Tag Archives: Bay Port

A Dozen Must See Thumb Sites


We encountered many folks who have come up to the Upper Thumb for their entire lives but never have seen these interesting sites. How many have you been to?  Check these out and let us know if you have a “must-see” from the tip of the Thumb.


1_turnipTurnip Rock – Is a small geological formation in Michigan. It is a limestone stack located in Lake Huron, in shallow water a few meters offshore, near the rock called the Thumbnail which is the extreme tip of Pointe Aux Barques, a small peninsula in Pointe Aux Barques Township which in turn is the extreme tip of The Thumb.

Turnip Rock has been severely undercut by wave action,so that its top has a significantly larger cross-section than its base. Its consequent unusual form, reminiscent of a turnip, has made it an attraction for viewing by canoe and kayak. It’s only accessible from the water as it’s privately owned and not open to the public. Port Austin, the nearest large community, is the usual base for kayaking trips to Turnip Rock.


The Arc – A dilapidated barn from the late 1800s, carefully taken apart piece by piece, has IMG_0475[1]been rebuilt by Detroit artist Scott Hocking as a huge wooden ark.

Originally conceived as an “Emergency Ark,” the project plays into the Hocking’s fascination with mythic forms and structures from the ancient world.

“Many of Scott’s projects are in hidden spaces, where you can’t necessarily see them,” one enthusiast noted. “But this is enormous — and so visible. I drove in from the east, and could see right away the great presence it will have in that landscape.”


1_caseville_breakwallCaseville Break Wall – Its one of the few break walls anywhere that encourages you to walk out and take a look at the bay up close. You can fish, walk and catch a cool breeze on this 1/4 mile sprig of concrete and stone out into Saginaw Bay.

Watch the boats come in and out in the early morning and late afternoon. However ifs its stormy be prepared to get wet.


Charity Island – Also called Big Charity Island, is the largest island in Saginaw Bay, in the1_charity Island Michigan waters of Lake Huron. The island is 222 acres in area and has about 3 miles  shoreline. The island was named by lake mariners for its location, placed ‘through the charity of God’ at the entrance to Saginaw Bay midway between the city of Au Gres, Michigan and “The Thumb”.

Geologically, the island contains pockets of chert that are believed to have been quarried by Native Americans. Offshore, the gravel reefs to the south creates a shallow-water channel separating Charity Island from its smaller neighbor, Little Charity Island. The area between the two islands is a favorite spot for fishing. On the northeast end of the island, a small bay is lined with limestone bedrock, offering good holding ground as a place to anchor during storms. The harbor of refuge is accessible by small boat, though access is controlled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The island also contains an 11-acre  pond, literally a ‘lake within a lake’, fed by springs.


1_portaustinPort Austin LighthouseIs a lighthouse off the shore of Lake Huron, about 2.5 miles north of Port Austin, Huron County Michigan sitting on a rocky reef,  which is just north of the tip of the Thumb and a real hazard to navigation. The light was first lit in 1878, and its pier was modified in 1899. It is still operational and is automated. The foundation materials are a pier, and the tower is constructed of yellow brick, with buff markings. It is an octagonal, 60-foot tall tower, with an attached keeper house. In 1985 the lens was replaced by a 12-volt solar-powered Tideland Signal 300 mm acrylic optic, which eliminated the need to maintain the submarine cable


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Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse – The Pointe aux Barques Lighthouse ranks among the oldest lighthouses in Michigan. It is an active lighthouse maintained by the US Coast Guard remotely, located in Lighthouse County Park on Lake Huron near Port Hope, Michigan in Huron County. “Pointe aux Barques” means ‘Point of Little Boats’, a descriptor of the shallow shoals and reefs that lurk beneath these waves, presenting a hazard to boats as they round Michigan’s Thumb.


Port Austin Farmer’s Market – One of that states largest on-going farmer’s market in Michigan. Every Saturday farmers, local artists and craftsman offer a unique blend of  local Wagon Rides at Port Austin Market.flare for each weekend. Be ready to walk as parking is at a premium in this small town. Enjoy a early Bloody Mary at the” Bank”and proceed to get your weekend stock of fresh corn, vegetables,  local fruit and an amazing assortment of local craftsmen offering clothing, rugs, collectibles to  to furniture. The market is open each Saturday though mid-October.

 


Octagonal Barn – The Thumb Octagon Barn is an historic and unique barn located outside 1_octGagetown, Michigan. It was built in 1924 by local businessman James Purdy. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources bought the property from the bank in 1991 to be incorporated into the adjacent Gagetown State Game Area. The farm buildings including the octagon barn had fallen into disrepair and was in danger of demolition. Local citizens banded together and organized the first Octagon Barn Festival in 1994 to raise funds to repair the barn. The Friends of the Thumb Octagon Barn was formed that year.

After the barn, historic farmhouse, garage and electric power plant were restored, other buildings were moved or built on the old Purdy farm. Moved to the site were a one-room schoolhouse and grain elevator. New construction included a schoolhouse museum, a large multipurpose building, a covered bridge and a sawmill. A blacksmith shop is planned.


1_petroSanilac Petroglyphs – The Sanilac Petroglyphs historic site is located near Cass City. Take M-53 to Bay City-Forestville Road and proceed east to Germania Road. Head south one-half mile on Germania; the site is on the west side of the road. The carvings, known as petroglyphs, were discovered by residents after a fire swept through the area in 1881 and revealed rocks bearing the designs. Because they are made in relatively friable sandstone, geologists have been able to determine that the carvings were made 300 to 1,000 years ago, dating back to the Late Woodland Period. The Bow Man, believed to represent a hunter, is the most well-known of the Sanilac Petroglyphs, rock carvings etched into a sandstone outcrop.


Sand Point – The Sand Point Nature Preserve is one of the most critical protected coastal 1_sand pontlands in the Saginaw Bay Watershed, and probably one of the most important in the Great Lakes. Through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act the Saginaw Bay Herpetological Survey found Sand Point Nature Preserve to be the most biologically diverse site along the Saginaw Bay shoreline.

 


Bay Port – This is one of the Upper Thumb’s tiniest lake shore Bayport Fish Companyvillages but it overflows with history and sites unique only to Michigan. Home of the Bay Port Fish Company, operates between spring and fall, depending upon the weather and has four boats: the Osprey, the Argo, the Patsy, and the Sunflower. You can see the Osprey and the Argo tied up in Caseville harbor at the fish house just south of the break wall. Fresh, smoked, and frozen fish can be bought from the retail store in Bay Port. They also can be found at several Farmers Markets in Michigan. Look for booths at the Port Austin Farmer’s Market, Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market, and the Eastern Market in Detroit.


Huron Co Nature CenterHuron County Nature Center – Located midway between Caseville and Port Austin the wilderness arboretum offers over 120 acres of woods, dunes, marsh connected by a intensive trail system. This offers a glimpse of the upper thumb has it appeared 100 years ago. Alternating sand dune ridges, (now with mature growth), and wide areas of pine, oak, fern and huckleberry.

There is no charge to visit and walk the trails. Donations are welcomed.


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The Bay Port Hotel


The history of Michigan’s Upper Thumb is one of boom and bust. In the late 1800’s the lumber industry created frontier  millionaires and whole towns sprung up around mills. New industry such as salt blocks sprang up next utilizing tons of debris from the saw mills as fuel. The Bay Port Hotel was an exception. Using rail as transport, guests could get to the calm waters of Wild Fowl Bay in a 1/2 a day yet still have all the amenities of a big city hotel.  The days of frontier resorts would soon end in the early 1900’s as lumbering ended in Michigan. This is a clip found in Caseville’s museum collection.

Pictured here is 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 in its day. 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 barber shop.

The culinary arrangements were second to none in Michigan. The ventilation and lighting system, as well as the fire protection offered guests was the best of its time.

Was it Haunted

About year 1900 despondent young man committed suicide in one of the lower rooms by slashing by slashing his wrists and throat. Before he died the young man succeed in making bloody hand prints over of the beautiful walls of his room. Because it was difficult to cover up the stains this was locked up and not used again.

Not long after the tragic death of the young man, the Bay Port Hotel had the reputation of being haunted. Guests were positive that throughout the nights, they heard voices even claimed to have seen the ghosts of the young man and his betrothed, who had preceded him in death.

The “Cincinnati Club” that rented the entire hotel for some weeks each summer, left and found a new summer home. Sail boats which dotted the bay near the hotel, disappeared. Excursion trains from the big cities discontinued their daily trips to the thriving port. In short the fancy hotel no longer was paying investors.


Bay Port Hotel


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. 


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Images from Caseville Historical Society and Bay Port Chamber of Commerce.

 

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Haunted 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 that existed from 1861-1867, the spooky and unattended Old Bay Port Cemetery and the address of the Sweet Dreams Inn where many claim to have experienced paranormal activity.

wallaceThe Inn was built-in 1890 at the end of the lumber era in the Upper Thumb. Built by William H. Wallace, the Victorian style home was designed with the tastes and style common at that time by those with means. Wallace was active in politics and was a delegate in the Republican National Convention in 1908, 1916, and 1924. He was president of Michigan Sugar Company and Bay Port State Bank.  He owned the Wallace Stone Quarry which is just south of town and still in operation today.  His first wife, Elizabeth died in 1893 and local lore tells that she passed away in the home. There also a bit of a mystery in that despite the prominence of this individual there is no record of his or his son’s grave sites. 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.

“Me and my best friend live in Bay Port We have seen ghosts and heard screams countless times walking on the street in front of the sweet dreams inn. Also have heard stories of the ghosts and have seen the little girl looking out of the left window on the third floor. So I believe it is haunted!!!”

The Sweet Dreams Inn is a specialized bed-and-breakfast where guests hope to experience the proximity of these friendly ghosts. Guest have reported that doors open and close, beds and chairs are moved. Some report that they feel being touched and hear voices and footfalls where nobody has been. One event that was caught on a cell phone video was that of an “orb” flying through one of the guest bedrooms. At times guests are unnerved by the experience and leave in the middle of the night.

“Been there several times and have experienced activity first hand: footsteps, voices. Just because one person doesn’t have an experience doesn’t mean it never happens.”

The inn has been featured in two Haunted Michigan travel books and featured in a paranormal documentary and movie. The Inn registers guests by appointment you can actually stay overnight.



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Utopia Lost in the Wilderness


Author’s Note: When researching place names of the Thumb I ran across the term “Ora et Labora”. Looking it up I found it was a popular game and the name of utopian community in the 1860’s near Bay Port. Amazingly I pass right by the attributed area of this 19th century colony on my way up to Caseville every week. Yet up until this now I’ve never heard of it. Now after hearing a podcast on Detroit’s public radio station; WDET and some further research I’ve come into contact of one of the foremost researchers and authorities on the German settlement. Over the next two years we will be taking the readers of ThumbWind on a voyage of this colony and pursue the goal of getting this noble experiment recognition by the State of Michigan.  This post officially kicks off that effort with a bit of highlights on the “German Colony” whose ultimate demise was a consequence of the best and worst of human endeavor.

What follows is the current published legend on the rise and fall of Ora Labora Colony on Wild Fowl Bay.

Ora Labora in Michigan’s Thumb

“Ora et Labora settlement was founded  by Emil Baur in 1857 between Bay City and Port Huron in an attempt to establish a religious, socialistic, ideal community. Over 288 German settlers based their settlement on Prayer and Work. Sponsored by the German Church, the Ora et Labora was established on the shores of Wild Fowl Bay, Bay Port in Huron County. Two hundred eighty-eight individuals signed the community’s initial articles of agreement” that reflected Methodist but also “intended to preserve German customs and language. Members worked on communal projects and were paid for their labor at the community’s store. By 1861, however, male workers were drafted away with the Civil War, the community’s isolation and the also contributed to the experiment’s failure.  Only 14 families remained when the colony disbanded in 1867.”

This is the published version. Most of it is wrong. What really transpired was much more dramatic.  

Visit our new site ora-labora.org  for in-depth discussion and research in this amazing piece of Michigan history.


The Ora Labora German Colony operated in the Upper Thumb for only a few short years until 1867. Yet its impact and legend continues today. 100% of the profit of each of our Ora Labora collection will go toward the Ora Labora Michigan Memorial Project.

Ora Labora Sweat shirt