Tag Archives: Michigan

Introducing ThumbBot

We are pleased to announce the release of ThumbBot. An interactive Bot available on Facebook Messenger. ThumbBot will offer Facebook and Mobile users the ability to search and find information about Michigan’s Upper Thumb using natural language and artificial intelligence capabilities.

This version of ThumbBot offers basic information but will be continually enhanced has people interact with it and new functionality is developed. For example, it offers information on a few of the Thumb’s beautiful beaches. In the next release we are working to offer you information and directions on finding the beach closest to you.

Easter Egg : Type the word “joke” within ThumbBot

You can access ThumbBot at the link below.




Jenny, Quanicassee’s beer drinking bear

We love old stories about Michigan’s Upper Thumb. We are fascinated by the rapid growth of the region in the late 1800’s such as the shipbuilding in Caseville, the boom town of Port Crescent and the grace and luxury of early hotels and resorts of Bay Port and Pointe Aux Barques.

In the early 1900’s the biggest social changing event was that of the automobile. People could extend their world beyond the harbors and rail lines and no longer had to care and feed horses. While roads were still considered not much more then cart paths in the rural areas, the high wheelbase of early autos meant that folks of means could go just about anywhere.

It was during this time that Frank Vanderbilt came and invested in Quanicassee at the base of the Thumb. The name “Quanicassee” is of Native American origin meaning “lone tree”. The entire area had been a fishing village and the marshes were known for wild rice long before the arrival of white settlers. Frank was a hustler and knew how to take care of himself. He was a winning prize fighter. In a fight in Bay City in 1893 when he was 26 he took the $100 prize and all the gate proceeds for beating a local favorite. As a saloon keeper in Essexville he had been shot during a festival. After a fire of his house and bar he came to the tiny village looking for a fresh start. He knew the trend of road travel was just starting to take off. He became owner of a hotel and saloon.

Jenny Bear3
Frank knew how to draw a crowd. It was during this time of early motor travel that roadside attractions became popular. Small museums, oddity displays, and amusement parks popped up next to gas stations and restaurants. Vanderbilt started collecting wild animals for a roadside zoo. One of his early acquisitions was a female black bear. The cub was supposedly orphaned after a fire in the Clare area. How Frank acquired the young cub is truly unknown but it became part of the saloons attraction. The bear was smart and performed for pieces of bread, milk and meat. Frank named the famed cub Jenny.

In 1909 Jenny became a momma. She had her first and only cub with another captive bear named Billy who Vanderbilt acquired after Jenny. The birth announcement when on to say that the roadside attraction had three bears, 28 racoons and a pond full of hungry carp. It also mentioned that “several Indians survive on his bounty”. (Bay City Tribune, January 28, 1909) It was also noted that Jenny was a “topper” for her ability to remove beer caps before guzzling down a brew.

One account was by the Don Miller who wrote on a post about the topic. “…in the summer of 1911 at 15 he [my dad] moved to Frank Vanderbilt’s Resort to mend nets, do fishing boat chores and care for the “zoo” which Frank had put together. Frank provided him a shack. He cared for Jennie the bear as well as other zoo residents. The bear was famous for the beer drinking from a bottle on week-ends…dad fed her bread and milk before the evenings (Fri & Sat) to fortify her capacity. Cost was Fifty cents to buy her a beer. She was housed in a big concrete bridge drain tube with a straw bed & fitted with bars. When in the tavern she would be on a round section of a huge tree trunk, with chain and collared. Over time she became alcoholic got ornery with a hang-over.”

Jenny bear4
The final chapter of the Beer Drinking Bear Jenny is a bit fuzzy. One account is that due to prohibition the saloon and hotel soon were failing. Unable to care for the large animal Jenny was sold to a hunting club who then proceeded to place the bruin on the menu at a wild game dinner. Another account has the bear was euthanized after attacking a customer’s child. The real story is likely a combination of both. Regardless it was a sad end for the alcoholic bear who was so exploited.

In the end it was said that out of guilt Frank Vanderbilt placed the statue of Jenny as a memorial and tribute. Today it’s a part of the lore at the base of Michigan’s Thumb.



Great Michigan Forest Fires

The great Michigan forest fires of 1881 swept over four counties in three days, destroyed nearly two million dollars’ worth of property, and killed one hundred and twenty-five people. Their extent and irresistible power were largely due to atmospheric conditions. The summer of 1881 was excessively dry, and the drought had done its work nowhere more effectively than in the wide, blunt, tongue of land which lies between Saginaw bay and Lake Huron. At the northern end of this tongue is Huron County.

Like this topic? Click the link below to find out more.

Great Michigan Thumb Fires of 1881


Oak Beach – The Gathering Place

The first thing folks notice at Oak Beach County Park is a just how large it is. Sitting on over 40 acres it sports a beautiful beach, a playground, pavilion for family gatherings and well maintained horseshoe pits. Across M-25 is a modern campground with a total of 55 sites featuring full services for camper and tent camping.

HorseShoeTournIt’s known as a great gathering place for horseshoe tournaments, family reunions and even local government functions and picnics.

Oak_beach1The pavilion offers shelter with great vista of Saginaw Bay on the sugar sand beach. 

Huron Nature CenterThe park is ideally situation between Caseville and Port Austin. Nearby attractions include Sandy Dunes mini-golf, the Huron County Nature Center and on Saturdays the Port Austin Farmers Market is a short drive away.  The larger then life art creation “Emergency Ark” can be found down Oak Beach Road. 

Emergency Ark

Campers at the park enjoy a variety of activities including complementary coffee, cookies & donuts every Saturday morning, movies (weather permitting), crafts and karaoke. All special events will be posted on the bulletin board in the camping area. Wifi has been introduced but they are still working the coverage areas out within the campgrounds. 

Reservations, pricing and further information can be found at the Huron County Parks page. 

Photos by Thumbwind and Flickr