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Bay City History

Fire brigade about 1890s. Fires were a constant threat with buildings mainly constructed from wood. Fire alarm boxes that would send a telegraphic signal to the nearest fire department that were strategically located through out the city. The worst fire in Bay City took place on July 25, 1892 in the south end. Nearly everything from Jennison street to the river between 32nd and 38th was burned to the ground.

Bay City's history represents much of the history of Bay County.
Therefore, we will only briefly highlight portions of it on this page. See the section on the History of Bay County - {Growth, Pioneer History and 20th Century} for additional information.

The first permanent settlements.
The first permanent settler was Leon Trombley who built a log cabin along the east river bank in 1831, following him were Benjamin Cushway and John B. Trudell with log-cabins in 1834 and in 1835, Joseph and Mader Trombley.

In 1837:
- Michigan is granted statehood.
- The Saginaw Bay Company plats the area call the "Lower Saginaw" for community development.
- Albert Miller appointed postmaster of the first postoffice.
- A year later, Judge S.S. Campbell arrived and built a house on the corner of what is now 5th and Water, he would later convert it into the first hotel. The hotel was leased to A.N. Rouech in 1863 who gave it the name of the Globe Hotel.
- Along the east bank, Judge Miller, B.K. Hall and C. Barney completed the first sawmill.

In 1840:
- Dr. D.H. Fitzhugh acquired Indian reserve land which approximately 30 years later became West Bay City. Less than a decade later.
- German immigrants begin settling into the Salzburg area and the population on both banks of the river are showing signs of a larger community development.
- John Bourdon opens a casting operation, then later -- a machine shop.

In the 1850s:
- Church communities become established with the Methodist building the first church.
- Perry Joslin starts up a newspaper, which he simply calls, "The Press." James Birney becomes its editor.
- A cemetery is established in the Banks area.
- Bay County is established in 1857.
- Lower Saginaw is renamed to village of Bay City in 1857.
- John and William McEwan open a grist mill. John Weed is hire as Marshall.

In 1859:
- The first village elections were held on May 2, at Birney Hall on Water street. Calvin C. C. Chilson and Dr. Louis Fuchious presided as justices at the polls. Albert Wedhoff was clerk. 155 votes were cast for the office of village president with 92 favoring Curtis Munger while candidates George Lord and Jonathan S. Barclay tallied a total of 63 votes. Charles Atwood was elected recorder and John Cottrell as treasurer. Chosen as village trustees were Albert Miller, James J. McCormick, Henry W. Bradley and Harman A. Chamberlain. The first meeting of the trustees took place on May 5, in the upper level of the Jennison Brothers store on Water and Fifth streets. The following meeting was held on May 23, and village officials were appointed: John A. Weed, village marshall; Henry M. Bradley, street commissioner; Algernon S. Munger, assessor; and William Daglish, assessor. However, neither Munger or Daglish accepted their appointments -- A. G. Sinclair and Charles D. Fisher were chosen to replace them. Mr. Sinclair did not accept the position and it was filled by Col. Henry Raymond. The first village attorney was the Hon. James Birney who was appointed on Jun 3. The first public works act ordered by the trustees was the erection of wood board walks on Washington ave. from First to Tenth streets, and the opening of Jefferson street and Madison avenue north of Center avenue.

In the 1860s:
- A fire department is created headed by Captain John McEwan..
- Salt wells begin production.
- H.D. Braddock & Co. builds the first schooners here.
- Western Union establishes a telegraph system.
- William Crothwaite sets up first shipyard in Banks.
- The village of Bay City on the east bank of the river incorporates as a city.
- On the westside, John Ross starts up West Bay City Brewery Co., which later became the Phoenix Brewery Co.
- Peoples is the first to open a bank.
- Sawmills and wood manufacturing businesses populate the river banks producing roofing shingles, pails, planks (sidewalks, roads, rail bars), and framing for homes.
- The first high school is located on Grant St.
- The Bay City Library Association begins operating in the recently built county court house.

In the 1870s:
- The water works is completed using wood pipes.
- Bay City annexes a portion of Portsmouth Township.
- Industrial Works opens initially servicing sawmill equipment before becoming a world class crane manufacturer.
- James Davidson opens a shipyard on west side.
- The first telephone line is strung up.

In the 1880s:
- Dr. J.A. Waterhouse opens "Bay City Hospital" located on the fourth floor of a store on Fourth and Water streets.
- Cyrus H. Devlin opens a business college.
- Nathan Murphy become first police chief.
- A major fire guts several blocks in West Bay City.
- The first electric streets lights in Michigan are turned on in Bay City
- The states first stone-road is completed connecting West Bay City and six townships.
- The Sage Library is completed in West Bay City.
- A lumber strike shuts down over 100 mills.
- Woods Opera House is built, the first devoted solely as a theater.
- A federal court is opened here.
- Electric railway streetcar system is in use.

In the 1890s:
- New fairgrounds off Livingston is opened.
- A vocational school is established, the first in Michigan.
- The Miller and Turner sawmill on 31st street catches fire and is spread rapidly by high winds engulfing a 40 acres of the city in flames.
- Cass Avenue Bridge is built.
- Mercy Hospital opens in the renovated homestead of Mayor Nathan Bradley.

In the 1900s:
- Annie Taylor of NY now living in Bay City becomes the first to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel.
- West Bay City and Bay City merge.
- Garfield school opens and includes the first kindergarten.
- Pere Marquette Railway station is built.
- Devastating flooding hits river communities in the Spring of 1904.
- Harry J. Defoe quits his job as principle at Park school and starts up a shipyard.
- Aladdin Company opens up a pre-fab home business.
- The "grand" Wenonah Hotel replaces the Fraser House destroyed by fire.

During the 20th Century: The city reaches its peak industrial base and population during the first half the century. Rising from a wilderness 100 years earlier to an leading industrial community with many companies the largest of their kind in the country and world. Changing economies, world competition and new technologies result in the lost of many the city's industrial giants such as Defoe Shipbuilding, Industril Brownhoist, Bay City Shovels, Kuhlman Electric, AutoLite and Nichols-Foss. Foreign automobile manufactures taking advantage of the gasoline crisis of the 1970s gain a foothold in the American market. American automakes slow to respond with smaller vehicles lose share costing the loss of thousand of jobs around the country with Michigan being hit the hardest. The era of mechanical industrialize manufacturing passes as computers advance new technologies in manufacturing, large and small companies are consumed by huge conglomerates leading to the closing of many in the face of world competition.

As the city enters the 21st Century it is faced with many challenges without easy answers. Unlike the ancestoral giants of its past that took advantage of the natural resources of this area that result in rapid growth of the community, the city is now challenged to find leadership within its citizens in order to come up with imaginative new ways to return to properity and growth of its historical experience.

Related Resources
  • See Pictorials.
  • Internet:
    [-] In 1999 Bay City was honored with the "Great American Main Street Awards", read more.
  • Historical Images

    Center Ave. 1909

    Wenonah Hotel 1912

    First Baptist Church 1873

    Washington Ave. 1920s

    Midland Street

    Swart Jewelry 1908

    Arlington Hotel 1884

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