Presque Isle County, Michigan

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Presque Isle County administrative offices are located at 151 East Huron Avenue, Rogers City, MI 49779.

Beginnings [1]

Prior to European settlement, Presque Isle County was inhabited by Native American tribes. The earliest European visitors, in the 1600's, were French explorers, missionaries and fur traders. During the late 1700's and early 1800's, the area passed through French, English and American hands in a succession of skirmishes. In 1836, the land was officially ceded to the United States, and the County was first surveyed in 1840. At different periods of the mid-1800's, areas that later became Presque Isle County were attached to Mackinac, Cheboygan and Alpena Counties.

Because of the isolated location and lack of roads, water transportation was the key to development and trade. Much of Presque Isle County's early settlement began along the Lake Huron shoreline. The name "Presque Isle" comes from the French and means "almost an island". This phrase describes the Presque Isle peninsula, which juts out into Lake Huron in the southern part of the County. Presque Isle Harbor, a natural harbor, offered safe refuge from Lake Huron storms, and the surrounding woods supplied fuel for steamboats plying the shoreline. Burnam's Landing, just south of Presque Isle, was established by 1860 as a thriving steamboat depot.

Lighthouses were also essential to Great Lakes navigation and to early land settlement. Three lighthouses were built in Presque Isle County, and all remain intact as popular tourism attractions. The Old Presque Isle Light was built in 1840, soon to be replaced by the New Presque Isle Light in 1870. Forty Mile Point Light, north of Rogers City, was built in 1897. Early industries in the County were resource based and included fishing, lumbering and mining. Lumbering not only occurred along the Lake Huron shoreline, but throughout the County. Inland rivers such as the Ocqueoc provided routes for transporting logs to sawmills, long before decent roads could be constructed. Later, the Detroit and Mackinac Railroad helped spur further development of lumbering towns like Millersburg, Onaway and Metz. Local lumber barons like Paul Hoeft in Rogers City and Merritt Chandler in Onaway built communities along with their commercial empires in Northeast Michigan. The majestic Onaway Courthouse still stands as a tribute to the plots and plans of the County's early entrepreneurs.

German and Polish immigrants, who were recruited in Europe to come work in the woods, stayed on as farmers once the land was cleared. Posen, the "Potato Capital" of Michigan, remains a center of Polish history and culture, and one of the most important agricultural areas of the County. As in other areas of Michigan and the upper Midwest, the timber cutover areas were highly vulnerable to fire. The devastating Metz Fire of 1908 destroyed over 2.5 million acres with great loss of life, and the town of Metz never fully recovered.

The Lobdell and Bailey Company (later the American Wood Rim Company) was an early wood products company located in Onaway. The firm produced wooden bicycle rims and auto steering wheels. This company employed over 750 people by 1902 and is the origin of the slogan, "Onaway Steers the World." A disastrous fire in 1926 totally destroyed the factory and reduced Onaway's population by half. The present-day Masonic Lodge is the original Lobdell office building and residence and is a reminder of the days when Onaway was the largest community in the County.

Extensive limestone deposits occur in Presque Isle County and are near the surface in many areas of the Lake Huron shoreline. In the early 1900's, Crawford's Quarry was developed to mine a deposit of high chemical-grade stone. Later sold to U.S. Steel, the quarry property was re-named Calcite. Calcite stone was used extensively in the steel-making process, and much of it was shipped to the Rouge Steel Plant in Detroit. During the heyday of the Calcite Quarry, Rogers City had many characteristics of a company town. U.S. Steel built and owned much of the local housing stock, and an individual's social status was often determined by his place in the company's management structure.

By the early 1980's, the rise of Japanese steel and the fall of American automobile sales damaged the market for American steel. U. S. Steel's sale of the Calcite quarry property to new owners marked the end of an era. Under the name Michigan Limestone Operations (now owned by Oglebay Norton), the mine remains in active production and is still the largest limestone quarry in the world. A second vast quarry, Stoneport (now operated by Lafarge Corporation) is located near Presque Isle Harbor in southern Presque Isle County. Both MLO and Stoneport quarries are served by deep-water ports with thousand-foot freighters loading daily. In the past, the stone shipping fleets were based in the County, providing maritime employment for large numbers of County residents. The self-unloading stone carrier was a type of vessel perfected for the Bradley Steamship Line, based at Rogers City's Port of Calcite.

Tourism and recreation have been part of the fabric of Presque Isle County since the late 1800's. Numerous areas of the County can trace their development to tourism. The Grand Lake area was probably the first part of the County to actively solicit tourist business during the late 1800's. Several resort hotels were constructed along Grand Lake. Before the advent of good roads, tourist access was via steamboat from Lake Huron. The Fireside Inn and the Presque Isle Lodge, both dating from the early 20th Century, are examples of Grand Lake's early leadership in lake resort development.

The Black Lake area near Onaway also developed during the early 20t h Century. Black Lake was part of Michigan's inland waterway, a place of summer escape from the hot and crowded urban centers of Southern Michigan. Huron Beach along the northern Lake Huron shoreline is an early example of recreational subdivision plat development. Further, the County's woods and waters have hosted private hunting camps and hideaways from the early part of the 1900's. Public forestlands are also a significant tourist and recreational attraction and are located throughout Presque Isle County. These public holdings are largely the result of tax-reverted private lands coming back to state ownership after the physical ravages of fire or the economic ravages of the Depression.

The Depression era did present Presque Isle County with some unexpected treasures, two excellent examples of early state park development. During the Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) established the Black Lake CCC Camp (actually located at Ocqueoc Lake) in Presque Isle County. From this base of operations, the CCC built significant recreation facilities at the then-new Onaway and Hoeft State Parks. Most of these Depression-era trail systems and park buildings are still in existence and have been determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. The Black Lake CCC Camp itself still remains, now re-named as the Ocqueoc Outdoor Center. Presque Isle County acquired the center from the State in 2004. The County Tourism Council manages the property as an outdoor education center, bringing in visitors from throughout the State to Presque Isle County.

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