Category Archives: Michigan History

History of Great Lakes Cruising

Cruise Lines are Back on the Great Lakes

I’ll admit that I’ve taken a liking to cruise. It must be the influence of having a sailboat that we have taken from port to port on Lake Huron.  Great Lakes Cruising is making a comeback. Recently several cruise ships have announced routes and stops throughout the Great Lakes region. Currently, there are three cruise lines that cover the Great Lakes. Victory Cruise Lines, Great Lakes Cruise Company and Blount Small Ship Adventures. The Great Lakes Cruise Company has four ships that cover a wide range of ports and destinations. One ship, the Pearl Mist is small enough to tackle the famous cruising grounds of Georgian Bay and the beautiful North Channel. 

Great Lakes Crusing

Cruising was the Primary Way to Travel in the 1800’s

In the days before the highway and autos, the only way to travel the vast distances for the Great Lakes was by sail and steamer. In the mid-1800’s until well into the 1950’s one could travel most of the lakes in style and comfort. One of the most famous and beloved ships was the SS South American. The SS South American was a Great Lakes overnight passage steamboat built by the Great Lakes Engineering Works at Ecorse, Michigan. It was built in 1913 for the Chicago, Duluth & Georgian Bay Transit Company. The vessel was launched on February 21, 1914, and was the newer of two sister ships, the older one being the SS North American. 

Great Lakes Cruising

Along with its sister ship, SS North American carried passengers between Chicago, Mackinac Island, Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, Duluth, Georgian Bay, Detroit, Cleveland, and Buffalo. These were the heydays of the industry. A businessman could board a ship in Chicago for an overnight trip to northern Michigan. Spend the weekend with the family in the cool northern cabin in the woods and take the ship back to the city on Sunday night for work on Monday. It was noted that Hemingway’s father did just that early in the 1900’s. 

Great Lakes Cruising

Only the South American visited Lake Superior and made a short weekly stop in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula town of Houghton/Hancock. She carried over 450 passengers. The rare picture below hangs in the Rock Harbor Lodge on Isle Royal. It shows tourists being dropped off at the American Dock which still stands today. 

Great Lakes Crusing

The South American was well known for its High School trips in the 1950’s. Southeast Michigan high school seniors would take a small cruise from Detroit to Chicago. The last season for the South American was in 1967. Her final route was to offer trips to the 1967 World’s Fair in Montreal. 

Great Lakes Cruising

Sadly, both ships are now part of history. The SS North American sunk on the Atlantic coast while being towed and the SS South American rotted away and was finally scrapped in 1992. However, with the rapid popularity of cruising now taking place, I expect to see more of these small cruising ships ply their way among the Great Lakes.

Great Lakes Cruising

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The Mystery of the Holes at Rush Lake

4x4 Offroad

A Mystery at Rush Lake

When I was a kid, my cousin and I would ride all over the trails near Rush Lake, a state hunting area in the Upper Thumb. We explored the hills and the large cattail-filled lake. One area that fascinated us was a deep pool of water cut out of the sandstone at the end of Quarry Road. It was larger than the size of two Olympic swimming pools. We threw rocks into it and tried to figure out how deep the water was. We typically got chased out by some irritated neighbor or got bored and went to explore something else. Other than the name of the street, no one knew anything about that deep pool at the end of the road.

Years go by and I’m researching the quarry operations of Grindstone City and of William Wallace’s quarry in Bay Port when I encountered a strange reference to another. There is mention of a stone quarry with a large dock operation near an area called Little Oak Point. Oak Point is located north of Rush Lake. It was an interesting development. Could this be the remnants of that large water-filled pool I explored as a kid?

green leafed plant beside lake
Photo by Irina Kostenich on

A Rush Lake Competitor to Grindstone City?

The Babbitt Sandstone Company was headquartered in Ypsilanti Michigan. It began stone quarry operations in March of 1885 in Lake Township. It was opened on a large exposed area of Napoleon sandstone just north of Rush Lake. News of the quarry’s opening in newspapers throughout Michigan indicated that they wanted to manufacture grindstones. They extracted a blue sandstone that was very hard and ideally suited as a building material. They established a long dock out into Saginaw Bay for shipping the building material. By 1887, the quarried stone was also used for cemetery memorials as the hard sandstone was considered to weather well and hold the inscriptions. Examples of the memorials are said to be found at Caseville cemetery.


Babbitt’s Small Quarry Fails at Rush Lake

Like Grindstone City, the operations began to falter in the late 1880’s . Public records in 1892 show that the Babbitt operations may have started to decline as the company failed to file its financial report that year to the state. By 1910, a State geological survey indicated that the quarry is no longer in operations and the quarry operations were filled with water.

The last evidence of the Babbitt quarry can still be seen at the end of Quarry Road. Specifically, the 1800s excavations are on the edge  of the Rush Lake State Game Area in Lake Township. The site can be seen from Google Earth of the large holes of the former stone quarrying operations. The Babbitt quarry was the smallest and shortest-lived of the sandstone quarry operations of the Upper Thumb.

Similar Stories to Quarry Operations at Rush Lake

Coal Mining Operations of Sebewaing
Grindstone City, the Thumbs First Industry

Rush Lake Sources

• Isabella County Enterprise, 27 March 1885
• Geological Survey of Michigan Lower Peninsula 1896-1900, State of Michigan
• A Biological Survey of the Sand Dune Region on the South Shore of Saginaw Bay Michigan, 1910-1911, State of Michigan

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