The Underwater Ghost Town Just Down The Road From Dexter

Just down the road from Dexter there are ghosts, holding their breath. The underwater ghost town of Old Rawsonville, MI, which is the first Rawsonville, lies beneath the brooding surface of Belleville Lake on the opposite side of I-94 from Willow Run Airport.

Before Michigan was even a state, Henry Snow built a sawmill along the Huron River in 1823. Snow’s Landing quickly became a hot spot for commerce in the newly formed territory expanding out from le détroit du lac Érié (French for the straight of Lake Erie). In 1838, a year after the Michigan Territory became a state, the burgeoning settlement became a town and was renamed Rawsonville. The boom continued right up into and through the Civil War. Good times.

But by the 1880’s, the war was long gone and the Western Expansion had expanded west leaving Rawsonville as one of many empty footprints in the march to the Pacific. The denizens were left providing hospice care for a dying town. And the ghosts began to gather.

Looking back maybe there were things they could have done differently to keep the party going. Maybe not. Second-guessing swirled about the gossip and empty buildings. What-Could-Have-Beens are the most relentless of spirits. But the rear-view mirror only shows you where it’s pointed. Retrospect is never 20/20 in spite of what they’ve told us.

Death finally came to the run down town in 1925 when Henry Ford built a hydro-electric plant on the Huron River and flooded old Snow’s Landing. But Old Rawsonville is still there, down there – whole homes, the old stove factory, and other businesses sit in the murky still.

The only reminder of Old Rawsonville today is an unobtrusive historical marker. There is however a New Rawsonville invigorated by the local Ford plant. Maybe a penance. Maybe not.

We all have things below the surface – ghost towns that haunt us in one way or another. Successes we can’t let go that leave us still tracing empty footprints long after everyone else has moved on.

And then there are those regrets grabbing at our feet as we struggle to break surface and keep a nostril above the waves. Deep-seated disappointments lodged in our narrow and demanding rearview are the most critical of backseat drivers. They’ll never get out of the car.

With success and regrets, it might be good to remember that what was, isn’t what is. Both are ghost towns. Who we were isn’t who we are. Everything has its season. Today, I am enough. There are always newer, relevant, well-lit and bustling hamlets waiting for us just down the road.

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