Huron Shore Region

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The Huron Shore Region borders Lake Huron at the northeastern corner of the northern tip of the Lower Peninsula. Through it flow the waterways of the Thunder Bay, Cheboygan, Rifle, Au Sable, and Pine rivers. The abundance of fish, the vast forests and limestone deposits, and those rivers and lakes that afforded both a transportation system and a source of power furnished the basis for the economy of the region. The Sunrise Side Coastal Highway (U.S. 23), formerly the shore trail, follows the Lake Huron coastline through this region from Mackinaw City at the Straits of Mackinac at the north to Standish on the south. The route runs two hundred miles with scenic views of Lake Huron and an array of forests, parks, and recreational areas.

Euro-American settlement in the Huron Shore Region began in the 1820s and 1830s. Sites at the mouths of rivers were selected for trading posts, fishing ports, and sawmills. An early trading post on the Au Sable River was established in the 1820s by a French Canadian trader named Chevalier. Located on 640 acres granted to him in 1823 by the federal government, it became the center from which he traded goods for fish, furs, and game with Chippewa and white traders, hunters, and fishermen. He left the area in 1833, but his place was taken by George Hulett Duell, Horace D. Stockman, and others, who purchased land at the mouth of the river and founded the community of Au Sable in 1849. The commercial fishing industry that developed here grew rapidly, and thousands of barrels of fish were shipped south to Cleveland and Cincinnati. Attracted not only by the fine gill-net fishing available in Thunder Bay but also by stands of pine, spruce, fir, and other timber, and by the rivers that could be harnessed to power sawmills, settlers came into Alpena County in the 1830s. In 1859 the first steam sawmill in Alpena County was started at Alpena.

Arenac County was established in 1831 and reorganized in 1883. The other five counties were established in 1840. Cheboygan County was organized in 1853, Iosco and Alpena counties in 1857, and Alcona County in 1869. Presque Isle County was organized in 1871 and reorganized in 1875.

Lumbering in the Huron Shore Region peaked in the 1890s. The architectural result of this prosperity is seen in the wooden Queen Anne houses and in the courthouses of Alpena ( AL1) and Cheboygan ( CN1), in particular, and in the opera house at Cheboygan. Some of the region's lumbering-era architecture was lost to forest fires. On July 11, 1911, Michigan's last great forest fire wiped out towns in the Huron Shore Region, including Oscoda and Au Sable. The pine forests of the southern portion of the region have been conserved in the Huron National Forest. Reforestation was undertaken in the 1930s. Other timberlands are preserved in the Au Sable and Mackinac state forests.

Limestone, gravel, cement, gypsum, and clay shale are quarried, mined, and produced in the Huron Shore Region. Near Alabaster, Douglass Houghton discovered outcroppings of gypsum in 1837. By 1841 William McDonald and others sought workable deposits, and in 1861 William S. Patrick developed the first gypsum mine. The gypsum quarried at Alabaster, processed in Chicago, and used in the buildings at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago earned the exposition the title “The White City.”

Francis and Cynthia Crawford, the earliest pioneers in Presque Isle County, started a stone quarry in the 1860s and then opened a fuel station for wood-burning steamers on Lake Huron. In 1910 the Michigan Limestone and Chemical Company was formed at Calcite, formerly Crawford's Quarry, to extract limestone. In 1920 U.S. Steel acquired the limestone operation. The industry is beautifully illustrated in a mural in the Rogers City post office ( PI1), but in 2010 both the limestone quarry and ore freight fleet lost business. Limestone quarrying began in Alpena County in 1903, cement production in 1907, and the invention and manufacturing of a cement-block machine put people to work. Limestone, concrete, and concrete block were employed extensively in the buildings of the region, most notably in Alpena.

In the 1870s the inland water route was opened to link Lake Huron with Lake Michigan from the mouth of the Cheboygan River through Mullet and Burt lakes to Crooked Lake, Conway, and Little Traverse Bay, permitting travel through the interior of the northern Lower Peninsula before roads were laid out. It opened Burt and Mullet lakes, two of Michigan's largest inland lakes, to resorters and tourism. Cabins, summer cottages, camps, inns, and motels are strung along U.S. 23 along Lake Huron and along rivers and on inland lakes. Tourism and outdoor recreation—hunting, fishing, boating, camping, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing—are important to the economy today. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, industrialists built log wilderness camps and hunting and fishing lodges in the region. Fine rustic log lodges stand near Onaway and at Grand Lake ( PI6).

Camp Skeel expanded in 1941–1942 to serve as an auxiliary field for the defense of Sault Ste. Marie and the Straits. It became Oscoda Army Air Field in 1942 and was renamed Wurtsmith in 1953. A Strategic Air Command bomber wing base, Wurtsmith closed in 1993, but the Yankee Air Museum is at the now Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport.

Writing Credits

Kathryn Bishop Eckert

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