The counties that constitute the Thumb form the peninsula that stretches northward into Lake Huron and Saginaw Bay. There is no formal list of which counties are part of the Thumb, but virtually all definitions include Huron, Tuscola, and Sanilac Counties, and most include Lapeer and St. Clair Counties.
Cargill Salt operates a large salt mine and factory in St. Clair. This is the only plant in the U.S.A. that produces Albergersalt, which is especially prized in the fast food industry because of its higher volume (due to its unique shape) and lower sodium content (for a given volume, not weight). This is part of Michigan's large salt-mining industry.
Dunn Paper is located at the mouth of the St. Clair River just north of the Blue Water Bridge and produces specialty papers.
Keihin Michigan Manufacturing operates an auto part manufacturing plant in Capac, they build HVAC and intake manifold assemblies that are used in Honda vehicles. The plant is scheduled to close in 2021.
Champion manufactures small and mid size buses at their facility in Lapeer County's Imlay Township.
Pigeon Telephone Co. has been meeting telecommunications needs of the rural communities it serves since 1908.
Agri-Valley Services, more commonly known as AVCI, is an internet service provider based out of Pigeon, Michigan.
Thumb Cellular has been providing rural cellular service to the thumb area since 1991.
International Trade Corridor
The I-69 International Trade Corridor is a strategic commercial gateway between the Midwestern United States and Ontario, Canada, with multi-modal transportation infrastructure that offers a wide range of distribution options. The I-69 International Trade Corridor Next Michigan Development Corporation (NMDC) offers economic incentives to growing businesses, both existing and new, that utilize two or more forms of transportation to move their products and are located within the territory of the NMDC. The I-69 International Trade Corridor Next Michigan Development Corporation is the largest in the state of Michigan with 35 municipal partners.
Harvest Wind Farm, an electrical generation project of Exelon Wind and Wolverine Power Supply Cooperative. Harvest II is scheduled for completion in December 2012.
Huron County Nature Center includes a 120-acre (0.49 km2) wilderness arboretum that has been under the care of the Huron County Women's Clubs for more than 50 years.
Kernan Memorial Nature Sanctuary is a 45-acre (180,000 m2) refuge with 4,000 feet (1,200 m) of shoreline acquired October 30, 1989 on Lake Huron, in Huron County. On the western coast of Whiskey Harbor, this area is a great place to see migratory birds in early March and November.
The Sanilac Petroglyphs were discovered after massive fires swept the Lower Peninsula in 1881. Native Americans created this unusual artwork 300 to 1,000 years ago. The petroglyphs provide a glimpse into the lives of an ancient woodland people who occupied Michigan's Thumb area.
The Great Lakes Circle Tour is a designated scenic road system connecting all of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. Many visitors choose to begin the circle tour in Port Huron, from which they can circle Lake Huron. M-25 winds around the Thumb and along the Saginaw Bay to Saginaw and Bay City. Lexington and Port Austin feature beaches and boardwalks that are favorites with visitors.
Huron County is located at the tip of the thumb. The county is surrounded on three sides by water – Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron, and has over 90 miles (140 km) of shoreline, from White Rock on Lake Huron to Sebewaing on Saginaw Bay, and more shoreline parks than any other county in the state.
The county's economy relies on agriculture and ranks as one of the top agricultural counties in Michigan. Rich farmland inland produces beans, sugar beets and grain, including most of the world's supply of navy beans. Tourism is also important to Huron County with bay front and lakefront towns such as Sebewaing, Caseville, Port Austin, Port Hope, and Harbor Beach, attracting tourists from all over. Huron County borders the Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron. There are two state parks – Sleeper State Park and Port Crescent State Park. Three roadside parks – Jenks Park, Brown Park, and White Rock Park. Also, Huron County maintains nine county parks along the shoreline, which are Caseville Park, Lighthouse Park, Stafford Park, McGraw Park, Philp Park, Port Austin Bird Creek Park, Wagener Park, Oak Beach Park, and Sebewaing Park.
The county seat is Bad Axe, located in the center of the county.
The origin of the name of the county is often disputed, but it may have derived from the French words la pierre, meaning "the stone". This name could be a reference to the rounded stones, or flint pebbles, found in the rivers and streams throughout the area. Another theory is that it may be an English variation of Le Pays Plat, meaning "the flat land", which is one of the original names given to the area by the French, and can be found on many early fur trader maps of the area. The idea is that "Le Pays" may have evolved into the current pronunciation, "Lapeer".
Lapeer County is in many ways different from the other counties of the Thumb. First, it is heavily influenced by its proximity to Flint and Detroit, so as a result, its economy depends more heavily on manufacturing than the other counties of the region. Second, although agriculture is still a key economic factor in Lapeer County, it is not as important to the economy as in the other counties. Although there are still a few large-scale farms located in the county, the numbers are not found to the same extent, and these days, most farming in Lapeer now takes place on smaller, independent farms, which usually supply the local markets only. Lastly, in addition to its economic and agricultural differences, Lapeer County's geography is very different from the other counties of the Thumb. Its topography is generally gently rolling to quite hilly, and unlike its neighbors, which are flatter, and border on Lake Huron or Lake St. Clair, Lapeer County is landlocked. The county still has hundreds of acres of inland lakes such as Barnes Lake, Miller Lake, Lake Neppessing, the Holloway Reservoir, Big Fish Lake, and Lake Metamora, and several state recreation areas, including the Ortonville Recreation Area and the Metamora-Hadley Recreation Area, which still bring in many campers and tourists.
St. Clair County has the largest population in The Thumb, and is considered part of the Metro Detroit MSA. Many residents farther north in The Thumb, especially Sanilac County, travel to Port Huron for shopping and work. It is the farthest county to the east in Michigan, and most of the eastern border is the St. Clair River, which separates Michigan from Ontario. For the most part, St. Clair County is flat with an agricultural economy dominating in the north and west; in the 19th century, agriculture and lumbering were important east to the St. Clair River. Sugar beets were cultivated and annual festivals were held at harvest time. In addition, many farms had mixed agriculture. There are steep hills and small canyons near the Black River. Since the mid-20th century, manufacturing had dominated in and around Port Huron.
Like Huron County, Tuscola is mostly dependent on agriculture. Industries such as sugar refining and ethanol processing, as well as growing various grains and beans, make up most of the economy. Caro, one of the largest cities in The Thumb (the largest if you exclude St. Clair and Lapeer Counties), is named after Cairo, Egypt and is the county seat. Tuscola County only has 18 miles (29 km) of shoreline along Saginaw Bay, so it is not as dependent on tourism as the other counties in the area. Tuscola County is economically tied to the surrounding region as well as to the Saginaw, Bay City, and Flint areas.
The boundaries of what is included in the Thumb are often debated, but nearly all definitions include Huron, Sanilac, and Tuscola counties, known as the tri-county region. Disputed areas include:
St. Clair County, especially the southern portion, as the county is now classified as part of Metro Detroit by the Census Bureau.
The Blue Water Area is another term describing the Thumb of Michigan. The term usually applies to St. Clair County and surrounding areas. The title is also extended to include all of Michigan's Thumb. The name refers to the county being bordered by water: on the east is the St. Clair River, connecting Lake Huron to the north to Lake St. Clair. Below that is the Detroit River. The namesake Blue Water Bridge spans the St. Clair river, connecting Port Huron to Sarnia, Ontario. A similar name, "Blue Water Country," is used to describe the same region on the Canadian side.
Discover the Blue
Discover the Blue is a promotion by the Blue Water Area Convention and Visitor's Bureau. It is designed to attract visitors to the shoreline of eastern Michigan. Communities participating in Discover the Blue include Algonac in St. Clair County (at the southern end of the Thumb) and others to the north, such as Port Austin (at the tip of the Thumb).
The Thumb's landscape ranges from a flat sandy plain along the shores of Lake Huron and Saginaw Bay, to a gently rolling topography. This land is fertile and well suited for agriculture. The most unusual geographic formation is a rugged glacial moraine, known collectively as the Hadley Hills, which extends in a northeasterly direction through the center of The Thumb, from the southwestern portion of the peninsula.
The places with the highest elevation are all associated with the Hadley Hills, and are located in Lapeer County, they are: Pinnacle Point, at 1,262 feet (385 m), Kerr (Cemetery) Hill, at 1,258 feet (383 m), both in Hadley Township, Mt Christie, at 1,251 feet (381 m), in Metamora Township, and a point near Mayville, reaching up to 1,050 feet (320 m) above sea level.
The lowest point in the Thumb region is the shore of Lake St. Clair, at a low of 574 feet (175 m) above sea level.
Huron County is very flat. It has large fields that were used for agriculture and now are the sites of numerous wind turbines to generate electricity.
The north branch of the Flint River lies in northern Lapeer County. It rises near North Branch. The southern branch flows through the central and southern portion of Lapeer County, originates in Brandon, Atlas, Hadley, and Metamora townships before merging with the North Branch just north of the Holloway Reservoir.
History and local culture
Map of the Surveyed Part of the Territory of Michigan by Orange Risdon, 1825, showing an early, larger incarnation of Sanilac County, most of which had not yet been surveyed
Since the late 18th century, ethnic European Americans have displaced the Native American tribes that historically occupied this territory. Since the early 20th century, they have dominated the population and culture of The Thumb. The French were the first Europeans to arrive, and thus influenced much of the early culture. They were mostly engaged in the fur trading and lumber industries, and had relatively few settlers. After the British won the French and Indian War, they took over this former French territory.
Many of these new settlers were sent into the area by the British from Canada in an effort to establish their dominance over the Great Lakes. In 1783, control of The Thumb was officially transferred to the newly formed United States, after the American Revolution and by the Treaty of Paris. The British were a dominant influence until after the War of 1812, when the northern border was firmly defined and this area came under US control. The US organized the Northwest Territory, and American settlement of Michigan and The Thumb was well underway by the mid-19th century. Construction of the Erie Canal through Central New York created stronger connections with the port of New York and eastern markets. Settlers migrated west from New York and New England into Ohio and Michigan, seeking new territory.
As a result of this history, the land was settled primarily by people of ethnic English and Scots-Irish descent; many arrived from Canada. Other settlers of the same ancestry migrated from eastern states such as New York, and Pennsylvania, as well as from New England. Immigration from the British Isles took place through the century, and later 19th and 20th century residents included Polish and German immigrants who migrated from Europe through the Detroit area. Many of the customs, much of the regional lifestyle, and even the local accent, strongly reflect these origins. Some local radio stations have featured polka shows, and various ethnic festivals, such as the Polkafest, in Kinde, are representative of Eastern European cultures.
In the early years, Europeans encountered and traded with people of the Fox and Sauk tribes, already living in the area for centuries. There may have also been other tribes in the area such as the Potawatomi, Ojibwe, and Kickapoo, but they would have been transient tribes, or found in very small numbers. All native Thumb area tribes are members of the Algonquian peoples, a large language family. Other tribes who migrated later into the area included the Wyandot (Huron), an Iroquoian language-speaking people; and the Ottawa. The displacement of native peoples took place in many areas during the settling of North America.
The Port Huron area is one of oldest European settlements in the state of Michigan, first settled by French colonists.
Bad Axe was named so because Captain Rudolph Papst found an old axe in 1861, when he was clearing land for the present-day Huron County seat.
The great Thumb Fire took place on September 5, 1881 in the Thumb area of Michigan. The fire, which burned over a million acres (4,000 km²) in less than a day, was the consequence of drought, hurricane-force winds, heat, the after-effects of the Port Huron Fire of 1871, and the ecological damage wrought by the era's logging techniques of clear cutting forests.
M-53 (Van Dyke Road) is a gateway route to The Thumb of Michigan, carrying vacationers to the resorts and cottages on Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron in the vicinity of Caseville and Port Austin. It goes up the middle of the Thumb, and directly connects in Macomb County, Michigan to the M-53 expressway. It is an important route for agricultural and manufactured goods.
Area code 989 covers about half of the Thumb: Huron, Tuscola, and far northern Sanilac County (and the Marlette, Michigan area). The Thumb's other half is covered by area code 810, which takes in most of Sanilac, Lapeer, Genesee and Saint Clair Counties. All of Macomb County is served by area code 586, as is a small part of south-western Saint Clair County.