White Rock

There is a lot of history in Michigan that has been forgotten or lost. Route 25, along the Lake Huron shoreline, is often used by travelers to get to the Sanilac Petroglyphs or the Wilderness Arboretum in Port Austin. About half way up the thumb is the small town of White Rock. Folks usually notice the small lighthouse, but most don't know about the unique history of this place.

white rock

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.

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 of a number of times.

Eventually a small town grew up called White Rock, named for the big white rock, out there in the lake. The rock doesn't impress any longer. It has become rather small and ordinary. It wasn't due to wave erosion or any other natural cause. 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. Only a small part of it remains.