The Thumb
The Thumb is located in Michigan
The Thumb
The Thumb
Coordinates: 43°36′N 83°00′W / 43.6°N 83.0°W / 43.6; -83.0
LocationMichigan, United States
 • Total15,910 km2 (6,141 sq mi)
 • Land10,270 km2 (3,966 sq mi)

The Thumb is a region and a peninsula of the U.S. state of Michigan, so named because the Lower Peninsula is shaped like a mitten. The Thumb area is generally considered to be in the Central Michigan region, east of the Tri-Cities and north of Metro Detroit. The region is also branded as the Blue Water Area.

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. The population of the Thumb region as of the 2020 census was 370,617. However, if you exclude Lapeer and St. Clair counties and only include the "Upper Thumb," a term used by the locals in the area (Huron, Sanilac, and Tuscola counties), the population is 123,689.


A wind farm near Ubly

The Thumb region is very flat with fertile soil, the reason for its historical role as a chiefly agricultural area. Major agricultural products include sugar beets, navy beans,[1] corn, fruits, and fish from Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron. Manufacturing—particularly concerning the automotive industry—is also prevalent in Michigan's Thumb due to the region's proximity to the automotive centers of Detroit and Flint.


See also: List of companies based in Michigan

Detroit Edison's St. Clair Power Plant, once the largest in the world

The Thumb has many notable businesses, many linked to agriculture.

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.[21]

Constituent counties of the trade corridor are: Shiawassee, Genesee, Lapeer, and St. Clair counties.[22]


The Pointe aux Barques Light, near the tip of the Thumb

Some towns, such as Bay Port, Caseville, Harbor Beach, Lakeport, Lexington, Port Austin, Port Hope, Port Huron, Port Sanilac, Sebewaing, and St. Clair enjoy seasonal tourism, due to their locations on Lake Huron, Saginaw Bay, or the St. Clair River. Tourism and farming drive the local economy.

The Tip of The Thumb Heritage Water Trail is a nonprofit citizens organization working with the Huron County Parks to establish and maintain a water trail along Michigan's Lake Huron's shoreline.[23]

Unique to the Thumb

Many of the residents commute for work to Metro Detroit, Flint or the Tri-Cities. Incorporated cities with 2,000+ population in the Thumb area are Port Huron, Marysville, Lapeer, St. Clair, Marine City, Algonac, Caro, Imlay City, Bad Axe, Vassar, Sandusky and Croswell. The majority of these cities are in the southern portion of the Thumb.

Unique features in the area include the following:

Traveling around the Thumb

A favorite of tourists who visit this area is traveling the Lake Huron and Saginaw Bay shoreline via M-25 (formerly US Highway 25 until 1973). M-25 starts at the end of I-69/I-94 in Port Huron at the foot of the Blue Water Bridge and ends in Bay City. The whole highway is about 150 miles (240 km), and passes through quaint cities and villages. Located along Lake Huron through which M-25 passes are five lighthouses: Fort Gratiot Lighthouse, Port Sanilac lighthouse, Pointe aux Barques Lighthouse, Harbor Beach Light, and the Port Austin Lighthouse.

The Great Lakes Circle Tour is a designated scenic road system connecting all of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River.[29] 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 Saginaw Bay to Saginaw and Bay City. Lexington and Port Austin feature beaches and boardwalks that are favorites with visitors.

Lighthouse Tour

Lighthouse at Port Sanilac on Lake Huron

In order from east to west:

Area festivals and events

Thumb counties

Counties of the Thumb of Michigan
Counties of the Thumb of Michigan


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.[38] 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 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.


Sanilac County has the largest area of land in the Thumb. Like other counties, Sanilac has fertile and flat land, great for growing crops. Towns like Lexington and Port Sanilac bring in many tourists from the Detroit Area. Sandusky is the county seat and largest city.

St. Clair

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.

Borderline regions

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:

Blue Water Area

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.[39] 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).


Land features

See also List of Michigan state parks and geography of Michigan.

Major rivers

The Thumb has many waterways.

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

See also: Timeline of Michigan history


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.

Historical events

Notable people (by town)

More comprehensive lists are available at individual cities, villages, etc. See local towns of interest at the bottom of the page for links.

Brown City

Cass City


Harbor Beach


Port Huron

Local elected officials

Congressional District 10, served by Republican Paul Mitchell
Congressional District 10, served by Republican Paul Mitchell

Local politicians in Washington and Lansing are listed below.

United States Congress

District 9 – Northern Macomb, and all of St Clair, Lapeer, Sanilac, Huron, and Tuscola counties.

District 8 – Saginaw/Bay City Area, and all of Genesee County.

Michigan House

32nd District – Northern Macomb and six townships in St Clair County.

81st District – Most of St Clair County, except Port Huron.

82nd District – All of Lapeer County.

83rd District – City of Port Huron, the Townships of Fort Gratiot and Burtchville, and all of Sanilac County.

84th District – All of Huron and Tuscola counties.

Michigan Senate

25th District – All of Huron, St Clair and Sanilac counties, and the Cities of Memphis, New Baltimore, and Richmond and the Townships of Armada and Richmond in Macomb County.

31st District – All of Bay, Lapeer and Tuscola counties.

Colleges and universities


See also: List of museums in Michigan

Harbor Beach


Port Huron

Huron Light Ship Museum in the St. Clair River, Port Huron, Michigan

Elsewhere in the Thumb



The Thumb Area Radio Region is an unranked market that is influenced by Detroit Radio Market, the Tri-Cities Radio Market and the Flint Market, with stations in Port Huron and Sarnia, Ontario, also serving the region.

Local radio stations in the Thumb area


Huron County newspapers
Lapeer County newspapers
Sanilac County newspapers
St. Clair County newspapers
Tuscola County Newspapers

Broadcast television

The Lapeer County, St. Clair County and Sanilac County area lies in the Detroit Television Market. The far northern and western areas lie inside the Flint/Tri-Cities Television Market. The only broadcast TV station licensed to the Thumb region is WDCQ-TV, the PBS station licensed to Bad Axe.

Sarnia/Windsor Ontario
Detroit area
Alpena area


Port Huron's two Blue Water Bridges, taken during the Port Huron to Mackinac Yacht Race


The border between Port Huron, Michigan and Sarnia, Ontario, is one of the busiest connections between Canada and the US. Crossings include the two Blue Water Bridges and the two St. Clair River Railway Tunnels. Ferries also connect to Canada at Marine City and Algonac.

Major highways

(organized by numbers)


Main article: Michigan Services

Area Amtrak stations are in Lapeer, Port Huron, and Flint. Local railroads are the Grand Trunk Western Railroad, CSX Transportation, Canadian National Railway, and the Huron and Eastern Railway. Pere Marquette Railway was a railroad that had lines throughout the Thumb; its lines are now either abandoned or in use by CSX, or Huron and Eastern.

Major railroad centers are Vassar, Bad Axe and Port Huron.


Blue Water Area Transit serves the city of Port Huron and surrounding areas.


The only international airport in the Thumb is St. Clair County International Airport about 6 miles (9.7 km) outside Port Huron. City airports include: Caro Municipal, Dupont-Lapeer Airport, Huron County Memorial Airport, Marine City Airport, Marlette Municipal, Sandusky City, and Yale Airport. Scheduled airline service is available from MBS International Airport[51] in Freeland and Flint Bishop International Airport.[52] While neither of these airports is in the Thumb, both are relatively close by.

Area codes

Area code 989 covers about half of the Thumb: Huron, Tuscola, and far northern Sanilac County (and the Marlette 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.

See also




Cities and villages


  1. ^ Saginaw Valley Dry Bean and Sugar Beet Research Farm, Archived 2009-03-28 at the Wayback Machine Michigan State University.
  2. ^ "Co-Op Elevator Co". Archived from the original on 2007-12-01. Retrieved 2008-02-07.
  3. ^ "Macraes Blue Book".
  4. ^ "Mueller Industries".
  5. ^ Motherson Sumi Systems
  6. ^ "Our History - P.J. Wallbank Springs, Inc. | Spring Pack Manufacturing".
  7. ^ "Port Huron".
  8. ^ "IAC Group | About IAC".
  9. ^ "Michigan Sugar Company".
  10. ^ "Domtar Port Huron mill expected to close next year".
  11. ^ "Dunn Paper - Dunn to Perfection". Archived from the original on 2018-06-15. Retrieved 2018-06-15.
  12. ^ "About Keihin Michigan Manufacturing". Archived from the original on 2011-08-14. Retrieved 17 January 2012.
  13. ^ "Capac manufacturing facility slated to close".
  14. ^ "Macraes Blue Book".
  15. ^ "Star of the West Milling Co". Archived from the original on 2007-10-07. Retrieved 2008-02-07.
  16. ^ "Eastern Michigan Grain".
  17. ^ "Huron Castings".
  18. ^ "Pigeon Telephone Company".
  19. ^ "AVCI".
  20. ^ "Thumb Cellular".
  21. ^ [1] Next Michigan Development Corporation
  22. ^ International Trade Corridor
  23. ^ Tip of The Thumb Heritage Water Trail
  24. ^ "Bad Axe Historical Society, origin of Bad Axe's name".
  25. ^ "The Huron County Nature Center". Huron Nature Center.
  26. ^ "Kernan Memorial Nature Sanctuary".[permanent dead link]
  27. ^ Michigan Bean Soup recipe and history, the Honorable and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller IV, U.S. Senator.
  28. ^ "Rasmus Hanson biography". Archived from the original on 2009-01-07.
  29. ^ "Great Lakes Circle Tour". Archived from the original on 2010-07-25.
  30. ^ "Blue Water Ramble/Clinton River Riders".
  31. ^ "Port Huron to Mackinaw Island Sailboat Race – Family Night". Flickr – Photo Sharing!. 10 July 2008.
  32. ^ "Port Huron to Mackinac Island, Michigan Yacht Race". Archived from the original on 2009-04-10. Retrieved 2009-03-29.
  33. ^ Morris, Julie The Port Huron to Mackinac race, May 1, 2001 Detroit News
  34. ^ Cheesburger in Caseville at Archived 2012-03-14 at the Wayback Machine Pure Michigan.
  35. ^ Campbell, Ron. August 13, 2010 Cheeseburger in Caseville festival turns town into 'Fun, wacky, tasteful and tacky' place Archived March 14, 2012, at the Wayback Machine Bay City Times.
  36. ^ hostmaster (10 October 2016). "Welcome To Pure Michigan". Michigan. Archived from the original on 25 January 2017.
  37. ^ "Farmer's Festival". Archived from the original on 2011-08-28. Retrieved 2011-12-29.
  38. ^ "Michigan Bean Commission". Archived from the original on 2009-03-28. Retrieved 2009-03-29.
  39. ^ "Blue Water Area Convention and Visitor's Bureau".
  40. ^ "Harbor Beach attractions". Archived from the original on 2008-01-14.
  41. ^ Harbor Beach, Yesterday and Today, Compiled by the Harbor Beach Woman's Club. First Printing 1976, Revised Edition 1996.
  42. ^ "Port Huron Museum".
  43. ^ a b Huron Daily Tribune. "". Huron Daily Tribune.
  44. ^ a b "Port Huron – Home". The Times Herald.
  45. ^ "Bay City Times".
  46. ^ "Saginaw News".
  47. ^ "Front Page – February 3, 2016 – – The County Press".
  48. ^ "Front Page – February 3, 2016 – – The Sanilac County News".
  49. ^ "Tuscola County Advertiser – Serving Eastern Michigan since 1868Tuscola County Advertiser – Serving Eastern Michigan since 1868 – Tuscola County Advertiser – Serving Eastern Michigan since 1868". Tuscola County Advertiser – Serving Eastern Michigan since 1868.
  50. ^ Garnell, Dan. "M-46". Michigan Highway Ends. Archived from the original on 2005-04-14.
  51. ^ "MBS International Airport".
  52. ^ "Flint Bishop International Airport".

Further reading