Village of Port Austin

Huron County Michigan

Port Austin, MI (Lake Street) (1935) - Contributed by Paul Petosky

At the mouth of Bird's Creek on the eastern shore of Saginaw Bay, and about two miles west by south of Point Aux Barques, is situated the town of Port Austin. For natural advantages, beautiful and picturesque scenery, it is unequalled by any other site in the Lower Peninsula. Its front rests on a parterre which gradually rises as you go from the Bay. Its coast is rocky, and for some distance back is shielded by grand old trees. No prettier or more romantic spot could be selected for residences or summer resorts than along this shore, and the wonder is that these beautiful grounds are not all dotted over with fine residences. A few, with an appreciation for the beauties of nature, have put up elegant residences on these grounds. Among these are, James H. Hall, the banker, the Winsors, Mr. Quimby, of the Detroit Free Press, and J. W. Kimball.

The Government built for this port a good lighthouse. It is located on a reef about two miles and a half north by east from the town, and about two miles north of Point aux Barques. The crib is octagon in shape, 80 feet in diameter, and rests on a solid foundation of rock, which lies 6 feet under water. It is 94 feet high, and was completed in 1878. The keeper is F. E. Kimball.


During the early days, on steamboat nights, or when they were expecting vessels, they would build bonfires on the shore. Afterwards, Ayres & Co. used to hang out a lamp at the top of a cedar pole. Jonathan Bird was the first settler at this place, which was in 1837. He was a "Patriot" in the reform movement of that time, who fled from Canada and sought refuge on the shores of Saginaw Bay. He built him a little cabin and remained through that winter. In 1838, he built a water-power saw-mill on the banks of the creek that run into the Bay, which was afterwards called Bird's Creek. This was the first saw-mill started in the territory of Huron County. This was the beginning of the heaviest lumber business ever opened in the county. In 1852, Smith, Dwight & Co. bought out Mr. Bird, and under the direction of J. W. Kimball started a large steam saw-mill, which afterwards cut out over 120,000,000 feet of lumber for the eastern markets. The tall chimney of this old mill is standing on the sandy shore, within a hundred feet of the water's edge, as firm and erect as ever. This would reverse the theory that a sandy foundation is unsafe to build upon.

The first school taught at Port Austin was in 1853, in a school-house built by J. W. Kimball. Miss Emma Smith, whose little flock numbered some 15 children, was the teacher.

The first religious service held here was by a Methodist circuit preacher who came up from Lexington. This was in 1853, and the meeting was held in the school-house. This territory then belonged to the township of Worth, in Sanilac County.

At this period the people had no regular mail, which being brought only by steamboats, in the winter did not come at all. In the fall of 1853 Daniel Butters, with others, clubbed together and hired a man to bring the mail from Lexington. In the winter of 1853-4 John Butters took the contract to carry the mails from the village to Caseville, at $2 a trip, following along the beach. At this time there were a few Indians along the coast.

When Mr. Butters, with his family, came along, they could not land. The boat took them on to Saginaw. On her return trip, she again failed to make a landing, when they were taken back again to Port Huron, where they lay off to await the return of the boat from Detroit. On the third trial the boat effected a landing, and they were put ashore.

Times were pretty hard during this winter (1854), and many of the settlers had to subsist at times on middlings, and what suckers they could catch. The provisions of some were left below at Port Huron by the boats, and could not be got in until the roads were cut through.

The coves along this coast used to be a place of refuge in early times for fugitives from justice.

Thomas Winsor has the honor of being Postmaster of this village. They now have three mails a day: one from Sebewaing, one from Sand Beach, and one by rail from the south.

The county seat was held at this place from 1865 to 1873, when it was moved to Bad Axe.


Port Austin is well supplied with transportation facilities. It is the terminus of the western branch of the Port Huron & Northwestern Railroad. There are also two good docks, where steamers and vessels, bound around the lakes and plying between Detroit and Bay City, land, discharge and receive freight.

Thomas Winsor & Co. have an extensive steam salt block, which was established in 1878. Their brand is the "Port Austin Peerless Salt." These works, with their saw-mill, were burned in the spring of 1880, but were rebuilt again. The brine is supplied for the block from two wells, which extend to the depth of 1,180 feet, one but recently opened. The capacity of their block is 150 barrels per day. The engine is 200-horse-power, and, in addition to the salt block, furnishes the power for the saw-mill, barrel factory and machine shop. The firm are also large dealers in general merchandise, and have an elevator and a lumber yard.

Ayres & Co., who located at Port Austin in 1859, carry on an extensive trade in general merchandise. They have also a salt block, started in 1864, which yields a yearly product of about 40,000 barrels. They have in connection with this a saw-mill, shingle-mill and barrel factory, and a flouring-mill.

The Huron Agricultural Works, established in 1870, is another industry which is of great benefit to the county. This includes the carriage and wagon manufactory, and is represented by J. W. Campbell & Co.

The banking and insurance business is represented by James H. Hall, who is well patronized. He is also a lawyer. Richard Winsor has also a banking house, which he carries on with his large legal practice. He came to the Peninsula in the winter of 1857-8, and located at or near Huron City, then called Willow Creek. He located at Port Austin in 1867. He has recently moved into his new bank building, which is the best structure in the town, and not excelled in the county. It is a two-story brick building, with a solid stone foundation and blue stone trimmings. The rooms are finished with hard wood, tastefully ornamented, and the building is heated by a furnace with modern appliances. The large vault rests upon a solid stone foundation; is constructed independent of the building, lined with steel rail, and has a time lock. The upper floor is divided into offices with a neat little hall in the rear.

From the healthful appearance of the village it would appear that there would be little use for drugs and medicines, yet Dr. Bennett Richards does a fine business in this line, and has also a good practice. He was lucky when he selected this place for his future home, which he did in 1865. When he located at this village, he says, he was the only physician within 40 miles.

H. Adams supplies the people with dressed lumber.

W. H. Cooper & Co. are extensive dealers in general merchandise. This firm has also a large steam salt block at New River, between Grindstone City and Huron City, which was established in 1874. Their annual production is 25,000 barrels.

John Butters has a good trade in general merchandise and millinery. He is one of the early settlers. James Ried has a furniture store, and C. J. Friers is well prepared to supply his customers with harness and saddlery. The hardware and stove business is represented by James Baldwin and John Brett; the jewelry by Eli Fuller. I. Razek & Co. and Stine & Mcllhargey have dry goods and groceries; W. E. Clark, books and stationery. Mrs. George Hazen, by her skill in millinery, is prepared to make the ladies of the village look more beautiful. Taylor & Dunn have a boot and shoe store.

B. L. Tripp, A. Horn, and James Ryan have the monopoly of the meat markets. R. H. Wilcox has a bakery and a confectionery store.

James Ryan is one of the old hotel-keepers of the town, and his place is a popular resort for travelers. He has also a large stock farm about two miles east of the village, where he is breeding Mambrino, Wallace and Hambletonian horses, and the Berkshire breed of swine. This is a very important enterprise for the county. Landlord O. Williams, of the Winsor House, has his share of the public patronage and always makes his guests feel at home. This building was formerly occupied as a court-house.

There are also a tailor shop, boot and shoe shop and two blacksmith shops, and a restaurant.

Port Austin is not without a newspaper. This is the Huron County News, published by the Huron County News Co. It was started in 1862, the first paper in the county. A history of it is given elsewhere. It was established as a Republican paper, but during the recent campaign it advocated the Prohibition ticket.

One of the new industries of this place, which ought to be noticed, is the dairy. The Learneds, with commendable enterprise, are leading off in this direction. They have a very neat little creamery, and through the past season milked 35 cows. This they first started for their own use and as an experiment. They propose now to go into this business much more extensively.

There are many fine residences in this village, and the people are of a better class. Port Austin is very favorably located. With her extensive industries, and the splendid agricultural country around, there is no reason why she should not be one of the foremost and best built up towns in the country.

The historian, before closing this sketch, is constrained to express a regret at seeing this beautiful village marred by so many old dilapidated shanties, broken down fences and rickety sidewalks.


This village can take pride in having one of the best schools in the county. The school-house is a large two-story building, with three apartments, and with a seating capacity in all of 200 pupils. Cost, $4,500. The school is graded. D. H. Powers is principal; George A. Frazier has charge of the intermediate, and Miss S. H. Clark the primary, department. There is in attendance about 150 scholars.


The Presbyterians of Port Austin gathered together and organized their society in 1871, with ten members, namely, Mr. and Mrs. John Kerr, Mr. and Mrs. W. F. Clark, Mr. and Mrs. George Kene, Mrs. C. H. Gallup, Mrs. Caroline Chapman, Mrs. Brebnor and Mrs. Marrow. John Kerr and W. F. Clark were chosen Ruling Elders. Rev. E. P. Clark was the first Pastor, remaining until 1877. The second Pastor was the Rev. John Kay, who remained two years. Rev. T. Dwight next served the society one year. Rev. S. W. McKee was the fourth Pastor, serving two and a half years. At the present they are without a pastor. Present membership, sixty. The first meetings were held in an old school-house, which they fitted up for a place of worship. A Sunday- school has been connected with this Church from its first organization. They have a very neat little church edifice, costing, with other property, $3,000.

Catholic Church. When, some twenty years ago, a few members of this great religious organization settled in Huron County, this Church, true to her historical character, sent them a missionary to look after their spiritual welfare. A mission was established at Port Austin, which was the first in the county. By their indomitable zeal they soon had a church building up, which was the first at Port Austin. Their membership rapidly increasing, and the building becoming old, it was decided to erect a larger edifice, to meet the wants of the congregation. This was begun in 1883, and at present it is so far in the course of completion that they are able to worship beneath its roof. It is a large, plain edifice, 110 feet in length by 46 feet in width, with a seating capacity of about 650 persons, and will cost when completed $4,500. It is called the "Saint Michael's Catholic Church," and is in charge of Father N. L. Maschino.

This congregation has a membership of about 175 families, from Port Austin and adjacent settlements.

It is in the diocese of Bishop Borgess, of Detroit. Services are held only every other Sunday, as the priest has to attend three other missions and two stations. Most of the Catholic societies in the county are attended by the priest from Port Austin. There are also with the Church four Sisters of the Dominican Order, who have charge of the education of her children. It is a large, flourishing school, of about a hundred scholars.

St. Johns Episcopal Church held its first services in Port Austin Feb. 4, 1881,in the Presbyterian church, with two communicants,— Mr. W. H. Cooper and Mrs. James Ayres, since deceased. Rev. W. H. Smythe presided as missionary. The services of this Church have since been held in a hall. The society has nearly completed a rectory, for the construction of which it has received outside aid. They hope in 1885 to complete a church building. Present number of communicants, 35; congregation, about 200. There is a Sunday-school attached, with a library of 100 volumes. Mr. Smythe holds missionary service at Port Crescent. The first meeting was held March 6, 1881, with no communicants. Messrs. Haskell, Eakins and Soule gave the land and built a neat little church at this place, costing $1,000. Mr. Smythe holds services here every two weeks. Besides this, he visits Meade and outlying missions.

Baptist Church was organized Feb. 12, 1875, at the house of Frederick S. Ayres. Present—Mr. and Mrs. Ayres, Mr. and Mrs. C. G. Learned, Thomas Neil and wife, Mrs. E. Cole, Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Kimball. Rev. H. C. Reals officiated as Pastor, who remained with the Church for awhile, and then it was left for several years without a minister. The new church, which is a fine Gothic structure, was completed and dedicated in June, 1884. It cost $3,000, including lot. The society has at present forty members, who are presided over by Rev. William A. Atchinson.

This village shows her musical taste in the organization of a brass band. It has thirteen members, and W. H. Brown is the leader.


Cass Lodge, No. 219, was organized in 1866. The charter members were James McDonald, Nathan Stoddard, Benjamin W. Merrick, D. Hill, John Butters, A. R. Cole, William Adamson, O. B. Williams, Jonas R. Learned and G. H. Van Woert.

Grindstone City

This enterprising and stirring little town is located on the shore of Lake Huron, and is in the township of Port Austin. The first settler here was Capt. A. G. Peer, who located in 1845. He started the first grindstone mill, which he ran by water power, utilizing a creek that puts in at this place. This was not only the first mill here, but also in the territory now embraced by Huron county. The Captain is still living in the town, and is hale and hearty.

The first postoffice established here was in the fall of 1874; James Green was appointed Postmaster, and he holds the position yet. They have mails each way daily, and have also telegraphic connections.

The principal business carried on in Grindstone City is the manufacturing of grindstones and salt. Worthington & Sons started their grindstone factory in 1871. A year before this they opened a general merchandise business. In 1880, this firm started their salt block, and have an annual production of about 30,000 barrels of salt. They manufacture annually about 3,000 tons of grindstones,—some weighing as high as 7.500 pounds,—and a large quantity of scythe-stones and ax-bits. They employ on an average seventy-five men. They handle about $50,000 of merchandise annually.

The Lake Huron Stave Company is another large factor in the business of this city. The members of this firm are Robert Wallace, who lives at Grindstone, Frank B. Wallace and E. L. Wallace, of Detroit, and James J. Wallace, of Chicago. This firm are also dealers in general merchandise, handling about $30,000 annually. They manufacture 3,000 tons of grindstones, and about 3,000 gross of scythe- stones and ax-bit; yearly. James Wallace bought the business from Capt. Peer. The others came into the firm and it was changed to the Lake Huron Stone Company in 1865. They ship a large quantity of stone from this place to different markets, for building purposes.

The fire of 1871 burned part of the town. In 1881 the fire was kept back by vigorous fighting. There are two docks running out into the lake nearly 3,000 feet. They are constructed with cribs filled with stone, which make a very good harborage for lake vessels. Upon these docks tramways are constructed for the conveyance of salt and stone from the factories. It might be mentioned that these factories have, in addition, blacksmith and machine shops and a barrel factory. They all find employment for about 450 men.

The population of this thriving village is estimated at 600. The stone quarries seem inexhaustible, which will warrant the assumption that this town is now only in its infancy of growth and prosperity. It has established a good school for the education of its youth.

There is a Presbyterian society in the village, but no church. A church building was put up by the Presbyterian Relief Synod after the fire of 1881, which was afterwards blown down by a cyclone, and it has not since been re-built.

Portrait Biographical Huron Co 1884 Chandler Brothers