The Making of a Rock Star…The Story of Rotary Rock!

By Derek Smith

This unlikely story had its beginnings millions of years ago. It is then a granite monolith was caught up in an icy wave called the Laurentide Ice Sheet and moved at glacier speed, over those many years, to a field near Kinde, Michigan.

Here that frigid transport would lose its icy grasp as it melted into the soil. The boulder would be freed to an earthy perch in farmer Toner’s field.

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It was a lonely life for the rock, but not a terribly bad one. There it could watch the travels of the tractor as the fields were planted in the spring and the crops taken off in the fall. It enjoyed the warm lazy days of summer and even the bitter cold hours of winter, which often brought back memories of its youth.

The rock enjoyed the listening to the morning call of the of the Grand Trunk locomotive, waking it up every morning precisely at 7am.

Little did the granite giant know, that its existence on this acreage was about to change, one fateful week in the early fall of 1929, just weeks before the crash of the stock market and the beginning of the Great Depression.

Its last ninety-mile journey had taken thousands of years. The boulders next ninety-mile trip would be completed in just a few days!

Here is that story….

On July 18th ,1929, the Rotary Club held a directors meeting at Port Huron Golf Club.

It was suggested by Walter Stevens, a director of the club, that a boulder be placed in Pine Grove Park honoring Thomas Edison, the great inventor, a man of international fame who spent his boyhood days in Port Huron, Michigan.

On that boulder would be placed a 2 -foot by 3-foot bronze plate showing Edison’s house and would also include a brief historical presentation of Edison. The plaque would have a lambstongue border, a black striped background, and bright letters. The cost for the above was quoted at $300.00 by the McCoy Bronze Company of Detroit.

The search began for a suitable boulder that could withstand the ice and snow of winter, the hot humid summers and the wet springs and falls of Michigan’s seasons. 

W. H. Wallace of Bay City read about the search for this stone monolith, and he volunteered his knowledge to the quest. He had the credentials for such a task, being a member of a family who operated quarries in Grindstone City and Eagle Bay.

Wallace wrote to Stevens at the Rotary Club that there was “No finer stone in the Thumb than a huge boulder that rested for years (probably thousands of years) on Archie Toner’s farm 2 ½ miles north of Kinde.”

At this point, the stone’s scavenger hunt ended, and an investigation concerning its transport would begin. 

How do you move a 123,000-pound piece of granite from a field near Kinde to a plot in Pine Grove Park?

The idea of moving this much weight by road transport was not deemed feasible. Some of Michigan’s roads were not surfaced and could not accept that tonnage. Those that were paved could possibly be damaged and repair bills would be costly. It was also deemed that 123,000 would exceed the weight limits of most bridges, for safety concerns, and the fact the boulder might end up at the bottom of a riverbed, it was decided that rail would be a better option.

Tom Carp, a master rigger with the Detroit Edison Company, was presented with the task of moving this glacier deposit hundreds of feet across the field to a waiting flatbed railroad car. He and his nine-member crew, equipped with shovels, picks, jacks, 12-inch beams, block and tackle, steel rollers and other paraphernalia arrived at the site on September 10th, 1929.

It took them a day to dig the stubborn boulder out of its hard packed resting place, a place where it had been laid to rest thousands of years ago, when its icy vehicle had disappeared. From there the boulder was placed on wooden beams, which sat on iron rollers.

With the front of their truck fastened to a stump with ropes, a winch on the back of the truck was used to drag the boulder slowly towards the waiting railroad car.

They completed 500 feet in two days, unfortunately the rope kept breaking. A sturdier remedy was achieved using a cable and block and tackle lasso from the truck to the stump. With this remedy in place, the rest of the work progressed quickly.

On September 14th, their granite prize was hogtied to the railroad flat car and would arrive to Port Huron at 8:45 p.m. September 17th.

Workmen would excavate a suitable hole at a spot 20 feet from the northern edge of the roadway, about 800 feet from the site of the Edison home, that had stood on the Fort Gratiot Military Reservation.

There they would lay a concrete foundation, capable of supporting the granite giant.

October 19th, 1929 was to be the date for the grand unveiling of the Edison Memorial Boulder. Large crowds were expected, and those expectations were not wrong.

On that day, there was also an Edison Golden Jubilee Parade, to celebrate Edison’s first lighting of the electric lamp 50 years ago.

On October 17th, 2004, there was a rededication of The Rotary Rock in remembrance of Thomas A Edison.

The boulder was proud of the task that it now faced (excuse the pun), honoring one of America’s greatest inventors, Thomas A Edison.

In this beautiful park it would enjoy the laughter and the chatter of the many curious visitors to the Port Huron area. It is there that the greeting of the Grand Trunk locomotive would be replaced by the various calls of the large lake freighters, as they find their way through the Great Lakes water system.

It is there the boulder could marvel at the impatient waters of the St Clair River.

That lonely rock of Kinde had indeed become a Rock Star!

My thanks to Ray Forrester, past Secretary of the Port Huron Rotary Club for putting much of this history together, along with Dr Charles F Kemf, a fellow historian and a man who dedicated a great deal of time and effort to the preservation of local histories.

Special thanks to the Rotary Club of Port Huron who has made it their mission to provide community service through their foundation, which has provided grants to local non-profit organizations for over 100 years.

The Rotary Rock was certainly a huge project, 123,000 pounds give or take a few ounces!

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