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Robert Anderson Recalls Early Bay City History
  • Contributed by Jim Petrimoulx - Mar. 2008.
  • Part 2 of 7

    The Bay City Times Tribune - Sunday, June 26, 1927 (Page 5)

    Believe It Or Not, Cows
    Used to Roam Center Ave.

    Robert Anderson, Here siince 1855, Relates History
    of Lower Saginaw; Say Bossies Pastured in
    What is Now Downtown Business District

    (Following an interview with Robert Anderson, 605 North Catherine street, pioneer resident of Bay City, The Times Tribune last Sunday published the first of a series of articles dealing with the early history of Lower Saginaw and Bay City. This story tells of the history, as Mr. Anderson recalls it, of the naming of Woodside avenue, something about the city’s first merchants, professional men, and early industries.)

    It was a June day in the year 1855 and cows were roaming on what is now Center and Washington avenues. A rickety lumber wagon bumped across the commons with its load of furniture. Indians were on the west side of Saginaw river and Whooping. The Wagon moved on and on from the commons (Center and Washington avenues) toward the thickly wooded lands of what is now Washington park. And through the uncut forest was a narrow roadway. It was the roadway that William Anderson, Robert’s father was riding on top of the load of furniture. Robert, his sister Agnes and their mother, Mrs. Anderson were on this journey, too.

    The Anderson family was moving from its first home in Lower Saginaw, at Sixth and Saginaw streets, to a new location near where used to stand McEwan brothers mill, (At that time the Anderson’s had only resided here for a little more then a month, having first set foot upon Lower Saginaw soil in May, 1855, Robert Anderson was then 12 years old.)

    And this same old trail over which the Anderson wagon was “lumbering” is the present Woodside avenue. This thoroughfare was called Woodside (but not avenue) by John McEwan one of the operators of the mill, Mr. Anderson recollects.

    Essexville Named

    The same year Mr. Anderson steamed up the Saginaw as a passenger of the good side-wheeled steamer Huron. Ransom Essex lived on a farm below the McEwan mill. Next to the Essex farm was a fairly large tract of land under cultivation by a Mr. Hudson, where the village of Essexville now is. And this village was named for Ransom Essex, a pioneer settler in these parts.

    The phrase “I remember way back when” can rightfully be applied by Mr. Anderson, to things historic in connection with the early days when the Chippewa’s used to track every inch of what is now Bay City. For Mr. Anderson’s power of memory are nothing short of remarkable. He has no written record - and never had one - of the early history of Lower Saginaw, but to phrase it in his own way, “Its right in here” and he pats his head when he tells you that.

    To quote the man; “The first school in Lower Saginaw to my knowledge was located immediately north of where the Times Tribune plant now is. Children of school age from the community around, used to attend this school, and many of them had to walk great distances. This made for the majority of them being in the best of health, because the walk was great physical exercise for them. I can remember to this day the children carrying their little dinner pails walking to and from the frame school house, which was later used as the Salvation Army citadel. Of course other school buildings were erected following the year 1855, but this was the first one.

    Recalls First Bakery

    “I can remember the first bakery ever to be operated in Lower Saginaw. This was owned by a {Mr. Arnold}, with whom I worked in the McEwan mill.

    Mr. Arnold came to Lower Saginaw a year or so before I did and he used to tell me of his experiences in coming here from Germany, the land of his birth.”

    Mr. Arnold started his bakery here in 1856, and it was located where the Grand Trunk railway freight office now stands. Many have been the times he has told me about his business with the Indians, who he used to say were his best customers. They used to sell him a quarter of venison for 50 cents. Then he would turn around and sell or trade them some bread.”

    Mr. Anderson well remembers the first merchants ever to operate stores in what is now Bay City. He spoke of Center and Washington avenues, chuckled over the fact that he remembered when these streets and others nearby formed what was then called the commons, Mr. Anderson recalls and he walked across them time and time again when exploring the new lands his father had taken up residence at Sixth and Saginaw streets.

    Just to prove how accurate his memory serves he comes right out to say that “Phillip Simon came here from Germany in about 1853 and opened the first butcher shop in Lower Saginaw, on the very spot where is now situated the Ford & Simon clothing store. There was nothing but commons where the Phoenix block now stands and the cows used to pasture there. And that was in 1855”.

    “In that same year I can remember of four general stores in Lower Saginaw. One of them was operated by {Charles Jennison} and brother, on the very ground the new addition to Wenonah hotel was built a few years ago.”

    The Early Stores

    “Now I’m coming north on Water street mind you, to where {James Watson Sr.} , operated a wooden store at the foot of Center avenue on the west side of Water street. Here the Indians traded skins and furs for groceries and general supplies. Years later Mr. Watson erected a magnificent brick block, known as the Watson block and it broke our hearts to see the good building torn down several years ago when the city decided to create Wenonah park.”

    “There was the store on the northeast corner of Fourth avenue and Water street that was owned by Hart & Fay, Munger & Park kept a general grocery store where Piggotts Inc. is now located.”

    “The general post office was situated on the east side of Water street between Third and Fourth avenue. A Dr. Smith was the postmaster in 1855, he also sold a few different kinds of medicines, and kept a small line of groceries.”

    “If you want to know where the first wholesale house was located I can tell you that. It was between Fourth and Fifth avenues on the west side of Water street and was operated by {Charles Supe} and another man, whose name has slipped my mind. Later this concern went out of business, but if I’m not mistaken the principals of that wholesale house erected the building now occupied by Bromfield & Colvin on Adams street. I have drawn a good many loads of grain to that building.”

    Part 1 Part 3
    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
    Anderson, Agnes (sister)
    Anderson, Catherine (mother)
    Anderson, Wm. (father)
    Arnold, Frederick{IMG}
    Essex, Ransom{IMG}
    Jennison, Charles{IMG}
    McEwan, John
    Simon, Phillip
    Smith, Dr.
    Supe, Charles
    Watson, James Sr.{IMG}
    Subjects Referenced
    Bay City, MI
    Bromfield & Colvin whsl.
    Essex farm
    Essexville, MI
    First bakery
    First butcher
    First merchants
    First school bldg.
    Ford & Simon clothing
    Grand Trunk R.R.
    GTRR bridge
    Hart & Fay store
    Lower Saginaw, MI
    McEwan mill
    Munger & Park grocery
    Piggotts Inc.
    Phoenix block
    Saginaw River
    Salvation Army citadel
    Steamer Huron
    Washington park
    Watson block
    Wenonah Hotel
    Wenonah park
    WRITINGS: History As It Was Written Then.