If you’ve never had the opportunity to visit Rogers City, a small community in northeast Michigan, this is the time to do so. Its annual Nautical Festival draws thousands to the area, but this year is also the 100th anniversary of the Calcite Limestone Quarry – the largest in the world – and the occasion is definitely worth celebrating.
In operation since 1912, the calcite plant has employed generations of workers in Rogers City. To celebrate its centennial anniversary and history, the Presque Isle District Library (PIDL) has teamed up with numerous community partners for a monumental project. With support from a Michigan Humanities Council major grant award of $14,907, the library will premiere a documentary on the plant’s history and unveil a landmark in 2013 that celebrates the area’s natural resources.
Speaking with Anne Belanger, project director and PIDL’s program and regional outreach director, it’s immediately obvious that she has a passion for Rogers City. Diving into discussion on the grant project and the upcoming Rogers City Nautical Festival, Belanger spoke not only of the importance of these events for cultural tourism, but also the key role of community partners.
“A small community like ours doesn’t have big industry or corporate support, so we really have to depend on local service organizations,” Belanger said. “If not for the Michigan Humanities Council, I can guarantee this wouldn’t be happening.”
When the Nautical Festival, held July 31 through Aug. 5, kicks off, there’s going to be a lot of buzz about what’s in store for Rogers City, especially with the grant-funded documentary making a grand presence.
Capturing a Centennial
A Century in Stone is a 24-minute documentary that not only tells the story of Rogers City and the calcite plant, but serves as a tool for historic preservation.
“When our production team got into this, we interviewed nearly 20 retirees that spanned 70 years of employment,” Belanger said. “The oldest gentleman was 93 years old, and one person’s father started employment there in 1917, so we are really scoping nearly 100 years of oral history in this video.”
In addition to oral histories and live footage from the plant, the video also includes an abundance of archival images from the late 1800s through the 1900s, and a DVD-only special feature with additional interviews.
The documentary premieres July 28 at the Rogers City Theater and will be shown at various sites and kiosks during the Nautical Festival through Aug. 5.
Council funding has allowed the PIDL to make 500 DVD duplicates, to be dispersed to all public libraries and schools. Once school starts, an educational component will be integrated as part of a Michigan history project for the students to learn more about their local region.
“Initially I thought, it’s (a documentary) about a quarry,” Belanger said. “But it’s a human story. The quarry of course is limestone, it’s rock, but it’s how this natural resource become a driving force for our nation. Much of this limestone was used to build the Mackinac Bridge, it helped build the interstate highway system throughout the nation, and it’s used in everyday items.”
Following the festival, the documentary will be shown in a permanent setting at the Presque Isle County Historical Museum, the Great Lakes Lore Maritime Museum and the Besser Museum of Northeast Michigan. It will also be made available online through a number of state and local organizational links. Check back in future issues for updates on how you can see the documentary!
Celebrating with Stone
It seems fitting for a community that’s thrived from stone to celebrate a centennial anniversary with the natural resource they know best. In May of 2013, the PIDL will unveil a centennial landmark in Lakeside Park commemorating the men and women who dedicated their careers to the success of the quarry and celebrates the history with the public in a permanent setting.
Ensuring a historical connection between generations, 5th – 7th grade students from Rogers City’s parochial and public schools will learn more about the calcite plant through guided tours and classroom curriculum. They will then have the opportunity to work with master potter Guy Adamec, of the Flint Institute of Arts, to express their interpretation of the quarry on 6”x6” outdoor tiles to be placed on the landmark. The landmark design will also represent the history of the quarry by depicting layers of quarry strata ranging from the Devonian Period to current day. This will be represented in different colors of cement block to show the strata.
“We’ll have a ribbon cutting and Carmeuse (Lime & Stone), the current owner of the calcite plant, will be an integral part of that,” Belanger said. “They’ve committed to this community so we’re working with them in celebrating this 100th year.
"The city of Rogers City has donated the land (for the landmark), the Department of Public Works will help excavate the property and place the landmark," Belanger continued.
The landmark in Lakeside Park will be located near the memorial commemorating the lives lost when the SS Carl D. Bradley sank in Lake Michigan. Of the 33 that died, 23 were from Rogers City and marked a monumental loss in the community.
Great Things to Come
Rogers City - a great community on the shores of Lake Huron - has plenty to offer its visitors. Enjoy the annual festival, local sights and sounds, and fishing opportunities. Get to know the residents who have forever called Rogers City home, where they know its past and prepare for its future. You may see northeastern Michigan in an all-new light.
If you can’t make it to Rogers City in August, head up the Sunrise Coast in September, when the Presque Isle County Historical Museum kicks off the 2012-13 tour of the Smithsonian Institution’s The Way We Worked traveling exhibit. The exhibit, which looks at the history of work in American culture, will include regional programming for each site and is made possible in part through the Michigan Humanities Council. It will be open through Oct. 29.
“I have to honestly say that it’s a sleepy community, but we have a lot of natural resources up here, and that’s something that can be celebrated," Belanger said.