"Remember When"
By Capt. Fred Davis
Published: Saturday, September 4, 2010

As newcomers take up residence in Huron County and visitors look around, they often remark regarding how they feel about the area. Those of us who have been here for years have memories of a much different place.

Throughout the County changes are many, not all for the best. Those of us who remember when have pictures in our minds that don’t resemble what we view today. When we describe our memories to others, they are beyond comprehension.

One example is the roadways. People rave about the beauty of the trees lined along M-53 as you depart Bad Axe headed west from the traffic light. In the fall, the view is magnificent as the trees burst into color. Who can remember M-53 where it ended in Port Austin as it crossed M-25 south of town? If you were traveling north, you entered a near tunnel of trees some as high as the homes along the street. In the fall, this scene was the most beautiful encountered between Marlette and Port Austin. As you passed through the tunnel the bright, blue color of Lake Huron was at the road’s end. Few people could make the turn at the last cross road without being drawn down to the circle drive at the beach, a view long since removed. The harbor area has been re-designed twice to accommodate boating facilities. Not a bad idea, but doing so replaced many fond memories.

If you turn east at the stoplight in Port Austin, you travel along Pte. Aux Barques Road and quickly reach Grindstone City. Little has changed there over the years. The quarry area on the southwest end of the city is now a campground along with property around the area where the grindstones were cut and shaped. A monument right in the middle of the grounds commemorates those by-gone days.

Grindstone’s natural harbor, with its points jutting out into the lake, remains unchanged. A restaurant and docks at one end and MDNR boat launch and parking area have been added at the other Heading east past the harbor, the view of the old Gristmill is much the same with some renovations. An old barn just past the curve has been given a huge facelift and another restaurant sits across from it. The famous Grindstone ice cream shop is still scooping out cones along what was once the main street of Grindstone City.

As you depart Grindstone and head east to Port Hope, you travel a highway stretch that was once a gravel road. It is a cement surface now and said to be the most expensive stretch of road in Michigan. You pass Huron City Museum and its collection of historic buildings, and just past that you reach Lighthouse Road and the same great view of the lake. If you turn in and follow the road, you can tour the Pte. Aux Barques Lighthouse.

When you drive through Port Hope, the old hotel still stands, as does many other old storefronts. A new bank structure looks odd among all the older buildings. Continuing along M-25, you reach Harbor Beach, where a new city campground sits right along the roadway on the north side. On the water front, a new small boat harbor is tucked into what was once said to be the world’s largest man-made inland harbor. A new Coast Guard station is also located on the waterfront in the harbor area. As you drive downtown, there is a blend of old and new buildings. Making the turn west out of Harbor Beach toward the city of Bad Axe on M-142, there is the same stretch of farms and homesteads as viewed in the past. Going through Verona, you encounter a familiar sight, Verona Hills golf course that dates back to the 1920s.

Entering Bad Axe, the county seat, you see many changes and fond memories come to mind. There was a time when downtown Bad Axe was the busiest place to shop in the county. You could buy everything you needed in a two or three block passage. Almost all of the stores were family owned, and I believe they far exceeded the current big department store with their friendly greetings. You could hardly get in the door of a downtown store without being met with a smile and a welcome, “How can we help you” question.

The grocery store just east of the downtown shops is long gone. A few businesses; a man’s clothing store, a tavern, a shoe store and paint store remain along the main street, as does an old favorite, Murphy’s Bakery, where the area’s best doughnuts can still be purchased. New owners in the old storefronts offer a variety of goods and services. Michael J’s Designs, a jewelry shop, is a nice reminder of the past where you can actually have pieces made to order. What was once the only bank in the area still stands alongside the historic Bad Axe Theatre with its distinctive marquee. The downtown bank has been joined by seven additional bank buildings (at my last count) throughout the city. West of Bad Axe is a large school complex and Huron Memorial Hospital surrounded by multiple medical clinics and doctor’s offices. My memory harkens back to Hubbard Hospital, which was located in the heart of downtown.

As you leave the stoplight in Bad Axe headed north, you encounter a very different business environment. There are the big names; K-Mart, WalMart, Walgreen’s, along with at least a dozen fast food opportunities to drive through. An old standby, McDonald’s Food & Family grocery store is still family owned, serving the area since the 50s. Ace Hardware is another survivor that has been around almost that long.

As I see it, memories of days gone by are great and I’ll bet a lot of readers will sit back and say, “Oh yes, I remember when.”


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