HOME - Front Page
Heritage \ Writings \ Memories

Robert Anderson Recalls Early Bay City History
  • Contributed by Jim Petrimoulx - Mar. 2008.
  • Part 5 of 7

    The Bay City Times Tribune - Sunday, July 24,1927 (Page 3)

    Pioneer Goes Back Into His Yesterdays;
    Sees Water Street as Roadway of Slop

    Travel Over Thoroughfare Along River Accompanied by
    Squirts of Mud, Says Robert Anderson; Story Dates
    Back to 1855; Recalls first Telegraph, Boiler Works
    In Lower Saginaw

    (Editors Note-This is the fifth of a series of articles dealing with the early history of Lower Saginaw, as told to The Times Tribune by Robert Anderson, aged 84, who came to what is now Bay City in the spring of 1855 and has resided here ever since. In this story Mr. Anderson tells of Water street as it used to be ;the first telegraph installed in Lower Saginaw ; the first street cars, and something about the first boiler works ever to be operated here.)

    Were it Possible for the present generation to turn back the years to three quarters of a century ago; were it possible for the younger Bay City boys and girls to see early local history in the making as pioneers have seen it, then they would see with their own eyes historic Water street as it used to be - nothing less, nothing more - just a roadway of slop.

    Were it possible for the present generation to turn back yesterdays to slightly more than half a century ago; were it possible for the Bay City boys and girls to open their eyes on this city when it was only a place, a settlement along the winding Saginaw, then they would see Water street as it was - not much improved, not much anything - just a planked roadway, out of the cracks of which squirted much mud.

    That is the way Robert Anderson speaks of Water Street - as he saw it in 1855. It was a Water street in more senses of the word than one. Although it was likely called Water street because it is the first street next to the river, pioneers used to like to refer to it as “Sloppy street”. Horses drawing heavy loads of logs frequently used to submerge to the tugs of the harnesses; the wagon wheels found it easy to sink up to the hubs and sometimes over them. That was when Water street was nothing but a lumber wagon pathway.

    Like Clay Road

    It was just like a clay country road avers Mr. Anderson, who says he has seen many a team of horses and wagons mired in the slop as juicy as a driving rain could make it.

    The men about town soon tired of such conditions and decided that something better in the way of improvement was needed. Saw dust might help make the street more passable after heavy rains, they thought, and so they hauled load after load of saw dust from the Raymond mill, located where the Michigan Central Railroad freight house now stands. (This was later known as the Shearer mill.) And Mr. Anderson says that you can take his word that the saw dust made Water street worse. Again the businessmen along the street; as well as the mill owners up and down the river who had considerable lumber carted over this street were very disgruntled with its condition.

    Why not plank the street, was the suggestion made along in 1858. Just about everybody concerned fell into line with the idea. Work of planking the street to the width of 16 feet, soon was under way. Not so very long after, the project was completed. Water street was then a planked roadway from Second street for a considerable distance south. There were no more mud holes, after the street was planked, its true , says Mr. Anderson, but there was something else that was not even thought of when the proposition of planking the street was decided upon. This was the possibility of water squirting between the planks.

    “After a heavy rainfall“ says the pioneer “mud underneath the planking squirted through the planks where they were joined together, splashing all up the horses, and many times the teamsters.

    Other Ideas Gone Wrong

    “The plank road was another idea gone wrong, and so they decided on some kind of pavement. That was about 1861. The street was graded from curb to curb, and the proper provisions for drainage was made. The contractors brought their equipment and a part of this was a machine used in cutting large pieces of timber about the size of many of the telephone poles of the present day. The timber was cut into blocks about six inches square and then the blocks were sawed into two or three smaller ones, in laying them, they were placed on boards on their ends, close together. Over the blocks was sprinkled fine gravel which was packed and tamped. Then tar was applied. This done, Water street was for the first time in its history a passable thoroughfare. The present pavement was laid early in the 80’s as I recall it”

    Saginaw street and Washington avenue were known as such in the 50’s says Mr. Anderson, but they were not traveled as much as Water street was, because the first business establishments in what is now Bay City were located on Water street, that being the principal thoroughfare in the early days.

    “And how do you suppose we got the first telegraph connections here” asked the pioneer.

    “Don’t say, by bringing up the wires, because you would be joking with me if you said that. I mean the story of it. The story of it was the Civil war was coming on and the business men around town - there were not so many of them in 1861 either - were getting pretty anxious about getting quick news. The telegraph was the answer. James Fraser, the Munger brothers, and a number of other men around these parts, were instrumental in getting a line here from Saginaw, I think it was. The wires were strung along Water street, and I can remember to this day how appreciative we were of the announcement that messages could be received as well as sent out of here. The telegraph was a mighty big help.

    “But Bay City really began throwing on the airs, when the horse cars were introduced in the early 60’s, I think. They were small contraptions pulled by one horse. The old car barns were located in the same building now used by retail department of the {World Star Knitting mills} on Water street.”

    “Among the men interested in the organization of the horse car system was James Fraser. There were others but I can’t recall their names just now. When the service started there were only four or five cars on the line, which was from the car barns south on Water street to the Astor house at Cass avenue and Harrison street. Each car had a driver and conductor.”

    “Say, it just comes to me now that I forgot to mention the first boiler works ever to be located in Lower Saginaw, when I was talking of the early industries here some several days ago. The first boiler works” continued Mr. Anderson “was located at the northeast corner of Water and Eleventh streets, by the Daveson brothers James and Archie. That was about 1856.

    “A few years later they sold to a Mr. McGregor. Mr. McGregor operated this business for a few years and then sold out to the MacKinnons and it strikes me the MacKinnons sold out to the Industrial Works.


    (Next week Mr. Anderson will tell something about the first big fire in Bay City.)

    Part 4 Part 6
    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
    Davidson, Archie
    Davidson, James{IMG}
    Fraser, James{IMG}
    Munger bros.
    Subjects Referenced
    Aster House
    Bay City, MI
    Car barns
    Civil War
    First telegraph
    Horse cars
    Industrial Works
    MCRR freight house
    Michigan Central R.R.
    Raymond mill
    Saginaw, MI
    Shearer mill
    Water st. (mud)
    Water St. (plank)
    Water St. (paved)
    World Star Knitting
    WRITINGS: History As It Was Written Then.