Contributed by Jim Petrimoulx - Aug. 2008.
Bay City Tribune - Date unknown
The German Pioneers
They Hold Their Second Annual Meeting
This Afternoon At Arion Hall
One year ago the German Pioneer association of Saginaw and Bay counties was organized and held its first meeting at East Saginaw. The attendance at that time numbered about one hundred and a very interesting session was had, the principal address of the occasion being delivered by Dr. Plesner Sr. of Saginaw, who was one of the oldest as well as the most active participants in the association.
The association at that time adjourned to meet in Bay City, and in pursuance of that arrangement held its second meeting this afternoon at Arion hall. The meeting was called to order by the presiding officer at 2 o’clock and the various preliminaries of reading the minutes of the last meeting, enrolling the names of those present, etc., were gone through with. The principal feature of this afternoon’s session was the following address delivered by Louis Bloedon, of this city.
Ever since our first appearance in history from the year 303 B. C. to the present day, the German’s have been fond of emigrating. The main reasons for this has always been the too crowded conditions of the old country, the inherited love of living free and independent, and last but not least, the desire to have a home or establishment of their own, no matter how small. German explorers, colonists and artisans are therefore to be found everywhere.
Our forefathers went to Rome, to Carthage, to Jerusalem as conquerors and the best thing our German citizens here can do is to teach their children and descendents to take Washington, not as conquerors of old, but in order that they might bring back the government to what it was when the grand old fathers of this republic left it to its purity and simplicity to all that’s grand and noble. The most favored place to which the Germans could emigrate if not misled by others has always been the United States of America. And why not? Climate, soil, fertility of land, a free and almost too mild government are attractions which no country in the world offers as does this one of our adoption. For all these things we should most assuredly be gratified, and especially should we seek to create for the general government no trouble which could be reasonably avoided.
Have we all succeeded in establishing for ourselves a happy home and have we all lived up to the requirements of a good citizenship? These are the questions which I hope could be answered by us with smiling faces and without fear
Considering what we have said before it is to be wondered at that the first white settler ever known in this valley was one of our own countrymen? Jacob Graverot, well remembered yet by some of the oldest pioneers, must have arrived here long before the Tromblys did in 1831. It is said of him that he was an interpreter during the war with England - a large powerful man, who married the daughter of Kish-kan-ko, a Chippewa chief, and an Indian who was not over-friendly to the inhabitants about Detroit in former times. And since Greverot’s dark father-in-law used to put on war paint quite often to take some scalps from the pale faces, we think his mother-in-law could not have been very peaceably inclined toward his own.
We all know such marriages were not uncommon in those times , and many a rich man’s son has gone astray in the same way. Of the descendants of Graverot it is said they still live on Fish Point in the Saginaw bay.
The first Germans who arrived in Bay county, at an early day, 1847, and before a great many now prominent American settlers made their appearance, were Rev. Sievers, accompanied by Messrs. Leinberger, Helmreich, Goetz, Knoor, Kosh, and Hastel. The last named was called to leave us for a better home only a few days ago. The above named gentlemen mostly farmers are perhaps the oldest German pioneers of Bay county now living. They it was who built the first German protestant church and school house in 1850. Mrs Helmsreich in the same year presented the flock with the first American born baby boy. Of the trials and tribulations of those old and hardy pioneers, before they could get out of the woods or, worse the swamps, it is not necessary for me to talk , for only those who so to speak have been there could appreciate such a life - a veritable fight for existence. But may we here be permitted to note one incident which came under our own observation , one that will show better than anything else the quality of man and citizen to be found here. In 1858 it fell to our lot to collect the annual taxes in Hampton township and by going through the German settlement once we collected every cent for tax, but after going twice through that portion formerly called Bangor, we came out without having collected a single cent. This was to us a “stunner” and we had to sit down and for three whole days do nothing but write notices for levying, it was the only way to bring this portion of Hampton township to terms, and we did it. And why is it not done to-day with those who do not pay their taxes, is not the law the same as then? In 1850 C. Hage, one of the first settlers here found John Walz, a shoemaker by profession, to be the first German resident of what was formerly known as Lower Saginaw, now Bay City. The balance of the German pioneers, the Naberts, Simons, Kaisers, Heinzmans, Heumanns, Arnolds, Wispointers, Dr. Zainer, Walthausens, Eikemeiers, Kinters, Scheurmanns, Bloedons and some others came mostly between ’50 and ’55.
There was no time for loafing in those days, no stealing was heard of, hard work and little pay was the order of things, fire-water was touched by scarcely anybody, and perhaps there was a reason for this -the shut-ups and the put-ups are plants of a later day.
The first German Protestant church and schoolhouse was built here in 1852, where Mr. Heine’s butcher shop now stands. The first German benevolent society was inaugurated about 1855 by Dr. Fuchsius, assisted by myself. The first German singing society was started by Mr. Ganther F. Arnold and Dr. Zauner. The first German newspaper although at a much later date, was started by Dr. Paulsen and Ed. Kroenke. The first German tavern, with butcher shop connected was owned by Philip Simon on the spot where Shepherd & Mc Donell’s store now stands. On the other corner of the alley where Schieper’s store now is, somebody erected a paint store - beautiful to behold - built on the principal of squatter sovereignty then in vogue here. Of course James Fraser owner of the lot, at first objected , in his usual forcible style, to the audacity of the Dutchman, and said to him, “I’ll get it out of you” and probably he did.
On the corner where Vail & Eddy’s hat store is, facing Water street, Dr. Cranage, a good neighbor and the surgeon of the day, kept one of the first drug stores in the town. Afterwards E.M. Bligh bought the store. Just south of this store was a similar room occupied by the unfortunate Mr. Sherman as a law and banking office. All members of the legal fraternity and the prominent politicians of the day used to mingle there. A beautiful set they were who ran the town in those days, but as a general they managed to get the support of the German element no matter what crookedness they indulged in. Still further south where the office of the Fraser house is, stood Messrs. Fraser & C. E. Jennisons store , one of the best wooden buildings in the place, there it was our friend Charles Supe and Elijah Catlin did their first counter jumping. Later on Mr. Rabideau, I think it was, kept the first billiard hall of the town in this room and it was here that the oaths were more plentiful than in any other part of the village. All the foregoing buildings were swept away in our first big fire, July 10,1863 and were almost the only prominent buildings in Lower Saginaw, south of Center street. The buildings were small wooden structures . The space between Washington and Water streets on the north side of Center contained up to this time only three small dwellings . The ground opposite the present Fraser house was owned by Mrs. Rogers, the lot on the northeast corner was occupied by Mrs. Monroe, and C.E. Jennison occupies his former property but not the same house, his old one having been removed many years ago to a lot opposite the Methodist church. East of Washington street on Center very few improvements were made up to 1863.
Sidewalks came only after the incorporation of the village in 1859 and the first pavement of Water street was laid in 1867. It was dearest but at the same time the best laid pavement ever put down in Bay City, and has lasted almost twice as long as 3rd and Center streets, notwithstanding the fact it is pine.
But we speak incidentally of this part of Lower Saginaw. The major portion of the German settlers bought property in the vicinity of Van Buren street in the 2nd ward and in the 3rd ward between Washington and Water streets. A great many at a later period had small stores on Water. In 1857 the first store built by a German was erected on the southwest corner of Washington and 5th streets. It was the first furniture store in the town and its sales the first year amounted to only $200, all told. It had been called the blue store and doubtless this year’s business made the proprietor himself look and feel blue. It was not until after “60 that there came better times, the result of the war and the salt excitement.
The population of what is now Bay county, was in 1850, perhaps not more than 200, in 1857, when the county was organized, 1500, of which probably one-third were Germans. At the present time our county has some 44,000 inhabitants of which from one-sixth to one-fifth are Germans. In 1865 the county had but 21 farms, while at present there are about 4,000. As the Germans were essentially a farming and pastoral people in former times, so here in this western country a great many as soon as they were able to do so took to farming. Many , too, who could not find employment at their trades went to work in saw mills, although they generally tied to avoid them.
Those of our countrymen here like Carl Schurz and many others took an active part in the revolution of ‘48 and who had to take French leave as they call, were Dr. Nabert, Captain Alberti, Gustavus Otto, Mr. Lillotte, E. Armeske and myself and perhaps a few others who left the valley quite early. They were mostly Prussians by birth, and among the refugees of ‘48 were some of the most intelligent citizens Germany ever sent to the United States.
Dr. Nabert, who died in the early part of ‘53 when the cholera was raging here to a fearful extent- he having contracted the disease while visiting some patients afflicted with it- left a most highly respected name among all those who had come in contact with him. Dr Fuchsius, who was one the first druggists of Lower Saginaw, found a untimely death by drowning in the river while on the way to visit a patient. Leonard Heumann, city marshal for some time, went down with all those on board the ill-fated Cambria in 1870. Captain Alexander Alberty who died only a few years ago. Surveyor by profession, did most of the surveying herein former times and all of the surveying for the late James Fraser. We had to look at him and a small band of men - among them Gustavus Otto, who penetrated for the first time the lower peninsula of Michigan from Milwaukee to the straights of Mackinaw - to survey and fix upon a line for a projected railroad. And although this was the first road projected to connect the upper with the lower peninsula, it never was, though it ought to have been, carried out. Had it been carried out 30 years ago it would have advanced the interests of Michigan greatly to the detriment of Illinois and Wisconsin. Captain Alberty commanded also a company in what was called the bloody 5th Michigan infantry, and held many offices of trust in Saginaw county.
The double quota of volunteers during the rebellion which this county was compelled to raise though the mistake of some one here, took away a great many German settlers who never came back again. Gustavus Otto, Brown, Fenton, Schmartz, Neek, Close, are only a few of them we can now recollect . One of the least pretentious young men who came here one whom we had the pleasure of meeting the first time in the old country as a clerk in a provision house, and who came here to rough it, was Henry Fittinger, of whom it must be said, he was a real pioneer, and many things he did are worthy of being put on record. He was in partnership at one time with D. Little in the fishing business and our friend Mike Daly recollects him well. He only stopped here a few years and then disappeared. Even his friends don’t know what became of him, but he still has we believe a younger brother living at Fish Point. He was the man who invented and introduced the celebrated trap nets, which it is well known, revolutionized the whole fishing business. If he could have procured a patent he would been made independently rich thereby. But others reaped the benefit of his ingenious contrivance. His was the only fish shanty we could see and the first on the ice up to 1855 and he was the first man here who made caviar from sturgeon eggs. He procured his knowledge of this art in his younger days, from some Russian who sold the article to his employer in the old country. The Fittingers like many other among the older pioneers were an intelligent , industrious frugal set of men. Sharpened in the school of adversity, many soon learned how to turn a penny to advantage, but the road those early pioneers had to travel was with rare exceptions a hard one, and quite a few were doomed to disappointment if not misfortune.