Traction and Electrical Company, Power Station
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HAER No. MI-76-A, Page 3
By 1837, the Portsmouth Company had platted out the town site known as Portsmouth, but settlement was slow until the 1850s when new investors financed and built additional lumber mills along the Saginaw River. Also in 1837, the Saginaw Bay Company constructed a blockhouse further north on the Saginaw River and financed the purchase of 640 acres. Development in the Lower Saginaw was slow and it was not until 1849 that the proprietors of the Saginaw Bay Company actually subdivided their holdings in the for of a town plat. Town lots were surveyed and laid out for the village of Lower Saginaw (Bay City). These lots ran parallel to the river for about fourteen blocks and then eastward for about ten blocks. In 1837, Bay County was carved out as a separate political entity from the larger Saginaw County and Lower Saginaw was renamed Bay City. Two years later Bay City was incorporated as a village, and in 1865 the community was chartered as a city. in 1873, the west bank communities of Salzburg, Banks and Wenona merged to form West Bay City. Similarly Portsmouth became part of Bay City in 1874. Finally, east and west merged to for the present-day city of Bay City in 1903.
Throughout the last quarter of the nineteenth century the lumber industry formed the backbone of the region's economy and growth. However, after reaching a peak of board feet production in 1882, lumbering in the region began to decline. Other industry spurred by the lumber industry included shipbuilding and barrel manufacturing, and it is these industries that too the place of the declining lumber production. Salt production, an industry based on local salt deposits also played an important part in the history of Bay City. Population increase was significant in Bay City during the 1870s and 1880s due in part to the annexation of Portsmouth, Banks, Wenona and Salzburg. However, German and Polish immigrants sought jobs in the new industries of Bay City and served to increase population as well. Homes began to be built further and further from the river making river transportation impractical. Transportation within the city became a major concern and individual horse-drawn carriages were not sufficient to meet the burgeoning demand.
BAY CITY TRACTION AND ELECTRIC
Traction lines, or electric streetcars, were an important component of early inter-city transportation in the state of Michigan. Additionally, traction lines were vital to the development of the early electric companies of the state. The early electric companies of Michigan had begun primarily to street lighting; however, furnishing electricity for streetcars quickly became a major portion of the business. The importance of the traction business to early electric companies is evidenced by a historian's comments that "it was often impossible for them to obtain financing unless they could show they had traction contracts".
The period of electric streetcar utilization in Michigan lasted some 30 years from the late 1880's until the early 1920's. In the lower Saginaw valley rapid population growth in the 1870's and 1880's fueled the need for an efficient means of transporting people within and between city boundaries. Prior to the 1880's necessary transportation for those living in one community and working in another or for those wishing to conduct business in another city was provided by horse-drawn railways. By 1874, companies such as the Bay City and Portsmouth Street Railway or its successor the Bay City Street and Transit Railway Company were providing horse-drawn cars for passenger traffic during the day and steam engines to pull freight cars at night.