ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

How Technology Wiped Out Michigan's Grindstone City

Updated on May 7, 2018
Mike Hardy profile image

Mike is an author of tales, tastes, and fun in northern Michigan. When he is not messing around on the Great Lakes, he is writing about them

The accidental find of the Marshal Sandstone formation in Michigan's Upper Thumb in 1834 gave rise to one of the areas first industries. Grindstone City became famous for its production of huge grinding wheels until a disruptive technology change slid the industry and the town into obsolescence.

A Great Lakes Storm Starts a New Industry

A Great Lakes Schooner
A Great Lakes Schooner | Source

Seeking shelter from a Great Lakes storm, the schooner the Rip Van Winkle captained by Aaron Peer, came into a natural harbor west of the Pointe Aux Barques lighthouse in 1834. After anchoring and securing his ship, the crew explored the dense virgin forest and rocky beach for shelter and firewood. This was a wilderness of ceder, pine, beech, ash, and maple. The tall cedar canopy was so thick that snow remained in places although it was midsummer. The men came across huge flat rocks lying about the shore and forests.

Captain Peer took some of the pieces of the stone south to Detroit. They found the samples to be impeccably suited for paving streets, replacing Ohio flagstone as the preferred surface. It's said that this stone was used to pave a few blocks on Detroit's Jefferson and Woodward Avenues. It was later used as foundation material on several buildings in Port Huron Michigan.

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 from the natural harbor as his men worked inland bringing the sandy abrasive stone out of the forest.

The Boomtown of Grindstone City

Grindstone City
Grindstone City | Source

In 1836, Captain Peer purchased 400 acres of land to establish a grindstone quarrying and manufacturing operation. The area that Peer discovered this abrasive stone it's fine grit was unique to the tip of Michigan’s Thumb and part of the of Marshall Sandstone formation. The stone is easy to work with and ideal for shaping. Peer and his team built a horse powered grist mill to make grinding wheels and whetstones. The company produced grindstones that varied from small kitchen grinding wheels to large grinding stones weighing 3 ½ tons or more. The largest stone ever turned out weighed over six tons.

Demand for the large sharpening stone soon earned the Upper Thumb the nickname of Grindstone Capital of the World. The Company town, started with a stone-cutter grist mill, and grew with a wharf out into Lake Huron, two quarries, company store and offices. A salt block was built to extract salty brine and evaporate it. The operation produced 125 barrels of salt each day. By the 1870s the first railroad built was built into Grindstone City to offer less reliance on ships.

Grindstone City became a fast growing industry that produced the largest and finest grindstones, scythestones, and honestones in the world.

New Technology Dooms the Town

Putting the Final Touches on a Grindstone
Putting the Final Touches on a Grindstone | Source

The boomtown days were numbered as new technology was developed. Carborundum was discovered in 1893 by E.G. Acheson. This silicon powder has a crystal structure like that of diamond and is ideal for cutting, grinding, and polishing. Economical to produce, Carborundum started taking the place of grinding stones, and the quarries could no longer be operated at a profit. Grindstone City slid into decline from 1900 and ceased operations in 1930.

Grindstone City Today.

Grindstone Harbor Looks Almost the Same Today
Grindstone Harbor Looks Almost the Same Today | Source

Today Grindstone City is a vacation destination and retirement community. Remnants of the town are still visible. The General Store is still operating as a ice cream and gift shop. The church is now an art gallery. The former headquarters and offices of the quarry operations is now a charming and restored ice cream parlor.

Grindstone City is also known for sports fishing in Lake Huron. Charter boat captains take angelers out in the big lake for salmon, lake trout and brown trout, steelhead, walleye, and yellow perch.

Massive grindstones can still be seen along the shoreline of the long vacant pier that juts out into the lake. The natural harbor still looks as it did in the 1830's when the first grindstone rock was discovered.

Finding Grindstones Today

Grindstones can Still be Seen on the Beach
Grindstones can Still be Seen on the Beach | Source

Grindstones can still be seen on the shore north of the city. Abandoned stones littered the beach for years. People started to pick them up and use them as lawn decorations for their cottages in the Upper Thumb. Today only the largest of the old grindstones remain.

Grindstone City

A
Grindstone City, MI:

get directions

This area is known for its history of making grindstones. Today it draws those with vacation homes and sport fishermen.

Was this article informative?

Have you ever seen or heard of grindstones before reading this article?

See results

Author's Note

Sources:

  • Great Lakes Maritime Data Base
  • Mabel Cook's "History of Grindstone City New River and Eagle Bay" (1977).

Note: We looked further into the history of the schooner, the Rip Van Winkle. There looks to be a discrepancy on the date that authors state that this ship took refuge from the storm (1834) and records stating when the Rip Van Winkle was built. (1847) The Rip Van Winkle worked on the Great Lakes until 1852 where its recorded as wreaked in Lake Erie. It's likely that Peer commanded or owned the Rip Van Winkle. Research continues.

© 2018 Mike Hardy

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)