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Early Shipping Vessels on the Saginaw River.
  • Contributed by Jim Petrimoulx - Jan., 2008.

  • Bay City Tribune - Monday April 22, 1912 (Page 6)

    Sloop Savage First Boat On Saginaw River
    Forty Ton Ship Owned By American Fur Co. Back In 1819

    Governor Marcy, “36 The First Steamer
    Shipping Interests Chiefly Identified With Pioneer Lumber Days

    The History of the navigation of the Saginaw river was for more than fifty years so closely identified with the lumber industry that it may pardonably and properly be given a chapter by itself in recalling the early events and personalities of the pioneer days.

    The Sloop Savage 40 tons burden is the first vessel entering the Saginaw river of which the writer has any record. She was owned by the American Fur company, which established a trading post at Saginaw right after the war with Great Britain. There was a schooner entered the mouth of the river in 1819, coming from Detroit with a portion of the General Cass party for the purpose of negotiating a treaty with the Chippewa Indians, but her name isn’t available. By this treaty the white man became possessed of the greater portion of the real estate in the Saginaw valley that heretofore been the rightful inheritance of the red man.

    The first steamer to ply the sluggish waters of the Saginaw was the Governor Marcy, which came into the river in August 1836 and she made regular trips during the remainder of the season from Detroit coming up once in two weeks.

    In 1837 Captain Raby sailed the schooner North America into the Saginaw river and about the same time the schooner Richmond put in its appearance. Soon after the Mary. Captain Wilson traded in the river but she was driven ashore near Goderich in a gale and wrecked.

    In 1848 Nelson Mills built the schooner Julia a vessel of 70 tons measurement and she traded in and out of the river some years. As late as the seventies she was trading on Lake Michigan.

    The steamer Buena Vista, the first steamer built on the Saginaw river, was constructed near the Bristol street bridge in Saginaw, on the premises of Curtis Emerson, coming out in the spring of 1848. She was built after the manner of western river steamers, with a high stern water wheel and was employed in towing, carrying passengers etc. Some time later her machinery was taken out at Banks and called the Whitney, Captain Daniel Burns had command.

    Captain Darius Cole came to Bay City at an early day, bringing the steamer General Wolcott in 1850. Later he brought the Columbia, which ran between here and Detroit and subsequently was put on the Bay City and Alpena route. The Susan Ward, Forest Queen and W.R. Clinton were early arrivals. Captain Cole also brought the Snow, the Huron, Dove, Geo. L. Dunlap, John Sherman, Metropolis, Arundel and other boats to these waters.

    In the sixties the building of vessels to carry lumber out of the river was inaugurated and engaged in extensively.. The tug Lathrop came here in 1853 to tow logs. In 1854 the steamers Fox, Ruby, Magnet, Ariel and Evening Star were familiar sights on the river.

    In the earlier years lumber manufactured at mills on the river was shipped on sailing boats. The sloop Lorning took a cargo of 60.000 feet of lumber to Cleveland in 18?9, where it was sold.

    Curtis Emerson built the first lighter scow on the river in 1847 called her the “Ethan Allen” and shipped a full cargo of white pine to Albany, N.Y. in 1847. The same year the schooner Saginaw owned by Dean Richmond & Co. of Buffalo carried lumber from Bay City to Chicago and the following season the brig Caroline, barques Morgan and “Outward Bound” owned by the same firm freighted lumber from Bay City to Chicago. This lumber was sold on the rail of the boats here in Bay City at $4 and $4.50 per thousand. No such lumber is available now at any price.

    In 1867 there were constructed on the Saginaw river the barques J. C. King and W. H. Vanderbuilt, barges Wolverine, A. F. R Braley, Geo. W. Wesley, schooner Hilton, barge T.P. Sheldon, J. A. Holland, prop. J. Stewart, tug Annie Moiles, tug Ballentine, schooner J. Kelderhouse, P.H. Johnson proprietor; Ben Trudell, barges S. Bolton and Joseph.

    Other craft also came into the river trade as the manufacture of lumber, lath, shingles and salt developed and a mighty volume of business was transacted. In those early days vast quantities of staves and square oak and elm timber were available. These products were gotten out and shipped by water to other ports. In 1868 no less than 1,571 sail and steam craft entered Bay City during eight months of navigation and 1723 took out cargo. At Saginaw 590 entered and 1,444 cleared.

    During the period from 1870 to 1885 large quantities of shingles and salt were carried by both rail and steam craft. The Hurd line composed of the propellers J.L. Hurd and Phil Sheridan traded regularly between Bay City and Cleveland as did the Benson, J.C. Bertschy and one or two others. The Lake Breeze, D.F. Rose, Nelson Mills, Sea Gull and E.T. Carrington were well known craft.

    In the seventies the shipment of lumber by barges came into vogue. A propeller carrying a cargo of lumber or shingles would tow one to five loaded barges, craft without much sailing capacity, in this way a large quantity of lumber could be moved at a single shipment.

    From 1867 to 1890 there was a ship out of the Saginaw river every season of navigation averaging 400,000,000 to 500,000,000 feet of manufactured, 200,000,000 to 300,000,000 shingles, 30,000,000 to 50,000,000 of lath and one to two million barrels of salt.

    In the season of 1882 the enormous quantity of 858,000,000 feet of pine lumber were by boat out of the Saginaw river. None is now moved that way, but 100,000,000 feet of manufactures lumber is brought here by water from other manufacturing points every season of navigation. The railroads have wrested the distribution of lumber products from vessels the last few years.

    Before the railroads had become prominent there used to be regular lines of small steamers running on the river between Bay City and Saginaw. Among them L. G. Mason, Reynolds, Cora R. and W.R. Burt will still be remembered. The Boy line was composed of the Handy Boy, Post Boy, News Boy and there were others.

    A great change has come over the spirit of the waters of the river during the fleeing half century.

    April 20,1912

    Additional Notes.

      The Governor Marcy.

    • 1833 - Governor Marcy, commanded by Capt. R.G. Mackenzie was first steamship to ply the Saginaw River. [Great Lakes Maritime History]
    • 1844 - In Oct. the Governor Marcy was lost in storm on Lake Erie, near Pt. Abino. [Great Lakes Shipwrecks]

      The Sloop Savage.

    • 1824 - The Savage was built in Clay Township, by Capt. Amos Henkley and R. Newhall. [History of St. Clair Co., MI]
    • 1830 - About this time the Sloop Savage sailed in and out of the Saginaw River in search of fur and trade with the Indians. [History of Bay Co., MI 1905]
    • 1851 - Capt. Victor Bonnah became skipper of Sloop Savage. [History of St. Clair Co., MI]
    Subject Notes

    (click to enlarge)
    Entrance to Saginaw River off Saginaw Bay.
    Related Pages:
    Shipbldg. Bay City (1886)
    Bay City Port Facilies
    {Bay Co. History Links}
    - See Industry, Shipping.
    People Referenced
    Bonnah, Victor
    Burns, Daniel
    Cass, Gen.
    Cole, Darius
    Emmerson, Curtis
    Henkley, Amos
    Johnson, P.H.
    Mackenzie, R.G.
    Mills, Nelson
    Newhallo, R.
    Raby, Capt.
    Trudell, Ben
    Subjects Referenced
    Alpena, MI
    Banks, MI
    Bay City, MI
    Bristol St. Bridge, Sag.
    Boy Line
    Buffalo, NY
    Cleveland, OH
    Dean Richmond & Co.
    Detroit, MI
    Goderich, Can.
    Great Britain
    Lake Michigan
    Saginaw, MI
    Saginaw River
    Saginaw Valley, MI
    A.F.R. Braley
    Annie Moiles
    Buena Vista
    Capt. Wilson
    Cora R
    D.F. Rose
    E.T. Carrington
    Ethan Allen
    Evening Star
    Forest Queen
    Gen. Walcott
    Geo. E. Wesley
    Geo. L. Dunlap
    Gov. Marcy
    Handy Boy
    J.A. Holland
    J.C. Bertschy
    J.C. King
    J. Kelderhouse
    J. Stewart
    John Sherman
    Lake Breeze
    L.G. Mason
    Nelson Mills
    News Boy
    North American
    Outward Bound
    Phil Sheridan
    Post Boy
    S. Bolton
    Sea Gull
    Susan Ward
    T.P. Sheldon
    W.H. Vanderbuilt
    W.R. Burt
    W.R. Clinto
    Internet Resources
    Great Lakes History
    by Dave Swayze:

    Huge historical database of shipwrecks and information related to shipping.
    - CD Shipwreck database available for purchase.
    Maritime History of the Great Lakes:
    Extensive historical resource.
    - Includes Great Lakes Marine, a series of 1886 articles on major ports.
    Saginaw River Marine Historical Society:
    Preserving nautical history.
    Saginaw River Rear Range Lighthouse:
    Images, history, lighthouse keepers, etc.
    WRITINGS: History As It Was Written Then.