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Seven sad moments in the history of Port Huron

  1. In 1832 the Asian Cholera kills 36 soldiers headed to the Fort Gratiot and they are buried in a little cemetery on the banks of the St Clair River where Pine Grove Park now calls home.
  1. The Port Huron fire of October 8, 1871, ravaged most of the city and devastated other Michigan cities including Holland, Manistee, Grand Rapids, South Haven just to name a few.
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  1. Port Huron is the only place in Michigan where a lynching of an African American man took place. In the early morning of May 27, 1889, the Port Huron jail was stormed by a crowd of unidentified men wearing masks. They seized a biracial man by the name of Albert Martin. Martin had been charged with allegedly assaulting a farmer’s wife on May 11 of that year.

They took Martin to the 7th St bridge and hung him from the side of the structure where he died at the end of a tight noose. If you can believe, it has taken the US government over 120 years to pass antilynching legislation. In 2018 the senate passed antilynching legislation the “Justice of Victims Lynching Act” but the House of Representatives took no action. On Feb 26, 2020, Congress passed the “Emmitt Till Antilynching Act” which was nearly identical to the previous bill passed by the Senate in 2018. It still needs to reconciled by the U. S. Senate and then sent to the Oval Office for signing. Emmitt Till was one of the over 4000 victims of known lynching in the United States happening between 1877 and 1955, the large majority of which were never prosecuted.

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                The men who perpetrated the lynching in Port Huron were never charged
  1. The Great Depression of 1929 affects the economic viability of the nation and the City of Port Huron. A number of Port Huron’s large historic homes are converted into apartments.
  1. Port Huron City Hall catches fire on February 12, 1949. The cause of the fire was determined to be caused by an explosion of floor wax that was being heated for use on a small electric heater. Within an hour despite fire fighter’s efforts  the buildings 3rd floor had been nearly gutted and the five cupulas at the front of the building had collapsed.  Construction of the building began in 1872 and was completed in 1873 at a cost of $31,440. It stood where McMorran arena is now located.
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                                       City Hall Burns Feb 12th 1949

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  1. On Thursday, May 21, 1953, a tornado touched down in the south section of Port Huron. Over 90 mile per hour winds damaged over 390 homes and uprooted about 1000 trees. Forty-two people were injured, one person killed and another died from injuries. The tornado continued on into downtown Sarnia where 4 people were killed and 57 injured.

At that time, my father owned an appliance store on Front St, and most of his inventory was blown out into the street, including my new fire engine pedal car, which was deemed a total right off. I still think about that little red toy with its shiny silver ladder. Nearly 100 commercial buildings were destroyed in downtown Sarnia. I have posted pictures of downtown Sarnia taken immediately after the tornado by my father George Smith, using black and white film and his Rolex camera.   

Tornado of 1953 Passing through Port Huron and Downtown Sarnia
Front St Sarnia
Christina St Sarnia after Tornado of 1953
Christina St Sarnia
Vendome Hotel Sarnia Severely Damaged by the Tornado
Vendome Hotel
  1. Seventeen workers died and 21 survived a natural gas explosion which took place in the Detroit Water Board intake tunnel, 230 feet below the surface of Lake Huron. Construction of the tunnel began in the spring of 1968. It extends 5 miles out from the shore under the bottom of Lake Huron and provides water to southeastern Michigan and Detroit. The explosion was caused by a drill bit striking concrete surface, creating a spark which ignited a pocket of methane gas. The explosion caused very little damage to the structural integrity of the tunnel itself as it travelled the length of the tunnel, almost 6 miles and vented itself at both ends.
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Inside of the Tunnel After the Explosion

Blue Water Healthy Living gives thanks to local historian Derek Smith for sharing his knowledge and photographs with BWHL readers.

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