The Bay City Times - January 26, 1936.
ALONG the Waterfront
by Bill Knodt, Jr.
It was late in the fall of 1835. Winter was presenting its calling card with chili blasts that swirled through crevices of a sturdy log building that stood near what is now the corner of Twenty-fourth and Water streets.
Inside, at a rough, wooden table illuminated by the yellow glow of a flickering oil lamp, Joseph and Medore Tromble pored over a diagram. Outside, and only a few feet removed from the door step, the restless water of Saginaw river blended its murmur with the rustlings of barren pine trees.
Like as not, traders and trappers and a few Indians were in an adjoining room where dealing in fur, flour, port and other essentials and the recounting of the day’s experiences where carried on over a substantial counter and around a blazing log fire.
It had been almost a year since Joseph Tromble had established the little trading store of flatten pine logs. It was located in an advantageous spot for trade with the Indians. It commanded a wide view of the river and arrival and departure of canoes. The land lay high and dry and was not sheltered by trees which grew not too thickly to spoil the pictureque, and yet dense enough for shade.
Choice of the river site had been fortunate. The trading store prospered from the very beginning. And now, looking back over a year that saw a rapid upturn in fortunes of the Tromble family, plans were being laid for the construction of a residence befitting their position.
It will be 100 years ago this spring that the Trombles began construction of the first frame house in Bay City. Still standing at the Twenty-forth and Water streets, the building’s erection was heralded with the ring of axes cutting away an opening to the river.
Oak and other trees that toppled to the ground were sawed into boards. The foundation sills were hewn out by hand, mortised, teneted and drift pinned. Lath was a problem but finally obtained by splitting pines boards in several places, nailing them to the uprights and stretching the board so as to make crevices. A board one foot wide could thus be stretched to the one and a half foot width. In the crevices the plaster could be a hold.
Sailboats owned by fisherman brought in bits of shale picked up at Charity island reef where it lay in flat pieces. These provided the foundation. The original shingles were hand made. Early sailing vessels brought from Detroit all the finishing lumber, doors and windows, to unload them handily in the “front yard” of the new building.
In those days the house was only about a foot from the ground as marked by the basement windows. But when Water street was cut through and the grading completed, the stone of the basement, then below the ground, were bared, as they are visible today.
Several years after the house was built and the earth removed from the front when the road was graded, double steps led away from the front door. These were still in existence as late as 1883. There was also on the south side of the building a porch that led to Twenty-fourth street from the side door. This porch was torn down several years ago although remnants of its foundation are still discernable.
NATHAN C. CASE, who came from Saginaw that same year with Cromwell Barney, had the contract for the building, to be designated on its completion as the “Centre House,” “Big House” and “River House.” Case performed his task well. With exception of a small kitchen built on the rear no change has been made in the original building. The same beams that were placed beneath the flooring area still sturdy and substantial. The quaint, old-fashioned doors with their long narrow panels still serve.
It must be mentioned that coarse lumber used in the building came from the first sawmill in the immediate vicinity. The mill was erected on Pine river in 1835 by the firm of Jones and Chapell, who operated it only a short while before it passed into other hands. The mill was powered by water.
In 1837, Joseph Tromble was married at Detroit to Miss Sophia Chapaton. He brought his bride to the new home and their union was blessed with four boys and a girl. Later the family moved to what is now the Ninth ward of Bay City where they resided in one of the first brick homes in the city.
At any rate, the Centre house still stands – a weatherbeaten and time scarred monument to the pioneers who endured many privations and undertook much grueling labor that the nucleus of Bay City might be formed and the field of the white man in North America extended.