The stone, which is used in jewelry pieces because of its unique color, is usually only found in small amounts along the beach, said Kevin Gauthier of Greilickville’s Korner Gem store. Gauthier, who co-authored the Lake Michigan Rock Picker’s Guide a few years ago, was surprised at the variety of Bluestone recently laid bare.
“What was really unusual was the multitude of colors,” he said. “There were 32 different colors found.”
Unlike the name suggests, Bluestone can range from green to purple to almost every shade of blue and turquoise, he explained.
The discovery of Bluestone at the harbor did not come as a surprise to some who are familiar with Leland’s history.
“We knew they would be there,” said Rick Lahmann, proprietor of Reflections Art Gallery in Leland. “People have been finding Bluestones around the area for 130 years, ever since they were created.”
The stones were created, he explained, through the process of creating iron from iron ore.
In the late 19th century, the ore was carried from Escanaba to Leland on large schooners and steamers, said Claudia Goudschaal, a volunteer at the Leelanau Historical Museum. They stopped in Leland to deposit their load at the Leland Lake Superior Iron Company, which occupied the land where Leland Harbor and Fishtown are now.
Leland, Goudschaal explained, was a good location for the iron company because of the river and surrounding forests.
“We had all these wonderful woods around here, and it is hardwood, which you need to make charcoal to make it extra hot for the smelter,” she said. “When you melt the iron ore, it gets very hot and all of the junk, you might say, comes up to the top.”
That “junk” is Bluestone, and it was discarded as slag.
“They just took it and threw it out,” said Goudschaal. “And where was the best place to throw it? On the beach, in the lake.”
She added that there used to be a large slag pile where Falling Waters Lodge was built.
“We used to go there, and there were apple trees,” she said. “In the roots of the apple trees, there would be these big chunks of Bluestone.”
The first Bluestones people actually collected, however, were those that had been worn smooth by the lake, said Gloudschaal.
“They had the rough edges rubbed off, and people thought, ‘Hey, you know that is sort of pretty,’” she said. “Now, in a lot of cottages in the area you will find glass jars full of it, or people will have little bowls of it on their coffee tables.”
The appetite for Bluestone only grew as jewelers began to use it for pieces such as beads and pendants.
When news of the recently discovered Bluestone got out, Lahmann said that most evenings he would see people searching the excavated piles of dirt for the stones. Sometimes there were as many as 15 people on the weekends, he said.
“Most people just want a keepsake to put in their rock garden or something,” he said. “I really have no idea what I am going to do with mine. I just knew that it was a once-in-40-years opportunity.”
Gauthier said he believes that, because of the large quantity uncovered, there will be a lot more Bluestone appearing in jewelry in local galleries, citing the two showcases full of it in Korner Gem.
“It is really an up-and-coming stone,” he said.
Up-and-coming or not, when the harbor’s parking lot is paved, the Bluestone rush will be over, once again relegating the stone to the realm of dogged beach combers.
By Codi Yeager