Aroad along the Lake Huron shore had long been a dream for the people of northeastern Michigan. And as early as 1858, the state authorized building one between Bay City and Mackinaw City. For years it wasn’t more than a rough trail, hard for wagons to negotiate and certainly not adequate for future automobile traffic.
In 1912, the Lake Huron Shore Good Roads Association formed to promote a road from Bay City to the Straits, paralleling the Lake Huron shore. It organized a “good roads bee day” for June 9, 1913. Taking a cue from community barn-raising efforts, the association enlisted more than 5,000 volunteers to do road work.
The workers toiled from dawn to dusk. Businessmen worked alongside farmers. Some towns closed for the day, declaring it a holiday. Local women fed meals to the work crews. Teams of horses pulled wagons or road graders. Private automobiles ferried volunteers to work sites. During the bee, about 200 miles of road was roughed in.
Wet sections of road were drained; logs, rocks and stumps were removed from the roadway; clay or sand was added as needed; gravel was hauled and road graders dragged. Over the next several days, volunteers completed the road work. By June 20 a “thru-route” was completed along the shoreline of Lake Huron. Automobiles could travel up to 20 mph on this “improved road.”
Gov. Woodbridge N. Ferris, impressed with the success of the Huron Shore road bee, declared a date in June for the next three years to be “Road Bee Day” statewide. Folks in the communities along Lake Huron used the road bees to keep their shoreline road in good repair.
In 1916, the Huron Shore Highway officially became part of the East Michigan Pike route, which ran from Toledo to the Straits. Around the same time, the entire East Michigan Pike became part of the Dixie Highway. Most of the road was designated as U.S. 23 in 1926.
In 1941, the final shoreline reroute of U.S. 23 was finished between Rogers City and Cheboygan. The road ran along the Lake Huron shoreline for the entire distance between Standish and Mackinaw City. Advertisements that year beckoned motorists to travel U.S. 23, the scenic Huron Shore Highway, “for the first time” on 108 miles of “new, ribbon-like concrete.” It was still years before the entire route was paved.
The Huron Shore Highway opened up previously isolated recreation areas and brought economic development with travel and tourism. Private cottages, resorts, motels and roadside attractions were developed in the 1940s and 1950s. The bays and harbors offered recreational opportunities for boating and water sports.
This northern section of U.S. 23 became part of the Lake Huron Circle Tour in 1986. In 2004, it was named the “Sunrise Side Coastal Highway.” That was later changed to the “Huron Shores Heritage Route,” now part of the Pure Michigan Byways program.
The heritage route has a lot of historical attractions, including museums, railroad depots, courthouses, schoolhouses and other public buildings. Several lighthouses dot the Lake Huron shore, including the Sturgeon Point Lighthouse, Presque Isle Lighthouse and Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse.
The northern Lake Huron shoreline is favored with large tracts of publicly owned land, including state parks. Hoeft State Park and the original East Tawas State Park (now Tawas Point), were some of the earliest state parks in the system. There are two historic bridges on the road: the Cheboygan Bascule Bridge in Cheboygan and the Ocqueoc River Bridge in Presque Isle County. Lumberman’s Monument near Oscoda, and statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe near Ossineke, pay tribute to Michigan’s legendary lumberjacks.
The Huron shore also has some of the few remaining mom-and-pop cottage colonies and early motels that offer quaint charms unlike the chain lodgings. And, of course, the fresh water, open vistas, stately forests and abundance of wildlife still beckon the traveler today as they did 100 years ago. ≈
BLUE Vintage Views columnists M. Christine Byron and Thomas R. Wilson reside in Grand Rapids. They are authors of the new book “Vintage Views Along Scenic M-22 including Sleeping Bear Dunes.”