History prior to Bay County:
The history of the white race in the Saginaw Bay area dates back to early 1600s and the French who were the first to explore the northern regions of American continent.
The first white to visit the Saginaw Bay area was [Father Jacques Marquette], a French missionary priest, who came here in 1668 after establishing a mission in [St. Ignace]. In 1686 Father Jean Enjalran come to the valley to establish an Indian mission, but his efforts failed.
The first major settlement was at [Detroit] by Frenchman [Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac] who wanted to establish a post at this strategic location to defend France's territorial interests from the British. The two nations battled for control of the region until the [Treaty of Paris in 1763], when France relinquished the area to Britain.
In 1776 the New England pilgrims declared their independence from Britain and formed the United States of America. For twenty years the two fought for control before Congress made officially created the [Michigan Territory in 1805]. Eight years later, around 1813, Louis Campau erected an Indian trading post along the Saginaw river which led to the settlement of Saginaw in 1816, and to which the the history of other settlements of Saginaw Bay area are rooted.


  • Note: See Heritage Library for histories on specific subjects.

    Bay County was organized on Apr 29, 1857 ...
    from portions of the counties of Midland and Saginaw, and all of Arenac County. It's founding townships were Williams which was initially organized under Midland county and Hampton which was initially organized under Saginaw county.

    Bay County's first officers were:

  • William Simons, Sheriff
  • Elijah Catlin, Clerk
  • James Watson, Treasurer
  • Thomas M. Bligh, Register of Deeds
  • S.S. Campbell, Judge of Probate
  • C.H. Freeman, Prosecuting Attorney
  • Stephan P. Wright, Circuit Court Commissioner
  • {Benjamin F. Partridge}, Surveyor
  • William C. Spicer, Coroner

    Related references:

  • Special Messenger {View} Historical Events Timeline relevant to history of Bay County.
  • History of county's organization, see Heritage/Writings/ {Bay County Organization} written in 1876 by Gen. B.F. Partrides for Bay County Pioneer Society.
  • History of individual cities/townships, see "Community" Section. Quick links to each are in right-hand column.
  • Township formation map history, see bottom of this page.
  • This general history of the county gives an overview of the collective community histories, the largest portion is derived from Bay City where the greatest population has existed historically. It also worth noting that the county's history began long before it was officially organized. Therefore, we provide this historical background along with the county's organized history.

    Bay County's rich history is directly related to its abundance of natural resources. It forests, rivers, wild life, central in Lower Michigan and closeness to the Saginaw Bay. It is a place that has drawn humans to its bounty from the very beginning. Indians settlements were drawn here by these natural attributes. The white settlers that followed sought the same opportunities of living a better life here.

    The county's greatest growth was during its pioneering history. The population swelled from 3,155 in 1860 to 56,412 thirty years later. Lumbering mills, shipbuilding yards, fishing and farming drew immigrants here from far away places. Wealthy investors converged here to tap its potential. While many others came with the dream of becoming wealthy. It is a history that we can take great pride in knowing and it can be a valuable source of reflection in helping us to shape our vision of a better future.

    Township Map History

    When Bay County was organized in 1857 it comprised only two large townships, Williams and Hampton. Williams township was originally organized under Midland county and Hampton under Saginaw county. Note that both Midland and Saginaw counties lost there boundary to the Saginaw Bay shoreline

    These townships divided by a verticle boundary spanning to the northern and southern borders of the county. All subsequent townships were carved out of these townships. Two years later, in 1858, Bangor, Portsmouth and Arenac were organized.

    In 1883, the size of Bay County was dramatically reduced when Arenac County was organized out of the northern townships. By then the county had added many new townships to provide representation to settlements that were becoming populated. View the following resources for additional information on township changes.

    {View} 1845 Michigan map.
    {View} Map History of Bay County Townships.

    About Our History Presentations

    Bay-Journal was created to draw greater awareness to the history of our county. It is our sincere desire and hope that as a result of these online history presentations -- your interest in local history will grow and cause you to want to learn more.

    Local Resources

    Your local library, historical society or genealogy organization are excellent resources for information. Consider joining them and help capture the written history of subjects important to you; your church, school, family and community. We hope you will share them here on Bay-Journal.

    County History Menu
    Native Settlers (8 pages)
    Europeans (5 pages)
    Pioneer History (24 pages)
    20th Century
    Photo Gallary
    Other Histories
    Kids History

    Selective U.S. History
    View U.S. timeline and historical documents.
    Community Histories
    Bay City
    Bangor Twsp.
    Beaver Twsp.-Willard
    Frankenlust Twsp.
    Fraser Twsp.
    Garfield Twsp - Crump
    Gibson Twsp.
    Hampton - Essexville
    Kawkawlin Twsp.
    Merritt Twsp.
    Monitor Twsp.
    Mount Forest Twsp.
    Pinconning Twsp.
    Portsmouth Twsp.
    Williams Twsp.- Auburn
    Historical Population
    When the county was organized in 1857 it had about 3,000 residents. By 1860, the lumbering boom was well underway swelling the county's population to over 15,000. The lumbering boom and substantial population growth continued through the 1890 census.
    1870*15,900+ 404.0%
    1880*38,081+ 139.5%
    189056,412+ 48.1%
    190062,378+ 10.6%
    191068,238+ 9.4%
    192069,548+ 1.9%
    193069,474+ 0.1%
    194074,981+ 8.0%
    185088,461 + 10.9%
    1960107,042+ 21.0%
    1970117,339+ 9.6%
    1980119,881+ 2.2%
    1990111,721- 6.9%
    2010107,771- 0.9%

    * Data includes townships now in Arenac County.
    - Figures based on census where available.