finally here. My favorite time to be in Michigan’s Thumb. The Caseville Cheeseburger Festival has long since past. The Labor Day weekend has come and gone. Things are quieter. I can now cross M-25 over the the beach in silence and without fear. What a great season. For many folks, this was an odd summer. Extremely hot in July then the rain hit just about every weekend. Saginaw Bay was cool and clear until mid-August and the walleye stayed in the shallows off “The Slot” until really late in the season. Now it’s time to put away the beach toys and look for that favorite sweatshirt when near the fire on cool nights or when burning leaves.
The Fall Season in the Thumb
Now it’s time for football on Friday evenings on WLEW, chili on the stove, and it’s finally cool enough for a sweatshirt. I don’t expect the leaves to fall until later in September, but I am seeing a hint of color on my maple trees. The crickets are in full chirp mode during the overnight. A sure sign of a waning summer.
It’s going to get more quiet, more serene. Soon the boats will be coming out at the marina, the trailers parked all summer at the campgrounds will be leaving or wrapped up and winterized. Cottages will be closed. Garden’s are turned over.
However, for now, I look forward to the iconic Indian summer. A string of unusually warm days after a snap of chilly ones. It sometimes hits during late September, but I’ve seen it come later. The long shadow of a bright sun and crisp fall air. It’s an ideal time to be around at the tip of the Thumb.