Belleville Lake History
As we look out onto the shores of Belleville Lake it is easy to forget that it was man made.
One-hundred years ago, the Huron River, before it was dammed in 1925, ran through Belleville and parts of Van Buren Township in a fairly steep ravine.
Parts of what is now the Five Points area would be filled with poorly drained water, mixing with horse manure and other stagnant substances. Raw garbage was dumped at the sewage gates where the Denton Road Bridge now stands.
Even worse, the Detroit Reduction Company, which collected raw garbage from Detroit, simply dumped it off of train cars into a pile near the river where it inevitably ran off into the Huron River.
The remains of Rawsonville Village were flooded under Belleville Lake, and anything and everything from lead to farming chemicals that were left behind became part of the river.
Before that, the ecosystem supported more than just carp.
Clamming existed on the Huron and six other southern Michigan streams and rivers with the Huron consistently rating in the top 10 rivers for production for many years previous to the 1920s. Though it was never a major industry, fresh water mussels were prized for their shells for the Victorian fad of mother of pearl buttons and for the occasional quality pearl that could be found though not in large numbers.
Clammers would wade out and extract the mussels with what looked like two hard toothed rakes or drag for them from a john boat.
Thick shelled species were preferred for the button factories that sprung up in the western side of the state where clamming was more profitable and abundant. They would use a hollow drill to pop out a raw button form then finish it off and sew it onto cards for retail.
According to a 1913 Bureau of Fisheries report, the Huron and River Raisin netted an amazing 51 tons of mussels by a very small group of local clammers. Prices could range anywhere from $19-$60 a ton.
Poisonous run-off from the Detroit Reduction Company and the damming at French Landing and several other sites for hydroelectric power destroyed the ecosystem needed for supporting mussels in the Huron River.
While we look out at Belleville Lake, one has to wonder what lies underneath it. Are there some rare pearls laying beneath the silt? Can you hear the ghosts of happy clammers, happily cooking the freshwater shellfish meat and selling the shells that previously were useless to them?
By William Zilke