Author uncovers lost towns of eastern Michigan
Port Huron — Alan Naldrett doesn’t see dead people — but he does see towns and villages that have passed away.
Naldrett, a resident of Chesterfield Township, is the author of several history books, including “Lost Towns of Eastern Michigan.”
“I grew up in Anchorville,” he said. “And I got interested in lost towns because Anchorville is kind of a lost town.”
Anchorville is an unincorporated community in Ira Township roughly centered at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. It was established in 1853 and originally was called Swan Creek Settlement.
Naldrett will talk about lost towns in St. Clair County at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 14 at the main St. Clair County Library in Port Huron.
Many of the communities featured in his book are in St. Clair County and the Thumb — communities with names such as Starrville in Cottrellville Township, which had a post office from 1880 until 1905 and which was a stop on the Detroit interurban railroad during the early 1900s.
Or Amadore, the center of which was at Wildcat Road and Gailbraith Line in Sanilac County and which was destroyed by a tornado in 1897.
Or White Rock, on the shores of Lake Huron in Huron County’s Sherman Township, between Harbor Beach to the north and Forestville to the south. The Treaty of Detroit was negotiated there in 1807 between the fledgling U.S. government and Native Americans.
The town was destroyed during the Port Huron Fire of 1871 and, while some settlers rebuilt, it had faded away by the 1920s.
Naldrett said his first foray into the area of lost towns was in the early 2000s when he was a member of the Macomb County Historical Commission. He wrote about the lost towns of Macomb County for the commission’s website.
He said he began to consider expanding beyond Macomb County after he and his fiancee, Lynn Lyon, visited Port Crescent State Park in Huron County.
“We went to the Thumb area and we went to Port Crescent in the state park there, and there is an area that was a very large town,” he said.
Port Crescent at one time encompassed 17 blocks and had a population of more than 500 people, according to Naldrett’s book. It had two sawmills, a brewery and a roller rink.
The town began to decline with end of the lumber area and after the Port Huron Fire of 1871 and the Thumb Fire of 1881. The last business closed in 1936, and Port Crescent became a ghost town.
Naldrett said searching for lost towns can be difficult because often the only remains are ruined foundations from buildings that long ago rotted away.
“Thank God for GPS,” he said. “When you’re looking for these old … towns, they’re hard to find without GPS.”
Some of them are hard to find even with GPS. Belvidere, for example, was established in 1836 in what is now Harrison Township at the mouth of the Clinton River.
Rising waters inundated the town, and by 1838 most of it was beneath Lake St. Clair. The town’s cemetery, with headstones, still is under the lake.
Many of the communities started to fail after the U.S, Postal Service went to Rural Free Delivery and the communities lost their post offices, he said. Other factors were were proximity to the railroad.
The community of Brockway received a double whammy. It lost its post office in 1907 when the community was bypassed by the Pere Marquette Railroad, according to Naldrett’s book. Many of Brockway’s buildings were placed on skids and moved to Yale.
Naldrett is a retired librarian and has master’s degrees in library and information science and archival science.
One of his favorite stories in the book, he said, is about Smiths Creek. In 1869, Port Huron city fathers were battling St. Clair for the county seat.
When St. Clair didn’t give in, Port Huron arranged for the county seat to be moved from St. Clair to Smiths Creek, Naldrett said
While there’s no evidence any county business was done in Smiths Creek — St. Clair held onto the records — in 1871, Port Huron won a referendum and the county seat was moved to the city.
“Port Huron had to go to the Michigan Supreme Court to get the records from St. Clair,” Naldrett said.
He and Lyon are working a book tentatively called “Lost Car Companies of Detroit.”
“We found all these old auto factories that were abandoned,” Naldrett said.
Some of the old auto plants have old machines and office equipment, looking as if the people who worked there just left and never came back, Lyon said.
“The lost towns and the lost car companies, it was so much fun looking for all the stuff,” she said.