Heritage \ Writings \ Industry: Lumbering

Saginaw Valley Lumbering History
Reprint from Pioneer Society of Michigan (1884).

Added Feb., 2004.

Michigan Pioneer and Historical Collections

Pioneer Society of Michigan 1884, Vol. 7
VI. Early Lumbering in the Valley.

THE SAGINAW VALLEY

by Judge Albert Miller
____________________

The pioneers of Michigan who settled in the northern part of the State fifty-four years ago were fully aware that there were vast forests of pine timber lying around their settlements and to the north of them, but could not have anticipated the great value which the rapid improvement of our whole country, and especially of the western portion of it, has found those forests to possess. The early settlers of that portion of Michigan of which I am writing, were principally from the New England States and New York, and when they looked back to the large amounts of pine timber they had left behind them, they did not suppose that, in their lifetime, it would he exhausted and that large amounts would have to be transported from a thousand miles interior to supply the Atlantic States. At that time Maine was of itself considered "a world of pine forests,” and its proximity to Boston gave that city and the State of Massachusetts a supply of cheap lumber; and, passing further west and south, we find the Connecticut River reaching far up into the region of pine forests in northern Vermont and New Hampshire; and large quantities of pine in every shape, from the tall spar used in fitting out our Atlantic marine, down to the manufactured clap­boards and shingles, floated down its rapid current to supply western Massachusetts and the State which adopted the name of the river, without a thought on the part of the consumers that the supply was ever to be exhausted. The supply of pine timber on the banks of the Connecticut River was considered by the early settlers in that region to be exhaustible. The writer has seen large quantities of pine logs near the bank of the river not over one hundred miles from its mouth, which had been hauled from the land by the early settlers while clearing it for cultivation, and rolled into a ravine and suffered to decay, which, if they had been sound, would have been worth more than the land from which they were cut. I mention this reckless destruction of a commodity which time and circumstances have made so valuable, as a warning to prevent the proprietors of Michigan forests from permitting any waste of their timber, for, in less time than has passed away since the circumstances transpired that I have related above, a good pine-lumber tree will be as great a rarity in Michigan as it is now in that part of Vermont. I believe that every sound forest tree in Michigan, of whatever kind, is of more value to the proprietor than the ashes it will make; after bestowing much labor to convert it into that commodity. If more land is required for cultivation, let it be supplied by the boundless prairies of the West, but let our Michigan forests remain till the timber is required for some useful purpose, and then let the land be put into the highest state of cultivation.

But to return to the pine forests of the Eastern States forty years ago. passing over the Green Mountains, we come to the pine region of Lake Champlain and the waters emptying into it, which, with the regions on the headwaters of the Hudson, produced such quantities of lumber, finding a market at Albany, that that city was for a long time the great lumber mart of the United States, and she still maintains an ascendancy in that trade, although the great source of supply is now in the West and in Canada. We might continue, and mention the regions of the Delaware and the Susquehanna as the great source of supply for the more southern and Atlantic cities, and then pass on to western New York and look at the headwaters of the Genesee and its branches. I was recently told by a pioneer of northern Michigan that a little more than fifty years ago he was in the town of Dansville, which is situated on a branch of the Genesee River, and that, within four or five miles of that town, good pine lumber could be bought at the mills for $2.50 per thousand, and paid for in almost any kind of barter; and that, in 1826, after the Erie Canal was open and in use from Albany to Buffalo, pine lumber was sold in the city of Rochester for $6, $8, and $10 per thousand. In view of the circumstances related above, it cannot be supposed that at that time the idea could have been conceived of doing a profitable business by manufacturing lumber in the forests of Michigan and transporting to the Atlantic cities.

The first saw-mill that was ever built on the waters that are tributary to the Saginaw River was built on the Thread River at Grand Blanc in 1828 and 1829, by Rowland Perry and Harvey Spencer. The object in building the mill was to supply the want of that settlement, the nearest mill then being at Waterford, about twenty miles distant. There was no pine timber in the immediate vicinity of the mill, the nearest being a small pinery four or five miles distant in a northeasterly direction, from which farmers hauled logs to be manufactured into lumber for their own use. The mill was a poor affair, not profitable to the owners, and after three or four years was wholly abandoned, and, the land which was occupied by the pond has been cultivated for more than forty years.

The second mill was built by Rufus Stevens in 1829 and 1830, on the same stream, four or five miles north of the one first mentioned, and within two miles of Flint River, just above the present location of the “Thread Mills.”

[The writer is much pleased with the general correctness of the "History of the City of Flint," written by Hon. E. H. Thompson, and published in the fourth volume of “Pioneer Collections;” but on page 435 of said volume Mr. Thompson seems to have been unable to get the correct data as to the first saw-mill, The one referred to above was the first. It was built and owned by Mr. Stevens. It was operated by George Oliver at the time referred to by Mr. Buckingham.]
That mill was run a portion of the year for a time, but without much profit to the owner. The first raft of lumber that was ever floated on the tributaries of the Saginaw was manufactured at this mill and hauled across to Flint River and floated down that stream.

There was an attempt made in 1830, by Alden Tupper, to build a mill on Flint River below Flushing, but it never progressed any farther than to build a frame, which was suffered to stand without covering till it rotted down. There was a steam saw-mill built at Detroit in 1832, and another at Port Huron the same year. I know of no others in Michigan before Harvey and Gardner D. and Ephraim S. Williams built one at Saginaw in 1835. Joel L. Day, late of Bay City, constructed the mill-wright work, and put in the first muley saw that was ever used in this part of the country. A good supply of logs was provided, and I think Messrs. Williams did a profitable business during the year 1836.

Subject Notes


Judge Albert Miller
An immigrant from Scotland, he was one of the Saginaw Valley's most prominent pioneers.
Related Pages:
Miller, Albert
1st Saw Mills Sag. Val.
{Pictorial: Lumbering}
People Referenced
Buckingham,
Day, Joel L.
Oliver, George
Perry, Rowland
Spencer, Harvey
Stevens, Rufus
Thompson, E.H. (Hon.)
Tuper, Alden
Williams, Ephraim S.
Williams, Gardner D.
Williams, Harvey
Subjects Referenced
Albany
Atlantic States
Boston
Buffalo
Canada
Clapboards
Connecticut River
Deleware
Detroit
Erie Canal
Flint River
Flushing
Genesee River
Grand Blanc
Lake Champlain
Maine
Massachusetts
Michigan
Mills
Mill-wright
Muley saw
New England States
New Hampshire
New York
Pioneer Collections
Pine timber
Port Huron
Rochester
Saginaw River
Saw mill
Shingles
Steam saw mill
Susquehanna
Thread River
Vermont
Waterford
Related References
None at this time.
WRITINGS: History As It Was Written Then.