Pointe Aux Barques, so named by the French because a certain rock formation looked like the prow of a ship. In 1896 Stanford Crapo, an official of the Pere Marquette Railroad, saw the possibilities of Pointe Aux Barques as a resort for Detroit socialites. Gradually cottages were built and the railroad ran club cars twice daily during the summer, bringing tourists to the Pointe and in 1912 rates were set at: Board and room in hotel, $14 per week; Daily rates, S3 to $5. But just before the hotel was to open, it was completely destroyed by fire.
At the turn of the century, Harvey Firestone owned two cottages, and for many years Michigan poet, Edgar A. Guest, spent summers at his cottage at Pointe Aux Barques.
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Point Aux Barques history
All signs of this once thriving town have been erased by time and nature. It was located about a mile from Huron City and eight miles from Port Austin. From initial land grants in 1845 to J. Spikerman and Walter Hume this fishing village developed quickly. A sawmill was built in 1853 over New River Creek so sawdust was carried out into the lake. (Note…this contrasts to operations at Port Crescent which used sawdust and lumbering waste as a source of fuel) This ventured ended in failure in 1865. A grist mill came in 1856. By 1858 industrialists Howe & Clark employed up to 100 men and built docks for shipment of lumber.
In the creek at New River, fish were so plentiful that it was a common practice for early settlers to catch them in the Spring in huge nets. Often a year’s worth of fish could be put away in barrels and cured. Sturgeon was common and frequently caught.
By 1870, Cooper, Creevy and Noble came and operated mills, established two salt wells; one was 1040 feet deep and the other was 1003 feet deep. These wells produced on an average of 150 barrels of salt a day. The salt was shipped to Detroit, Toledo and St. Louis. Near the mouth of the New River Creek there are still the foundation pilings driven in the ground where the salt blocks were located.
The company owned almost the whole village. They owned the cooper shop and made their own barrels for transporting salt, the houses in which the workers lived, their own lumber mills, and blacksmith shop. The company built and maintained a boarding house. This town had a long dock where steamers regularly stopped for freight and passengers.
The salt block was discontinued in 1886 due to economic downturn of the late 1800’s, the low price of salt and the increasing costs of fuel, (likely coal as lumbering operations waned). Per Mr. James Kilpratrick a state Geologist who visited in 1937, New River had the finest grade of salt found in Michigan. One of the final acts of New River took place in 1895 at the Michigan Supreme Court. The case Noble vs. Thompson involved the debts and mortgage and taxes of the salt block at New River.
Today all that remains of New River is the cemetery.
It isn’t often that two shop’s offering the same fare open in a small town at the same time. But that is what is happening in Grindstone City. The Grindstone General Store is one of the oldest proprietorship’s in the Thumb. Its well known for its huge ice cream cones served up for kids of all ages. The store also offers items produced by local artists. What is less known is a relative new comer; Rybak’s Ice Cream and Candy Shop just down the street operating in a historic building, built by Aaron Peer in 1881. Rybak’s offers high end ice cream, homemade candy and assorted gifts from local artists.The shop once headquartered the Grindstone operations which the town is famous. The building has been beautifully restored.
A Great Lakes shipper, Captain Aaron Peer, sought shelter in the area’s natural harbor in 1834. As his crew explored the dense forest and rocky beach for shelter and firewood, the men came across huge flat rocks lying about the shore and forests. Taking samples south to Detroit, they found the stone (part of the Marshall Sandstone Formation) to be impeccably suited for paving streets, replacing Ohio flagstone as the preferred medium. Within a couple years, Captain Peer and his crew took advantage of the stone to sharpen their tools, and began shaping them into grindstones shortly thereafter. A small port grew here as industry took hold in the forest.
In 1836, Peer purchased 400 acres of land to establish a grindstone quarrying and manufacturing operation. The outcropping of Marshall Sandstone that Peer discovered was an abrasive stone with a very fine grit unique to Grindstone City and perfect for grindstones, scythe stones and hones. Worldwide demand soon earned the town the nickname of Grindstone Capital of the World.
The town became largely a company-built town, with homes, a grist mill, wharfs, and a booming industry with two quarries. A salt mining operation produced 125 barrels of salt each day during the 1870s, and the first railroad built into Grindstone City.
So next time you get a taste for ice cream, or are sick of Cheeseburgers in Caseville make the effort to get to Grindstone City. The choices are awesome.
A couple of years ago our ThumbWind blog published a post that rattled the establishment in Caseville by stating that the best cheeseburger came from the Hitching Post in Elkton. At that time the locally famous burger chef, “Jewels” made a cheeseburger so tasty that local golfers defected from golfing at Century Oaks (which was close to Hitching Post) to Scenic Golf Club when she started cooking and tending bar at Scenic. Those were gentler and tender times. We miss Jewels and wish her well.
This morning, after hitting the Farmers Market in Port Austin and White Church Gallery in Grindstone City we stopped by Shelley’s Bar. What a cool stop. Okay… I admit that the outside needs a bit more curb appeal. But stepping into this roadside tavern you can tell that the locals love this place. They had just finished a breakfast run and were shifting to lunch when we came in.
Clean, comfortable and friendly, are the first thoughts that came to mind as we settled in. Our server came in within a minute and we ordered an ice cold Molson drafts. “So cold your teeth ached.”, one of us noted. The highlights of the lunch were their wonderful “Turkey Reuben, while the sage diner among us ordered a cheeseburger medium with mustard and pickles.
As we were leaving, our cheeseburger connoisseur flagged down our server and asked to speak to the manager. Jackie came over and with a quizzed look ask if everything was OK. Our seasoned cheeseburger snob stated….”this is the best I’ve had all week, it’s excellent!” No small feat has this guy is a known as a regular at the world famous Councils in Bradenton, Florida. Jackie was gracious and explained that they get a special grind from McDonald Food and Family Center in Bad Axe and that they searched several times before they settled in with this well known local grocer. She credited the team in the kitchen has where all the magic happens.
So we have a new Best Cheeseburger in Huron County tagged as coming from Shelley’s Bar in Grindstone City. Their ice cold beer and fresh cut fries round out a great experience. It’s also evident that Shelly’s support local charities and sports teams around the Upper Thumb. ThumbWind will be back from time to time to ensure that they are the Best of the Upper Thumb.