The Odd History of “White Rock, Michigan.”
Ron Rademacher, author of several books on Michigan Oddities joins Tim Collins in the 95.3 WBCK Morning Show a couple of Fridays each month, and he certainly had an odd one with the history of “White Rock, Michigan”
If you head north from Detroit, about half way up the thumb is the small town of White Rock. Ron says that folks usually notice the small lighthouse, but most don't know about the unique history of the place.
Wikipedia says the White Rock was used as a boundary marker to define the territory ceded by Ottawa, Chippewa, Wyandot, and Potawatomi with the Treaty of Detroit in 1807. Edward Petit, the first white settler in Huron County, opened a trading post nearby. By the mid-1830s, it was a thriving village and gained its own post office in 1859. The community was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1871 (also known as the Port Huron Fire of 1871). The fire destroyed huge swaths in several portions of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, but was overshadowed by the Great Chicago Fire and Peshtigo Fire in Wisconsin which occurred on the same day.
“The name White Rock came about because of a huge white rock just offshore in Lake Huron. At one time it was quite large. It had served as a navigational aid, treaty boundary marker, and was considered a sacred place by Native Americans. That sacred status lead to an event that has become more legend that factual account. The story goes that a group of settlers were having a celebration and decided to move the party out to the big white rock. They were warned against that action because the rock was sacred ground. All but one man ignored the advice. They moved out onto the rock and partied into the night. In the middle of the night a great lakes storm blew in and the group on the rock were caught in a lightning storm. Supposedly, a bolt of lightning struck the rock killing everyone there. The only survivor of that group was the man who stayed on shore. Some say he stayed back out of respect, but others say he was just to drunk to make the trip. ”
Have I Got a Deal For You!
Ron says White Rock was also one of the first “phantom towns” in Michigan. Immigrants were heading west. Those who traveled down the St. Lawrence Seaway, entered the Great Lakes, and would pause in Detroit. There they would arrange for overland transport, acquire supplies, and be presented with all manner of real estate opportunities. One of those was the vision for White Rock as the next great Michigan Metropolis. In hotel lobbies and saloons, real estate men showed immigrants a bright future in White Rock. They presented drawings and plans showing a fully platted city, with all necessary services including, police, hospital, and schools. The drawings depicted orderly improved streets with cleared lots, ready for development. Stories were told of booming commerce from lumber and harbor traffic on Lake Huron. Best of all, many of the choicest lots were still available at bargain prices and the town was only about 100 miles north. The town sold quickly since everybody loves a bargain.
“When the buyers arrived in White Rock, they discovered that no town existed. There were no streets, no buildings, and no functioning harbor. In many cases the lots didn't even exist. The plat maps were fakes. The whole thing was a scam, a “phantom town”. Many buyers hurried back to Detroit to try to recover their money, only to find that the sellers were long gone. The con men had headed west, to repeat the scam in Chicago and St. Louis. In the case of White Rock, the town was actually sold off a number of times.”
Finally, White Rock (the town) rises again
Ron says some of the people who were swindled had nowhere to go, and decided to stick around and eventually a small town sprung up. It was called White Rock, named for the big white rock, out there in the lake.
US Wages War on the White Rock
The rock doesn't impress any longer. At one time, it was said that it was large enough to accommodate 16 square dancers. Today, the White Rock rises about four feet above the waterline and is about twelve feet square in length. Locals say lightning has struck the rock repeatedly, and the natural effects of erosion have taken their toll. Ron Rademacher says the huge white rock was used as a practice target to train bombers for World War II. "Those guys became pretty accurate, eventually bombing the rock into smithereens."