Tooling along M-32 west of Atlanta, Elk Capital of Michigan, on a recent summer evening I spotted a State Historic Site Marker in what seemed, at 55 mph (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it), to be an empty lot. Curious about what occurred there that warranted a tax dollar-supported sign I, of course, pulled over to check it out.
On closer inspection I saw that the lot is not empty. In its center there is a massive boulder. A big rock.
The official green marker reads: BIG ROCK.
“Natural features have often played a role in the naming of communities. One such settlement was Big Rock. Named after a massive boulder, this hamlet was located at the crossroads of present-day M-32 and Thornton Road.”
It goes on to describe the community founded in 1882 that at one time had a church, school, grange hall, sawmill and blacksmith shop. And, of course, the big rock.
A separate wooden sign explains the stone foundations visible between the big rock and the highway:
“The Big Rock grocery store, living quarters, & gas station were built on this site. The last building burned in 1966. Four different families owned this business during its 84 years of existence. William & May Remington, Charles & Ethel Harrison, Harvey & Helen Basch, Leslie & Anna Johnson”
I wondered why the pioneers built the business district directly in front of the town’s namesake.
They obviously could not have moved the big rock but surely, with all of the open space out there, Mr. Remington could have have located his buisness a few yards to the east so as not to block the big rock from the view of passersby.
Maybe there was a zoning issue.
The book Michigan Place Names by Walter Romig is a handy reference for checking on the history of, well, the names of places in Michigan. Not fancy, but fascinating.
For example, the town of Memphis was not named by an Elvis fan; it is after the Egyptian city and means “place of good abode.” (I guess Elvis thought the Tennessee Memphis was a good place to build his abode.)
White Dog Corners honors the unfortunate pooch that was killed by a falling tree and buried at that Ingham County location around 1841.
Rosebush, in Isabella County, may very well have been the location of an especially fragrant or otherwise distinctive flowering plant, but in 1868 James L. Bush named it after his wife, Rose. Wonder if he’d have done the same if her name had been Thornetta “Thorny” Bush?