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Cromwell Barney (1807-1851)
Native of Mass., among earliest settlers of Bay City.

1883: Biography & book excerpts. (Added Nov., 2009)

History of Bay City, Michigan (1883)


Page 28.

Cromwell Barney was born in Swansea, Mass., September 9, 1807, was married to Miss Belinda Peirce, January 3, 1830. The first year they lived in Swansea, when Mr. Barney removed to Warren, R. I., where he lived five years. Mr. Barney was by occupation a millwright, and being tired of the life he was then following, and having no prospects of bettering his condition where then was, he determined to go West. He made provisions for his wife and child and they were to remain at Warren, R. I., while he would go West to try and better his condition . He started in 1836 for Michigan; arriving at Detroit he inquired in what part of the Territory there was the best prospect of lumbering, as he wanted to get work as a millwright, and was told that the Saginaw Valley would be eventually, as then there was the most pine in that region. So he started on foot for Saginaw. When he arrived there he could find no employment at his trade, but was told that parties had commenced a mill at Portsmouth. Mr. Barney obtained work here and followed it one year. The next year he returned to Rhode Island for his family, and brought them to what was then Lower Saginaw, now Bay city, and moved into the old Indian trading house of Leon Trombley, which stood on the bank of the river near the corner of Water and Fourth Streets, near where the large hardware store of Forsyth & Pierson now stands. This Indian trading house was a small affair, -- too much so for the comfort of his family. He moved into the block house near by. Here their daughter Mary E. Barney was born May 22, 1838, the first female child born in what is now Bay County, late wife of Alfred G. Sinclair, of Bay City. Mr. Barney continued to live in this block house some four or five years, when he sold out to the late James G. Birney, who was afterward candidate for the Presidency, in 1844, on the Abolition ticket. While Barney lived in this old block house he had occasion to go to Detroit in Winter for supplies for himself and others, which would take him nine days to make the trip. What a difference from the present time! Now we can to and do our business and return the same day. Mr. Barney then bought a farm and moved on to it, which was situated where the Dolsonville now stands, comprising what is now the First Ward of Bay City. The old farm house is still standing, and the fields he once tilled are now covered over with streets and buildings. After residing on his farm a few years, he went into partnership with the late James Fraser, in building the Kawkawlin Mills, and in lumbering on the Kawkawlin River, where he soon after removed with his family, and where he lived until his death, which occurred November 30, 1851. He left a noble record after him for uprightness and fair dealing with his fellow men; he was one of the most industrious men I ever saw; he never could be still while there was any thing to do. He was just the man James Fraser required to assist him in carrying on that extensive business. His widow is still living with her son-in-law in Bay City, at the age of seventy-five, one of the few noble pioneers that are left.

(Note - Other page references on Barney)

Page 21.

At Portsmouth, several sales of village lots had been made, and during the winter of 1836-37 a saw-mill was built by Judge Miller, B. K. Hall and Cromwell Barney, and a postoffice established.

Page 40. (Albert Miller's recollections.)

The mill built in Portsmouth in 1836 and 1837 was small compared with some built in these days, but when we look at conditions of the county at that time and the many difficulties to overcome in prosecuting an enterprise of that kind, we find the undertaking to be of greater magnitude than would appear to the reader of the present day.


Cromwell Barney, late of Bay City, undertook the erection of the frame of the wood-work of the mill (a house had first to be built to shelter the workmen), while I undertook the task of procuring an engine and machinery, which was no slight undertaking, when we encounter the difficulties of transportation at that season of the year, and the fact that nothing of the kind could be procured in the state of Michigan. Harvey Williams was at the same time engaged in procuring machinery for the old yellow mill that formerly stood in the south part of East Saginaw. We went together to Cleveland to get our mill gearing, and while there I heard of a second-hand engine at Huron, O., which I purchased, and had the whole shipped to Detroit; and then the great difficulty was to get transportation to Portsmouth. The lateness of the season and the large amount of supplies that had to be shipped from New York and Ohio, to support the large immigration into the state that year, rendered it very difficult to get anything transported to the Upper Lakes. After spending two weeks in Detroit, waiting to find a vessel that I could charter, the schooner “Elizabeth Ward,” sixty-ton burthen, arrived from Buffalo, and I applied to Gray & Gallager, who contracted her for charter to the Saginaw River.


I found on my arrival at Portsmouth that Mr. Barney had finished his part of the contract by having it ready to receive the machinery, and during the Winter of 1836-37 I had all my stock of goods and every pound of iron that was used in building the mill hauled in sleights through St. Clair, Macomb, Oakland, Genesee and Saginaw Counties to Portsmouth, and we got the mill running on the 1st of April, 1837, at which time there was very little home demand for lumber, and there was no point to which lumber could be shipped where it would sell for enough to pay freight.

The mill referred to stood on the present site of Albert Miller's upper salt block. For reasons already given, it was operated but a short time and then shut down. In 1841 it was purchased by James McCormick, and his son, James J.

Page 41.

In the Winter of 1844-45, Messrs. Cromwell Barney and James Fraser erected a water mill at Kawkawlin. This work was supervised by Israel Catlin who is still a resident of Bay City. Mr. Catlin superintended the running of the mill for about two years.

Page 65.

The Globe Hotel building was in process of construction, and Cromwell Barney was at work upon it.

Page 66.

Yankee” Brown, as he was called, kept boarders in the block house, and Cromwell Barney was living in the old log house, previously occupied by Leon Trombley. Fred Derr was working with Cromwell Barney, while the Globle Hotel was being built. He afterwards married Miss Clark, who taught school a short time near where William Peter's mill now stands. They were the first white people in Lower Saginaw to unite for better or worse, but they went to Saginaw City to get the solemn sentence pronounced. She died in about a year after they were married, but he is still living East. Mrs. Derr was the second person buried in the burial place selected for that time, as described elsewhere. (Note: Reference is to burial site known as "potters field," located south of Columbus, between Saginaw and Washington.)

The first white child born in the county was Elizabeth, daughter of Cromwell Barney, and the late wife of A. G. Sinclair, now of Bay city. She was born in the log house in May, 1838.

Page 92.

“In April, 1842, the first school district was organized in what is now known as Bay County. The school officers were, Thomas Rogers, moderator; S. S. Campbell, director; Cromwell Barney, assessor. They engaged a Miss Clark as teacher. She became the wife of our old townsman, Frederick Derr, Esq., in the Fall of that year, and died October, 1848. (Note: James Barney is listed among the class students.)


After closing of school matters became unsettled, or unsatisfactory to some of the district tax payers, and matters rested until November, 1844, when the same school officers, who had continued to hold their respective offices from the first, called a meeting, and reorganized a new district, or lopped off the south portion of the old one, which at that time included both sides of the river from McEwan's mill, or about there, to where Albert Miller's mill now stands on the south. The new district included both sides of the river from about where McEwan's mill now stands (Cromwell Barney lived near there, and he being one of the school officers, it was important to extend it that far) on the north, and south to about Twenty-second street, and at the same meeting voted the building of a schoolhouse, and for a wonder agreed upon the location, which was east of Pitts & Cranages's mill, and a few rods northeast from the D. & B. C. passenger depot. Nathan Pierce, the father of our old townsman Benjamin F. Pierce, and Cromwell Barney, were awarded the contract.

Page 233.

The first wheat raised in the county was by Cromwell Barney on his farm where that part of Bay City known as Dolsenville now is. (Note: Dolsenville was located north of Woodside ave., to the river.)

Page 249.

In the Winter of 1844-45, James Fraser and Cromwell Barney erected a water mill, at what is now called the village of Kawkawlin. Mr. Israel Catlin superintended its building, and ran it about two years. At that time and for many years afterward, this whole region was a pine forest.

Page 250.

Cromwell Barney, prominently mentioned in this work was one of the original owners of the water mill, and lived here several years. Mr. A. G. Sinclair and Thomas Munn, now of Bay City, were also here at an early day.

Residents of Bay County in 1847.

By Judge Albert Miller, 1911.

Cromwell Barney, a native of Warren Rhode Island, came to Michigan in July, 1836, and purchased from Judge Albert Miller some lots in Portsmouth, which were the first town or village , which is now Bay City. Judge Miller contemplating building a stream saw-mill at Portsmouth, and Mr. Barney desired to be interested with him in the enterprise. He returned to his home to make arrangements for transferring his interests to Portsmouth.

Late in the following October when Judge Miller was on his way to Detroit to make arrangements for building the mill, he met Mr. Barney near Pine Run, on his way to Portsmouth. In a few minutes conversation it was arranged between the two that Mr. Barney should go to Portsmouth and erect a mill ready to receive machinery, and that Judge Miller should continue his journey and purchase an engine and machinery and ship it to Portsmouth, both of which objects were accomplished under the most unheard of difficulties, and the mill put in operation on the first of the following April. Mr. Barney was also interested with the late James Fraser in building the first Kawkawlin mill, and was prominent as an enterprising citizen in the early history of the county. He died at Bay City somewhere about the year 1851. Mrs. Barney lived in Bay City til she passed away, about two years ago, aged over eighty years.

Additional Notes.

    Barney Burials at Pine Ridge Cemetery:

  • Cromwell – b. nd, d. Nov. 3, 1851
  • Agnes Encel – b. 1848, d. 1935.
  • Mary – b. 1829, d. 1908 (wife of Alex)
  • Eliza – b. Unk., d. Jan. 24, 1846 (6mos old, same stone as Sinclairs/Hoopers)
  • Harriet – b. Unk. d. Mar. 9, 1848 (5yrs & 4mos – same stone as Sinclair/Hoopers.)

    1850 – Census, Hampton Twp., Saginaw, Mich. (458/473)

  • Barney, Cromwell - age 42, Mass., lumberman,
  • Barney, Belinda - age 43, Mass.
  • Barney, James - age 13, R. I.
  • Barney, Mary E. - age 12, Mich.
  • McLane, Hugh, age 22, New York, laborer
  • Northrop, Clark - age 28, Conn., carpenter
  • Northrop, Geannis(?) - age 26, Conn., carpenter
  • Fergusson, Duncan - age 23, Scotland, carpenter

    1880 – Census, Bay City, Mich.

  • Barney, James P. - b. 1835, R. I.
  • Barney, Agnes, wife, age 35, b. 1845, Ohio.
  • Barney, Hattie, daughter, b. 1875, Penn.

    1883 - Directory, Bay City, Mich.

  • Barney, James P., painter, res 307 N Jefferson.
  • Barney, Milinda (wid Cromwell), bds 307 N. Jefferson
Related Notes/Pages

Related Pages:
Derr, Frederick
Sinclair(Barney), Mary
Pine Ridge Cemetery
Globe Hotel
People Referenced

Barney, Agnes E.
Barney, Cromwell (subject)
Barney, Eliza
Barney, Harriet
Barney, James P. (son)
Barney, Mary E. (dau.)
Barney, Milinda
Birney, James G.
Brown, "Yankee"
Campbell, Sidney S.
Catlin, Irael
Clark, Miss
Derr, Frederick
Ferguson, Duncan.
Fraser, James
Hall, B.K.
McCormick, James
McCormick, James J.
McLane, Hugh
Miller, Albert
Munn, Thomas
Northrop, Clark
Northrop, Geannis
Peter, William
Pierce, Belinda (wife)
Pierce, Benjamin F.
Pierce, Nathan
Rogers, Thomas
Sinclair, Alfred G.
Trombley, Leon
Williams, Harvey
Subjects Referenced
Albert Millers mill
Bay City, MI
Bay Co., MI
Buffalo, NY
Cleveland, OH
D.& B.C. depot
Detroit, MI
Dolsenville, Bay City
Forsyth & Pierson
Globe Hotel
Gray & Gallager
Hampton Twp., Saginaw
Huron, OH
Kawkawlin, MI
Kawkawlin sawmill
McEwan mill
Pine Run, MI
Pitt & Cranage mill
Portsmouth, MI
Saginaw, MI
Saginaw River, MI
Saginaw Valley, MI
Sawnsea, MA
Warren, RI
Wm. Peters mill
WRITINGS: History As It Was Written Then.