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Saginaw History

Early Beginnings

The first recorded European visitor was Father Henri Nouvel in 1675, a Jesuit Priest from St. Ignace. From 1675 to 1819, the original residents of the saginaw area consisted of the Sauk and Chippewa Indian tribes, as well as European fur trappers and traders. in 1819, a permanent settlement was established, and families began to arrive in Saginaw. 1819 also saw the treaty of Saginaw signed. It was three years later, in 1822, that Fort Saginaw was established, only to be abandoned the next year by the military. The Commander stated "Nothing but Indians, muskrats, and bull frogs could possibly subsist here." Yet only one year later in 1824 Saginaw territory was organized and then attached to Oakland County for judicial purposes. In 1831 Alexis de Tocqueville visits Saginaw area on horseback. "No sound was heard but the annoying hum of mosquitos and the stamp of our horses' feet . . . Not a garden spot yet . . ." were his comments.

Saginaw Township (including the entire county and adjacent land) was organized in 1830. A January 28, 1835 act organized Saginaw County (which then included Bay County) as an official county. 1837 saw the first School district organized. It was located on Court St., near the courthouse, which itself was built in 1839. The plot on which the courthouse sits was perminantly donated for public use only.

In 1845, German Lutherans from Franconia, of the Kingdom of Bavaria, come to settle. One of the missions becomes Frankenmuth. Only two years later, the first shipment of Saginaw Pine is sent to New York, which triggers demand out East for the high quality timber. In 1850 Norman Little built a plank road from Flint to Saginaw. East Saginaw expands more rapidly than Saginaw City, which is on the West. At this point, there was still no bridge for easy river crossing.

Timber Boom

The Saginaw County population in 1850 was 2,609. 34 years later, after the timber boom, the 1884 census recorded a whopping 75,813. during that time, East Saginaw (not yet part of Saginaw as it is known today) had grown to incorporate other small villages in the area. These small villages included: Salina; once at Center Avenue and S. Washington, South Saginaw; separated from East Saginaw by Hoyt Park and Webber Avenue, and The Village of Florence; South of Genesee Avenue, on the west side of the river.

By 1863 Saginaw had its first high school, Central School, located on Court Street. The next year brought the first bridge across Saginaw River, Genesee Bridge (toll bridge). In 1869 actress Marie Dressler was born in Saginaw.

1882 was the peak year of Lumber Era: 1,001,274,905 boardfeet of timber cut in mills along the Saginaw River. But in three years time, there was a strike among workers in sawmills, demanding a 10 hour work day, organized by the Knights of Labor. Eventually, the National Guard was called out to maintain peace. The strike dwindled away, with mill owners gaining control over workers. Salt production flourished during lumber boom. Waste from the sawmills was used to make salt from brine water. This was no longer profitable after the lumber industry declined.

In 1894 Riverside Park opens on Green Point. Merry-go-rounds, roller coasters, balloon ascensions, pavilion dancing, all served by Union St. Railway. None of which remains now. 'After the Ball' a famous 1890's Waltz was written by a bellhop in the Bancroft Hotel.

The First Half of the 20th Century

1899 saw new industries developed after the lumber era. The first sugar beet factory in Saginaw was located at S. Jefferson and Rust. By 1903 Saginaw County had 11 operating coal mines employing 1,500 people. 1905 gave us the first car produced in Saginaw (at N. Washington and 6th Street); the Ranier. Five years later, in 1910 the Argo Electric Car was produced on S. Jefferson Avenue. In 1916 the 'Yale Eight' was produced by Saginaw Motorcar Company. The Lehr produced by Lehr Motor Co. on River St.

In 1917 the state of Michigan first ordered Saginaw to build sewage disposal system (other than river). Later, a court order forces compliance in 1953. To provide drinking water, Saginaw drilled wells and provided pumps. Everyone had to pump and haul drinking water until 1948. In 1918 'The Peninsular' automobile was produced at Washington and 6th Street. Two trucks were produced in Saginaw, Nelson Brothers Motor Truck Co. and Ruggles Truck, in Carrollton.

In 1927 Saginaw Airport Co. formed the first commercial airfield on Janes Road. From 1928 to 1931 Paramount Aircraft Co. produced planes with pontoons for water landing. The landed test flights on the Saginaw River.

In 1933 During the Bank Holiday in the Depression, Morley Brothers loaned money to Saginaw so it could make it's payroll.

In 1941 and 1942 Tri-City Airport was built by the Federal Government to serve as pilot training field during WWII. German prisoners were housed in barracks there.

In 1950, Stevie Wonder was born in Saginaw.

Additional Information

The Castle Museum of Saginaw County History's exhibits tell the story of the people and places in Saginaw County. Within its walls, you will discover exhibits that celebrate the diversity and richness of the community’s heritage and history. They have new exhibits all the time so the museum is ever changing. Take the time to visit the Castle Museum to learn more the history of our great city.