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Robert Anderson Recalls Early Bay City History
  • Contributed by Jim Petrimoulx - Mar. 2008.
  • Part 1 of 7

    The Bay City Times Tribune - Sunday, June 19,1927 (Page 5)

    Aided By Almost Incomparable Memory,
    Pioneer Recalls City’ Early History

    Robert Anderson, at 12 ,Steamed up River in 1855;
    Side-Wheelers Whistle Echoed Through Wooded
    Lands While Indians Looked on From Shores.
    It Took Him Seven Weeks to Sail Atlantic in
    coming Here; Marvels at Record Trip Lindbergh
    Made Over Almost Same Route

    A 12 year-old youth stood on the deck of the Steamer Huron as the good ship side-wheeled her way up the Saginaw river. He looked first to the east bank and then to the west . Everything was primitive. To him these were new lands; for he had not as yet set foot upon them.

    Piercing the ripples in the stream, were the birch barks manned by brawny Chippewas. Here and there along either bank were more Indians. Wigwams, settlements, still more Chippewas, forests, cutover lands, sawmills. The shrill whistle of the steamer echoed over the waters and the wooded tracts in the distance; the steamer Huron was about to dock at the Julius Hart landing ( near where now stands Jennison Hardware Company’s warehouse).

    That was in the spring of 1855. The youthful passenger was Robert Anderson who now lives with his wife Catherine, at 603 North Catherine street, in a comfy bungalow he calls “my little home.” Mr. Anderson calculates his age in the eighties now but insists he is “still a young man.” To prove it he picked up an issue of The Bay City Times Tribune, and without spectacles, read aloud several lines of fine print of the editorial page.

    A Memory? Well!

    And his memory? Ah! It serves him beautifully. A few strokes of his now gray chin whiskers and he had his listener in the early fifties. More than that. He went back to the September day in 1853 when he, his father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. William Anderson and a young sister Agnes ambled up the gang plank of the old Irish sailing vessel “Erin-go-braugh”, tied up to a dock at Glasgow, Scotland, but immediately ready to sail the Atlantic to a port at New York city. “And well do I remember the day” Mr. Anderson said “yes, just as plain as can be. The captain and every member of the crew were Irishmen and they were mighty good men, too, I tell you.”

    “We were seven weeks on the water. And I was just reading in the newspaper about this young fine hero Lindbergh. Think of the difference. It took us seven weeks to cross the Atlantic, and Lindbergh made it in something like 33 hours. My, my. Haven’t times changed?”

    “As I was about to say, we made the trip across the ocean without a single death among the passenger list. This was unusual because I used to hear of people dying from ship fever.”

    “We landed at New York city in the latter part of October and went immediately to Philadelphia, where we lived for about a year. My young sister Agnes died in Philadelphia. Later another sister was born and she was named Agnes.

    Decided to Locate Here

    “The folks decided to go to what was then Lower Saginaw, Mich., and we left by train, and an improvised sort of train, as I think of it now, for Cleveland. From Cleveland to Detroit and then to what is now Bay City, we went by boat.”

    “When we arrived here my father established a residence on the east side of the river, almost in what is now the heart of the downtown section. Later we moved to Scott’s corners (the present intersection of Marquette and State streets), and in 1856 , my father built a house on the very spot where the Westminster Presbyterian church now stands. It was a log house, and there was woods all around us. There was no Midland street in those days.”

    “But say” Mr. Anderson stopped talking for a minute, and then he continued, “I want to tell you of how the banks of the Saginaw looked when I came up the river. I remember them very well, even though I was just a young fellow. There was a settlement down the river called Bangor. (He was referring to what is now Banks.) And around this settlement there were many Indians, for the most part Chippewas. Outside of this there was another settlement between here and Zilwaukee. Essexville was not even thought of at that time.”

    Tells of Saw Mills

    “But saw mills?” “ I can remember most of them” the pioneer averred. “The first one down the river was the {McEwan Brother’s mill} That was located where the Richardson mill now stands. A bit farther up was the saw mill then operated by Pitts & Cranage. From this mill up to where stood the Raymond mill (the present location of the Michigan Central freight house) was the partly cleared Longton farm.“

    Mr. Anderson chuckled as he recalled many instances connected with the early history of what is now Third and Water streets. He said he knew of this part of town especially well, for he had in his youth, and to be sure in his later years too, tramped every foot of it.

    He made himself comfortable in the fibre chair in which he was sitting and recalled the Wolverton house, the located on the southwest corner of Third and Water streets. And when this building was torn down about 15 years ago, the razing operations of its wreckers only served to make more vivid in his memory the recollections he had of the place, which he recalled was kept by a {Mr. Barclay}.

    Red Man, White Man, Face to Face

    Within a stones throw was another building that had attached to it a goodly amount of history. This was the {Julius Hart} Landing, where Mr. Anderson first set foot on soil in Lower Saginaw. Here the Indians bartered, here skins, furs, oddities - Chippewa collections - were exchanged, for supplies. Here stories were told, here Red man and White man stood face to face, not as foes, not ready for a massacre . But willing for business, if the bartering that was carried on in those primitive days can be called business.

    Here are some of the saw mills the early resident may recall; {Catlin}’s, Stanton’s,( which was located where Robert Gage Coal company is now maintained), Eddy Brother’s, (where the Industrial Works is now located) Peter’s, Bradley’s, just south of Grand Trunk railroad bridge, {McCormick}‘s, north of Twenty-third street bridge, {Partridge}’s where {Ross & Wentworth mill} is now situated, McKinney’s , which was blown up in the early sixties, Braddock’s , near Cass avenue. Steven’s shingle mill. Watrous and these mills were in that order situated along the east bank of the river, from the mouth of the river toward Saginaw. Of course there were others which sprang up later, but those he remembered were about the only ones along the river when Mr. Anderson came here. At one time there were about 50 or 60 saw mills along the banks of the Saginaw he said.

    He recalled the beginning of the Sage & McGraw mill on the west side of the river. During its history, considered the largest saw mill in the world, the {Sage} and McGraw} lumbering business opened here in the spring of 1864 - 63 years ago. Later Mr. McGraw quit his business relations with Henry W. Sage and established a mill on the east side of the river.

    He Remembered That

    “When I came to Lower Saginaw in 1855 Mr. Anderson continued the population of this territory was between 700 and 1,000. At that time I frequently roamed what was then the cutover lands of our present Center & Washington avenues. Why only where {First Presbyterian church} now stands was the beginning of a forest. I knew these parts very well, for the very first house we lived in after coming to Bay City was located where the {Forest City house} is now maintained.”

    “Where the Wenonah hotel is now located, a drug store was operated by a Dr. Cranage. Just across the street - the northeast corner of Center avenue and Water street - a Mr. Sherman, a lawyer practiced for several years. A bit farther south on Water street there were two other buildings. Ah! I can see old Judge Campbell sitting out on his front porch now.”

    “About 1860 or 1861 a Mr. La {Rouche} bought what we called the Campbell mansion, which was later converted into the {Globe hotel}. This was situated on the northeast corner of Fifth avenue and Water Street. Next door to the north of the hotel was a harness shop which was kept by a Mr. Curry. A bit farther north was a butcher shop. A Mr. Shepard operated this establishment. And the first bank of Lower Saginaw, which ultimately became the root of what is now First National bank of this city was located, next to the butcher shop in 1858 or 1859 I think.”

    What person with a modern trend of thought could picture an orchard on Water street? Well there was, Mr. Anderson claims. This was owned by {James Fraser}, who had an office in the rear of the old bank building, a frame structure. This same Mr. Fraser later built the Fraser house, which was later destroyed by fire. It stood at the present location of the {Wenonah hotel}. Mr. Fraser’s early residence here, Mr. Anderson recollects was at Fourth avenue and Water street.

    Old Trading Post

    Between Fourth avenue and Third street Hart & Fay operated a grocery store. The Indians used to trade here. {Brazil Hart}, one of the members of the firm was brother of Julius Hart, who as before mentioned , conducted a trading post at the landing which bore his name.

    Near Third and Water streets was a drug store and post office combined which was operated by a Dr. Smith. Many a yarn of pioneer days was spun here, and one of the frequenters of this place was Michael Daily, father of Harry Daily of the present wholesale firm of Tanner & Daily. Mr. Anderson recollects he could speak the Indian language fluently.

    Mr. Anderson has many memories of the west side of the river, where he has lived continuously for more then 70 years. When he lived on what is now Midland street, farmers living in Frankenlust used to haul their logs in the winter time on the ice in a bayou which crossed Midland street where Pershing park is now located. At that time - 1856 - there was a log bridge across the bayou on Midland street then called Midland road. Although this was not really a road at that time, Mr. Anderson said that there was a path chopped out wide enough for a team of horses to be driven through, and that was the first road, which was of plank construction, was not made until about 1866. It was in that year Mr. Anderson thinks that a firm of engineers known as Hodgkiss and Mercer was awarded the contract of chopping out, grading and leveling what was to be Midland road. Mr. Anderson worked on this project. Which extended from this city to a point one mile west of the imaginary line dividing Midland and Bay Counties. Two toll gates were maintained on this planked highway, one a mile east of what is now the village of Auburn, and the other at what is now Midland street and Euclid avenue.

    Road Didn’t Last Long

    For some reason, the pioneer said the few farmers in the community at the time did not think so much of this kind of highway, and it was not long before it went to ruin. However before its doom came about hundreds of loads of lumber had been hauled over it from the mills operated at what is now Fisherville by {S. O. Fisher]. Hodgkiss and Mercer also operated a mill on the very spot where St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic church of Auburn is located.

    Mr. Anderson’s memory of the salt boom here in 1861 is most clear. He said the first salt block was established by the Fraser interests where the Michigan Central railroad east side ticket office is now situated.

    Still an active man, Mr. Anderson says his age is 84 years. About the only important thing is his life he has forgotten according to his own words is the date of his birthday anniversary. How ever he remembers he was born in Glasgow, Scotland on a March day 1843.

    Main Part 2
    Anderson Memories
    Main Page
    Part 1: Jun. 19, 1927
    Part 2: Jun. 26, 1927
    Part 3: Jul. 3, 1927
    Part 4: Jul. 17, 1927
    Part 5: Jul. 24, 1927
    Part 6: Jul. 31, 1927
    Part 7: Aug. 7, 1927
    People Referenced
    {IMG} - Click to view image.
    Anderson, Agnes (sister)
    Anderson, Catherine (wife)
    Anderson, Wm. (father)
    Barclay, Jonathan{IMG}
    Campbell, Sydney{IMG}
    Cranage, Dr.
    Curry's harness shop
    Daily, Harry
    Daily, Michael
    Gage, Robert
    Fisher, S.O.{IMG}
    Fraser, James{IMG}
    Hart, Brazil
    Hart, Julius
    Lindberg, Charles
    Sage, Henry W.{IMG}
    Sherman (lawyer)
    Smith, Dr.
    Subjects Referenced
    Atlantic Ocean
    Auburn, Vil., MI
    Bangor (Banks), MI
    Bay City, MI
    Braddock's mill
    Bradley's mill
    Campbell's mansion
    Cleveland, OH
    Eddy Bros. mill
    Essexville, MI
    Detroit, MI
    Fisherville, MI
    First National Bank
    First Prys. Ch.
    Forest City House
    Frankenlust Twp., MI
    Fraser House
    Glasgow, Scotland
    Globe Hotel
    Grand Trunk R.R.
    GTRR bridge
    Hart & Fay grocery
    Hodgkiss & Mercer mill
    Jennison hardware
    Julius Hart landing
    Longton farm
    Lower Saginaw, MI
    McCormick's mill
    McEwan Bros. mill
    MgGraw's mill
    McKinney's mill
    Michigan Central R.R.
    New York City, NY
    Patridge's mill
    Pershing park
    Peter's mill
    Philadelphia, PA
    Pitts & Cranage
    Richardson mill
    Robt. Gage Coal Co.
    Sage & McGraw mill
    Saginaw River
    Scots Corner
    Shepard's butcher shop
    Steamer Huron
    Steven's shingle mill
    St. Joseph Ch. (Auburn)
    Tanner & Daily wholesale
    Twenty-third st. bridge
    Vessel Erin-go-braugh
    Watrous' mill
    Wenonah Hotel
    Westminister Prys. Ch.
    Wolverton House
    Zilwaukee, MI
    Related Page References
    Andersons In Census.

  • Picked up in the 1850 cenus at Philadelpha. All are show as born in Scotland. William (father b. 1820), Elizabeth (mother b. 1821), Robert (b. 1820) and Agnes (b. 1850).
  • The 1910 census in Kawkawklin. This census shows Robert with wife, Catherine (age 58, b. Canada). Living at their homestead is Andrew Adock and wife, with 5 children.
  • The 1900 census shows Robert and Catherine as married 20 years. No marriage record was found, nor any children births associatd with them.
    Sage & McGraw Mill

    Henry W. Sage

    John McGraw
  • When the Sage & McGraw mill opened on the west side of the river it was still a wilderness land, with but a few settlers. The vast majority of the population lived on the east side of the river, in either Bay City or Portsmouth (now southend of Bay City), both were villages at that time.
  • Sage &U McGraw purchased the property from Elizabeth Birney, wife of the late James G. Birney.
  • The mill built by Henry W. Sage and John McGraw, both from Ithaca, NY, was a very large and advanced operation. It included company dwellings for the employees and a company store. The company town later would become the village of Wenonah.
  • WRITINGS: History As It Was Written Then.