Much of Iosco County’s heritage points to the importance of its greatest natural resource: water.
Most of the county’s early inhabitants, including French fur traders and fishermen, were drawn to the riverbanks. French fur traders and fishermen. The first settlement made in the county was at the mouth of the AuSable River in 1849, to which the valuable fisheries attracted attention at a very early date. The only means of reaching this area was by ship. Most of the fish were shipped to Boston, New York and Chicago.
In the 1850’s, the US government saw the need to build a lighthouse. One was built on Tawas Point and placed in operation in 1852 to light the entrance to the largest natural harbor on the Great Lakes.
The close of the Civil War in 1865 opened the way for establishing the new frontiers. The discovery of large tracts of virgin pine was responsible for Iosco County’s growth at that time. With a limited supply of trees in the prairie states, the need for wood was huge and the Michigan forest provided it. Lumber cut near the AuSable River was floated out to Lake Huron and then shipped at first by boat and then in 1867, by rail when the Detroit and Mackinaw Railroad put a station in East Tawas.
On the banks of the mighty AuSable stands the Lumberman’s Monument erected in 1932. It is a memorial to those pioneers, the timber cruiser, the sawyer and the river men who felled the mighty pine trees to build the cities and supply lumber for the treeless prairies.
Gypsum, the mineral with a thousand uses, is found in great abundance in Iosco County. It has contributed to the growth and economy of the area for more than one hundred years. Gypsum’s suitability for economical mass production and its insulating qualities has made it indispensable to the building industry. In 1902 US Gypsum Company acquired the quarry in Alabaster and are the continuing owners to the present day.
During World War II Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda brought thousands of military personnel and their families to the area and provided many civilian jobs as well. After the closing of the base, several industries were brought in and a special community developed utilizing the remodeled base housing. There are still buildings being revitalized. The Park Library is now located on Base as well as the Community Theater, Alpena Community College classes, a Senior Housing facility and some medical facilities.
The county’s history is kept alive by local historical societies, who have established museums and help publish historical accounts of each community’s formative years. We invite you to experience Iosco County’s yesterdays at the AuSable-Oscoda Historical Museum, the Iosco County Historical Museum, the Yankee Air Force Museum and Lumberman’s Monument.
The tourist industry was unheard of in those early days, while today it is a multi-million dollar business for the area.