While French explorers traveled around Michigan, the only settlements were at forts they built along the Great Lakes. French furtraders that traveled inland to various points to tram for animal skins or to trade with the Indians for them. However, they never settled at any of these points for any period longer than what was required to get the furs they sought.
Furtraders developed a good relations with Indians who looked forward to their arrival as they brought goods that were new to the Indians. The furtraders that visited our area came from Detroit which had grown into a large settlement and had many merchant stores. They traveled to and from our by horseback or by boat to trade with the Indians. It took several days to get here as they had to go through thick forests by horse or around the thumb of Michigan to the Saginaw Bay by boat. They brought many goods with them to trade with the Indians in exchange for animal hides. The following is an actual list the goods of a furtrader:
Fur Trader's Goods List - 27 Dec 1834
- 2 pieces of cloth
- 1/3 piece Scarlet cloth
- 2 prs. blankets 3 pt.
- 5 prs blanks 2-1/2 do "
- 2 prs. blankets 2 do
- 6 pieces of calico
- 1 ps. shawls
- 6 ribbon
- 1 lb. white beads
- 1-1/2 lb. black do
- 1 lb. cust glass do
- 1 lb. white cotton
- 2 ps. brown do
- 3 ps. factory do
- 1 doz. knives
- 1/2 keg powder
- 60 lb. balls
- 56 lb. shot
- 150 flints
- 3 copper kettles
- 5 prs. pantaloons
- 8 prs shoes
After a furtrader traded with the Indians, he brought the animal hides back to Detroit and sold them to fur companies and merchants. The hides were then either made into useable goods or shipped to other cities for that purpose.
Like my hat?
Furs and animal skins were very important -- they were used to make many different useful things; clothing, shoes, pouches, belts, straps, saddles and hats are just a few examples. We no longer need animal skins for most things anymore -- because we've learned how to make many different kinds of materials to meet our needs.
The First White Settlements.
Veterans Memorial Park. Pictured here is the Meyer log-cabin and Trombley house. They were moved to the Veterans Memorial Park so they could be kept in good shape as examples of early pioneer homes. Essexville also has a pioneer home on the Garber High School campus. The park is full of history information -- take a walk in the park with your parents and ask them to point this history out for you.
St. Stanislaus Church This picture was taken around 1875 shows horses and wagons tied up while families were at church. Imagine heading for church on Sunday and sitting in a horse drawn wagon? Now that would be fun to do today!
Horses. Until the invention of motor vehicles, horse were our "best and most important friend." They could take us long distances, pull wagons, plow fields, and do the hard work of moving heavy things. They have a special place in the history of human beings.
The first settlement in this part of Michigan took place about 1820 in Saginaw. About the same time, the American Fur Company set up a trading post there. Our area of Bay City became known as Lower Saginaw and was a part of the early Saginaw territory.
Around 1830, Leon Trombley became the first permanent white settler in Lower Saginaw. He built a log-cabin near the east bank of the Saginaw river near where Fourth Steet is today in Bay City. His nephews, Joseph and Medor Trombley settled here a couple of years later building a log-cabin further south of him. In 1834, Benjamin Cushway and John Trudell did the same. Cushway built his log-cabin across the bank in what is now the Salzburg area and Trudell on the east bank just north of Leon Trombley. They were the first white neighbors of the Chippewa Indians who lived here.
In 1836, Albert Miller, B.K. Hall and Cromwell Barney joined together to build the first lumber mill along the Saginaw River in what is now the south end of Bay City. At that time there were no local suppliers, not even for the nails they needed -- they had buy the equipment and supplies they needed from far away places like Detroit. The sawmill was completed in 1837, the same year the Michigan Territory became a state of the United States. Bay City had its first hotel that year. It was built by Sidney Campbell and was located on the corner of where Water and Fifth streets are now. And, the Trombley brothers, Joseph and Medor, completed the first framed house about this time. (now located in Veterans Memorial Park).
By 1840, the first pioneer settlers had quite a few new neighbors. Some became the first merchants using a portion of their home as a store to sell goods to the other settlers.
Churches and schools were very important to early pioneers. The first gatherings of church services and schooling took place in the homes of pioneers until it was possible to put up permanent buildings.
The first school building was a log-cabin that was the home of Mr. Bonnell and was located on Columbus Avenue in Bay City.
The first church was the Mission Methodist Church of Kawkawlin that was established in 1847.
By 1850, the villages of Portsmouth and Lower Saginaw had been formed, and other new settlements were beginning to appear in other parts of the county that eventually became the villages of Essex, Wenona, Banks, Salzburg, Spicers Corner, Frankenlust, Kawkawlin, Willard and others. The village of Portsmouth and Lower Saginaw eventually merged and became known as Bay City.
Our Area Becomes A New County.
During these early years, Bay County was still a part of Saginaw County. However, the people of this area petition the state to become a county.
In 1857, our Bay County was formed from portions of the counties of Midland and Saginaw, and all of Arenac County. That led to changing the name of Lower Saginaw to Bay City. which at that time was only on the east bank of the river.
At that time, Bay City only existed along the east bank of the Saginaw River. The land on the west side was still a wilderness and except for a number of Indian settlements. The first white settlements on the west side were in Banks and Salzburg area which became villages. The village of Wenona sprung up in the 1860s when the Sage & McGraw lumber mill was built. These there villages merged to bcome West Bay City which was about as large as Bay City on the east side. In 1865, West Bay City and Bay City merged to become the present Bay City.
Can you name the first member of your family to settled here? Your parents may not even know the answer. It might be a fun family project to learn about your family's history.