riverwalk sign
History of
Bay City, Michigan
Bay City was once the camping ground of the Chippewa Indian…later the hub of specialized industries…and today…a city that tells a story of its sense of place through historical attractions, eco-tourism, the arts, interesting shoppes and dozens of cafes and eateries. Situated near the mouth of the Saginaw River, which joins the Saginaw Bay, Lake Huron and the Great Lakes Waterway, Bay City continues to be an important center of commerce.

Naturally Historic
More than 150 years have elapsed since Leon Tromble accepted a federal government assignment and built a small log house on the bank of the Saginaw River.
Leon made at least one mistake. He turned down an offer to trade a horse for a section of land, which he considered an uninhabitable swamp. Who would have thought that Bay City would someday encompass all of the section offered to Mr. Tromble (and more).

In 1835, Tromble’s nephews Joseph and Mador built the first frame house in Bay City, which also served as a trading post, thereby qualifying these gentlemen as Bay City's first businessmen.
The house has been preserved and moved to Bay City's Veteran’s Memorial Park. It is now being restored and will be the center of an historic village development.

The first building, "Center House," was located several miles upstream from the original log cabin, on a peninsula of dry land near what is now 24th and Water Street. In addition to the trading post, the home served as a hotel… providing you had a bedroll…and eventually became the headquarters for federal and state licensing. In July of 1837, two years after Michigan was incorporated as a state, Steven Wolverton set sail for this territory and built a lighthouse at the river mouth. It was the same year when Benjamin J. Pierce opened the first free standing store, again primarily a trading post.

In 1822, Saginaw County had been established…extending to Saginaw Bay. Court cases for the bayside communities meant a three-day journey to Saginaw, so the citizens of the area voted in 1854 to separate from Saginaw County, forming what is today known as Bay County.

Bay City, nestled in the Saginaw Valley, was in those days located in the midst of a fruitful pine forest, and it was the cutting of those pines, and other tress, that crowned the area "Lumber Capitol of the World."
The actual year was 1844 in which the lumber industry has its start in Bay County when a mill was constructed at the mouth of the Kawkawlin River. In the following years, lumbering became a boom industry by the time that the Sage Mill was erected in 1865. In one period, at the height of the lumbering activity, more than 50 mills were active in the Bay City area. By 1888, over four billion feet of lumber had been cut, enough to circle the globe with a walk-way of two-inch planks, four feet in width. It was in 1850 the salt basin, which underlies the area, was tapped and this too progressed just as the lumber business had.

One of the earliest new industries was boat building, including a shipyard which launched the first 600 foot Great Lakes steel freighters. Bay City built a large variety of craft from before the beginning of World War II. It turned out U.S. Destroyers, even several missile vessels for the Australian Navy, along with luxurious yachts, including the Presidential Yacht named "Honey Fitz" during the Kennedy administration.

In recent years, the area has become home for both sail and power boat champions. The Staudacher firm in the small suburb of Kawkawlin has probably turned out more Gold Cup hydroplanes than any other single builder. The Gougeon Brothers firm has also built a number of champion sailboats, including catamarans and iceboats.

Bay County is also rich in agricultural products including sugar beets, potatoes, corn, soybeans, wheat and oats. One of the largest sugar refineries east of the Mississippi is Bay County's Monitor Sugar Company.

Historically Natural

Tobico Marsh Book by
© Jennison Nature Center 1987
Tobico Marsh, declared a National Landmark in 1976 is an integral part of the largest contiguous freshwater coastal wetland in the U.S. It provides an enticing habitat for more than 200 species of songbirds, shorebirds and waterfowl. The rich environment of the Saginaw Bay is at the crossroads of the Atlantic and Mississippi flyways and is a favorite destination for large flocks of birds and waterfowl.
With over 1800 acres of wetland preserve, you will find nearly five miles of trails and two 32-foot observation towers. Another area you will not want to miss is Naynanquing Point…with 1400 acres of coastal wetland and protected natural area are perfect for birding. Best known for the large numbers and variety of migrating waterfowl.

Native American Lore

Chippewa, Hopewell, Ojibway, Ottawa and Potawatomi once thrived along the banks of the Saginaw River which provided abundant fish, animals and vegetation. Archeological digs—still going on today—have uncovered Native American artifacts from the earliest permanent settlement which back to 3000 B.C. Visitors today can still see sacred burial grounds along the Saginaw River. Tobico Marsh Book by
Chief Shoppenogons
Photographed in late 1800's.
© 1997 MMCC, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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