Singing the Leland Blues
By Ondrea Brussee
Leland Michigan, is nestled along the shores of Lake Michigan on picturesque Leelanau Peninsula. From 1870 to 1884, Leland was a smog-filled industrial area that was home to Leland Lake Superior Iron Company. The company operated an iron smelting business using ore from the Upper Peninsula and created charcoal from area timber in large kilns. The company produced up to 40 tons of iron per day.
Smelting is a process of applying heat to ore to extract a base metal. In Leland, the raw iron ore was heated in a furnace to separate impurities. Once cooled, the results are iron and a glass-like by-product, called slag. The various chemical compositions, fire temperatures and oxygen levels in the furnace created varying batches of slag. Ultimately, masses of slag were dumped into the harbor. To this day, the slag material, called Leland Blue, is found in the waters and along the shores of Lake Michigan.
The name Leland Blue can be misleading as the stones can be single or multi-colored, opaque or transparent in shades of blue, grey, purple, and green. They are found in different shapes and sizes, can be smooth or pitted, and may be solid or speckled.
Lake Michigan has tumbled and softened these pieces and created a local modern cottage-industry for artists who sell stunning photography, unique jewelry, and one of a kind works of art featuring Leland Blue. In the summer months, you may find small blue stones that match the salt-free crystal clear turquoise colored waters and pristine blue skies. The off-season months of October-April are best to hunt bigger sized Leland Blues—just be sure to pack your tall boots or waders!
Leland is also known as Fishtown, because after the Iron Company failed, the commercial fishing industry thrived. Today, there are several historic quirky fishing huts huddled along the Leland River. When in town, be sure to walk the docks, check out the smoked fish & cheese shops, peruse the galleries, explore the region’s wineries, and hike the Sleeping Bear Dunes for the view of a lifetime!
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine March/April 2020 issue.