Tag Archives: Michigans Thumb

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.



Sebewaing’s Busy Harbor

The lumbering era in Michigan’s Upper Thumb from 1860-1880 resulted in booming towns all along the shoreline. Sebewaing was no exception. While it did not benefit from proximity of being on Lake Huron like Sand Beach, (later named Harbor Beach), or having a deep river outflow like Caseville, it’s historical  spot as a rich hunting area by native Americans and natural outflow to Saginaw Bay by the Sebewaing River predestined it as a natural gathering spot.

While researching another topic. I ran across these rare pictures taken in the Sebewaing river area in the late 1800’s. I was surprised such large ships could enter as the early plat maps show only a narrow river entrance into the town. It turns out that Sebewaing was a bit of a ship building and repair site. It’s yet another bit of history to savor. If only for a moment.


Schooner Viola in Sebewaing harbor. Source: Ralph K. Roberts

Drukee Sebewaing Docs 1887

Schooner  G.R. DURKEE, 1887, attributed to being taken in Sebewaing. (Doubtful) Dowling Collection, University of Detroit – Mercy

JC_Liken_Sebewaing DocksSteambarge J.C. Liken 1873, taken in Sebewaing. Source: Ralph K. Roberts


Caseville Beach – It All Happens Here

The Daytona of the North

Over the years I’ve encountered numerous folks from Southeast Michigan who have fond memories of heading to the beach in Caseville. The park’s waterfront offers a large sandy expanse with plenty of room to build sandcastles, play touch football, rent kayaks and swim the day away. Its proximity to the large campground and short distance to town means it’s frequented by many visitors. It’s one of the most Instagrammed and Facebook Selfie spots around.


Vista of Fun

While you can’t drive on the beach you can park close enough to get a great view of sunsets or the fireworks shot off the Caseville breakwater pier on July 4th. During the annual Cheeseburger festival key events such as the cardboard canoe race and the sand sculpture draw large crowds. If you’re hungry there is a lunch stand that offers some of the best French fries around.


Close to Everything

The beach is only a portion of this large city-side park. Caseville County Park sits on 40 acres, it hosts a large full service campground with large portions of it covered with a tree canopy. Many campers bring their boat along as launch ramps are available at the nearby marina, as is fishing off the Caseville Pier. The park also features pavilion rentals and offers a few prime beachfront sites. The park also has an open air theater which provides live entertainment during Ribstock BBQ competition in June and Caseville Cheeseburger festival in August. Once here you can reach all attractions by foot or bike as the city has sidewalks throughout.