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Though the times were prosperous and everybody was accumulating wealth, no one seemed to realize what terrible disasters were in store for them. In 1837 an incident occurred which illustrates the will of men who keenly appreciated their interests. It is said that Joseph Trombley and Dr. D.H. Fitzhugh took a fancy for the same piece of land at the same time, neither knowing that the other wanted the land. At noon Joseph Trombley learned Dr. D.H. Fitzhugh was to start for Flint from Saginaw to purchase the said land, which was on the west side of the river. On the next morning early, Trombley being then at Portsmouth, collected his gold and started in his canoe, and rapidly sped his way to Flint, expected to overtake Fitzhugh on the road, who was to start on horseback, but found nothing of him, arriving at Flint on a good run, he entered his land, took dinner and started on his return to the Saginaws. On his way back he met Dr. Fitzhugh who was greatly astonished to meet him going towards Saginaw, suggested that he, Trombley, had bought certain land, when Trombley showed his certificate of purchase. Dr. Fitzhugh seeing there was no use in going further returned. Trombley kept company a while, but finding that the Dr. was too slow even with his horse, left him and arrived at Saginaw City, at a store owned by one McDonald, where he left his canoe. Trombley told his story about his getting the start of Fitzhugh, when McDonald disbelieved him even after seeing the certificate, and bet a gallon of wine that Trombley had not been to Flint that day. Now the mail carrier was on his way from Flint to Saginaw on horseback, and Trombley met him before arriving at Flint, and then overtook and passed him on his way back. So they waited a few minutes for the mail carrier who verified Trombley's statement. Trombley treated out his gallon, and took his canoe for home, arriving there before ten at night, the same day. Mr. Trombley says no man, not having an iron frame and constitution could stand the strain to run that distance as he had to run.

Judge Albert Miller, then living at Green Point, in company with B.K. Hall and Cromwell Barney, built the first mill on the Saginaw, at Portsmouth, on the site of Albert Miller's Red Salt Block in 1836-7.

The difficulties of building a mill in those times is hardly apparent to the present people of the Saginaw Valley.

When the arrangements had been completed between the parties, Cromwell Barney was to have the timber got out, and the frame erected and put in order, while Judge Miller went to Ohio to purchase the needed machinery, and other materials for the mill. Mr. Barney hurried up his part of the work, and when the timber was ready to haul it was found that one team was to be found in the country, and that was owned by Leon Trombley on the other side of the river, and they were made to swim the river daily till the ice prevented, when the men with tackle and ropes and chains hauled the timber by hand to complete the mill, which was ready for operation in the spring.

Judge Miller was not so fortunate. He bought the mill gearing and everything in a grist and saw mill, at the mouth of the Huron River, in Ohio, and shipped it on a vessel to Detroit. Navigation was closing, and the freights were excessively high from Buffalo to Detroit, $2.50 --100th, and Mr. Miller was obliged to purchase the schooner Elizabeth Ward for his use. The machinery and a large stock of goods and provisions were put on board of the vessel and when Mr. Miller saw his cargo safe under, with his workmen, who he had hired at excessive wages, $2.50 and $3 per day, all on board, he started for Saginaw on horseback, till he arrived at Flint, when he found the roads so bad that no horse could go through. He then bought a canoe and paddled down the Flint river, hoping to get through but found the river frozen at the mouth, and started from there on foot, breaking the ice and sometimes wading up to his arms in the water and ice, until he reached Green Point, where his mother lived, and was unable for a while to go farther on account of sickness, but on arriving at the mill he found no tidings of his vessel he sent men up after the mail. After waiting some time he received letters that his vessel had laid up at Port Huron. He at once started for Detroit and Port Huron where he found the captain had made away with about all the goods. Miller than had to hire his machinery and goods drawn from Port Huron on sleighs at $50 per load. The mill was, notwithstanding, all these difficulties finished and put in operation.


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[Index to People]
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Names Referenced
Barney, Cromwell
Fitzhugh, D.H. (Dr.)
Hall, B.K.
McDonald,
Miller, Albert (Judge)
Trombley, Leon
Trombley, Joseph
Comments/Resources
{-} The Saginaw Valley
By Judge Miller.
Briefly describes beginning of lumbering period.

{-} Lumber Reg. of MI
Very good review of lumbering in Saginaw Valley and Michigan.

{-} Lumbering Pictorial
Saginaw River sawmills, etc.

[-] Life In Logging Camp.
MOA Library, Cornell Univ.

History Tid-Bit
Dr. Fitzhugh, of Livingston Co., N.Y., was one of earliest investors in the Saginaw valley, owning huge tracks of land. He encouraged his brother-in-law, James G. Birney, to also invest in property here, which lead to him settling. Birney visited the area and liked it so much he moved here a year later. Birney was a national leader in the abolitionist movement, and twice was a candidate for the presidency. His last attempt was while living in Bay City. {Learn More}
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