Tag Archives: Port Austin

Port Crescent – A Ghost Town in the Thumb


Port Cresent State Park Beach South

Port Crescent State Park is one of the largest state parks in southern Michigan.  Located at the tip of Michigan’s “thumb” along three miles of sandy shoreline of Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay, the park offers excellent fishing, canoeing, hiking, cross-country skiing, birding, and hunting opportunities.  However a little known aspect of this park is that it sits on the location of a ghost town.

What’s In a Name – Pinnebog Confusion

Walter Hume established a trading post and hotel near the mouth of the Pinnebog River in 1844. From these humble beginnings the area took the name of Pinnebog, taking its name from the river of which it was located. However, a post office established some five miles upstream also took its name from the river. To avoid confusion the  town changed its name to Port Crescent for the crescent-shaped harbor along which it was built.


Port-Crescent-Village-Plat-Map-1870s


Port Crescent – Industrial Powerhouse

Port Crescent had two steam-powered sawmills, two salt plants, a cooperage which manufactured barrels for shipping fish and salt, a gristmill, a wagon factory, a boot and shoe factory, a pump factory,  two brewerys, several stores, two hotels, two blacksmith shops, a post office, a depot and telegraph office, and a roller rink. Pinnebog employed hundreds of area residents.

By 1870 a 1,300 foot well struck brine.  This started a salt blockhouse operation where they extracted brine by evaporating the water to produce 65,000 barrels of salt annually. Port Crescent used the “slash” or leftover limbs, bark ans sawdust for fuel to boil the salt water. At one time a this 17 block village boasted of a population of more than 500

Port Crescent prospered as a lumber town from about 1864 to 1881. One sawmill became so busy salvaging thousands of trees felled in one of the infamous fires experienced by the Midwest in 1871 that it added a 120-foot brick chimney to help power the plant. In 1881, another fire swept through the Thumb region, destroying the area’s timber resources.


Port Crescent Grist Mill
Port Crescent Grist Mill


The Town of Port Crescent Declines

When the timber in the Pinnebog River basin was gone, the town began to decline.  The lumber mills closed, as did the firewood-fueled salt plants. Workers dismantled some of the buildings and an 800-foot dock, moving them north to Oscoda, Michigan. Some Port Crescent residents moved their houses to nearby towns. By 1894, all of the buildings in Port Crescent were gone, leaving few traces of the town behind. Nathaniel Bennett Haskell, who owned the sawmill and salt plant on the west side of the river, began to export white sand which was used in the manufacture of glass. This continued until 1936.


Port Crescent State Park

Port Cresent State Park River Bank

After  World War II, the  demand for public use areas along shoreline property stimulated interest for an additional state park in the Thumb. Twenty years later, the Michigan Department of Conservation acquired possession of 124 acres of fine woodland at this place for a new state park. Port Crescent State Park was officially established on September 6, 1959.

Today little remains of the former town. Foundations can be seen, in the Organization Area, where a structure stood. The lower 10 feet the old sawmill chimney is a prominent part of the park entrance.


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Paddle Turnip Rock – Five Things to Know


Turnip Rock is an Easy Paddle

One of the most amazing sites in the Upper Thumb is Turnip Rock. Carved over time by the force of constant wave action the soft limestone has been shaped to its namesake and separated from the mainland over thousands of years. CNN called it one of the Most Amazing Rock Formations in America and Pure Michigan featured it on it’s 2016 magazine cover. International travelers coming into Detroit Metropolitan Airport see Turnip Rock as their first view of Michigan’s wonder scenes coming into customs. It’s a marvel to behold and it’s an easy trip if the conditions are right.

This small guide offers a local point of view to avoid problems with the local law enforcement and property owners while being able to enjoy a unique natural wonder.


Paddle to Turnip Rock Port Austin Michigan


Turnip Rock is on Private Land

Despite its uniqueness as a natural wonder is located and surrounded by private land. Thus the only way to access it is from the water. Fortunately that can easily be achieved by canoe or kayak. This means that you can’t go feet dry. Stay in the water. If you must get out of our kayak stay as close to waters edge as possible. (Unless its an emergency)



Paddling  Near the Rock on Busy Weekends

During the weekends the number of paddlers can get quite large. If the area around the rock is crowded consider paddling a few hundred yards past and view the overhangs and cave features that border the Pointe Aux Barques community.  During the late 1800’s the cave were hideouts for fugitives. It’s worth taking a few minutes to explore.  You may be tempted to get out of your kayak and climb the rocks for a view. This is a no-no and there are several signs reminding not to trespass. (IMHO these signs are obtrusive, and possibly illegal as they are posted under the high water mark of Lake Huron)


Pointe Aux Barques Caves


Heed Weather and Travel Time

Plan on 2-3 hours total travel time to Turnip Rock from Port Austin. This assumes that the winds and lake are calm. You will paddle north-east along the shallow coastline until you see the small cliffs that mark the start of Pointe Aux Barques. If the wind is strong and the there are waves it’s a wise idea to defer to another day. Novice paddlers have been pushed by southern winds out into the lake requiring assistance or rescue.



Can I Climb on Turnip and Fingernail Rocks?

Despite numerous YouTube and other postings showing people climbing all over the rock formation, you are urged to not imbibe. The shore formations above the high water mark is private land. People have been hurt trying to climb it and arrested for trespass. Also the limestone is rather fragile and prone to breakage and collapse. The best way to mark your visit is to capture the rock formation with digital photos of you and your peeps in unique light and weather. Stay wet and wild and get a great shot from the water.   


Turnip Rock what to Bring


What to Bring on Board

Life jacket, Sunglasses, sunscreen, small towel, cell phone and a dry bag. Bring water and something to munch on. Water shoes are also highly recommended. It’s not a strenuous trip but winds and weather can make it a challenge for the unprepared.



Leave No Trace

Leaving no trace is everyone’s responsibility. While paddling to the rock remember to minimize your impact so it can be enjoyed for the next generation. Here are the seven principles of Leave No Trace.

  • Plan Ahead and Prepare. …
  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces. …
  • Dispose of Waste Properly (Pack It In, Pack It Out) …
  • Leave What You Find. …
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts. …
  • Respect Wildlife. …
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors.

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Bird Creek County Park


Port Austin’s Beach of Choice

Bird Creek County Park Boardwalk

Bird Creek is a seven-acre day use park and beach located in the small town of Port Austin at the tip of Michigan’s Thumb. Bird Creek features a 350-foot boardwalk along its one-acre beach with roofed picnic shelters overlooking the beach and the water.  The boardwalk includes picnic spots, benches, restrooms, a large shelter and connections to play areas and shore fishing. The park features a large picnic Pavilion adjacent a playground, restrooms and shower facility. A concession stand with pop, ice cream & snacks is available on weekends.

Located in the village of Port Austin, this park is walking distance to the village. It is a favorite spot for sailors and boaters who dock at the State harbor and marina. There are nearby kayak rentals and the park is prime stop on the Heritage Water Trail.

Image from huroncounty.com

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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

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