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Sketch of the Saginaws

Saginaw Weekly Courier, July 9, 1885 Page 1 

A Retrospective Glance at the Saginaw Valley

A Pioneer’s Recollections of the Early History of the Saginaws – An Agreement that was never kept – The building of the Genesee Plank Road.


As is well known Saginaw City is a much older city than East Saginaw and was quite an ambitious and prosperous place before it was ever dreamed that a city could be built on the east side.  When it was decided by a wide-awake Eastern capitalist and a far – seeing man who had previously been over the field to build East Saginaw, certain people who had interests in Saginaw City ridiculed the idea that the projectors would ever make a success of the undertaking, but when they saw what great wonders were being wrought their feelings were changed to that of hatred.  That feeling is disappearing but has not entirely passed away, as is shown at every opportunity by few people who will never abandon their animosities engendered years ago.  It has always been a question in the minds of the people why East Saginaw should have been started when there was already a city on the western bank of thrives that could have been improved and added to in population at a rapid rate at an outlay considerably less than would be necessary to expend in building a new place.  It is known that Norman Little came to the valley and built Saginaw City for a firm of New York capitalists who afterward failed.  When they sold the city to another firm Mr. Little was one of the parties who arranged the business so that a sale could be made.  From the fact that he had built the place and had Expended $30,000 of his own money in the enterprise it was considered that he was to receive an interest in the place and again assist in building it up.  He did not take any further interest in the city, however, and when he came on was even not allowed to purchase land on which to erect an office. 

Seth Willey, in a second conversation with a representative of The Courier throws some light on the subject of how it happened that East Saginaw was started and the first and most important set-back received by Saginaw City culminated in a great breach between the two Saginaws that was afterward considerably widened.  Mr. Willey’s recollections are stated in the following paragraphs:

A Broken Promise

When the firm of Mackey, Oakey & Jennison, the firm of New York capitalists owning Saginaw City, failed Norman Little, who was the general agent of the company, returned to the East.  The business of the stranded firm was greatly complicated, and it was the opinion of the citizens of Saginaw City that nothing could be done with regard to their interests in that city without the approval of Mr. Little.  After the failure of the firm none of the members dared come to Saginaw City, and at their request Mr. Little met them at Cleveland, when a settlement was effected satisfactory to himself and the company.  But it was not until 1849, however, that they could sell the property.  In that year they transferred their interests in the city to Messrs. Yates and Woodruff, of Albany, N.Y.  The supposition is that when the latter company purchased the city they agreed to give Mr. Little an interest in the place, but when Mr. Woodruff came to Saginaw City he refused to give Mr. Little anything the firm had pledged themselves to allow, and the belief of an agreement having been entered into by the parties is strengthened by the following conversation which took place after Mr. Little had become the agent of Mr. Hoyt in 1850.  I was engaged in clearing the land that is now a section of East Saginaw under the supervision of Mr. Little when Mr. Woodruff happened along. And during the conversation that followed the latter remarked:

“Norman, will $50,000 do?”

Oh, no” Mr. Little replied laughingly; “you’ve spoken too late.” When they parted I said: “Mr. Little, $50,000 is quite a sum of money.”

“Yes,” he answered; “but it is a little too late.”

I then concluded that Mr. Little had been promised an interest in Saginaw City, which Mr. Woodruff concluded it would be best to make good when he saw that a rival city was about to spring up, and I further thought that Mr. Little’s being shoved aside was undoubtedly the secret of the starting of East Saginaw.


The Genesee Plank Road

In 1822 two companies of United States troops were stationed where Saginaw City now stands for the purpose of protecting the interests of the white settlers, coming by way of an Indian trail.  Afterward a military road was established from Detroit to Mackinaw, and surveyed out by the general Government, for the purpose of transporting troops from Detroit to Mackinaw by land in case of war.  It was cut out four rods wide and worked from Detroit to the town of Pine Run in Genesee County, where it stopped.  The Territory of Michigan was then made one of the States of the Union, and the matter was then left for the State to make its own roads.  The road in question was rough and swampy, ran zigzag through the woods, and it was the general opinion that it would be almost an impossibility to get a good road through.  The end of the road on the east side of Saginaw River was at that place where the bridge at South Saginaw now spans the stream, and was taken up again on the opposite side of the river.  On Mr. Little’s return to the Saginaw Valley he saw that no effort had been made to improve the road.  He then talked the matter up with the citizens, and in a short time a large and enthusiastic meeting was held to take action relative to the matter.  The meeting was held at the Webster House and a proposition of Mr. Little’s was read.  He recommended a plank instead of dirt road for the reason that plank would be good in all seasons of the year – spring, summer, fall and winter, and thought that if the citizens would take hold; of the matter it would be better to organize a stock company under the name of the Genesee & Saginaw Plank road Company.  The meeting then appointed three Commissioners – Norman Little and James Fraser, of Saginaw City, and E.H. Thompson, of Flint – to secure a charter and superintend the construction of the road.  Mr. Little went to Lansing secured a charter from the Legislature and returned in the spring.  The Legislature dealt generously with the Commissioner and gave a right of way four rods wide from Flint River to Saginaw, with a branch at this end, running 50 years from the date of commencement in 1850. 

At the citizens meeting called to take action relative to the building of the road Mr. Little was asked where the road would come to the river, and replied that that question would be for the stockholders to decide.  It would be a toll road, he said, and the stock was to be sold to any one who would buy.  If a majority of them lived in New York it would be for them to say where it should terminate; if in Saginaw City, they would decide. 

The work of surveying the road was commenced at flint, and it was run on the old military line till the bend of the Cass River was reached.  Instead of continuing from that point on the old route it was continued straight ahead and run to the foot of what is now Genesee avenue.  The work of clearing the land and of erecting buildings on the east side of the river was then in progress and when the people on the Westside saw what was being done it began to dawn upon them that something extraordinary not to their interest was being accomplished.  Thereupon they stated plainly that they would not pay a cent on the road, and they didn’t but Mr. Little was not disconcerted and work continued uninterruptedly until it was completed.  The people of Saginaw City then built a plank road on the old military line to the bend of the Cass River to connect with the main line, which they maintained several years.  Mr. Little’s intentions I did not know, but it is my opinion that if Yates & woodruff had fulfilled their promises he would have constructed the road on the old line.  The fact that he had secured a grant for a branch and then built only a straight route is an indication that he had changed his original plans. 

Hoyt’s sawmill was then started to cut the plank for the road and was situated at the foot of German Street. With the completion of the road the farmers, as well as others, were greatly benefited, and the first boom for East Saginaw set in.


Buildings Erected

The first saw mill in the county was built at Saginaw City in the year 1832 by Gardner and Ephraim Williams, and was erected for the accommodation of the settlers.  It also had a run of stone to crack corn.  The fist mill on the east side of the river was built by the New York company represented by Norman Little, in 1836, and from the mill the first shipment of lumber was made.  In 1846 Curtis Emerson and James Ellridge purchased the property, which seven years afterward passed entirely into the hands of Mr. Emerson, who owned about 150 acres of valuable land fronting on the river.  When the mill was built several residences were erected.  One of them was the home of Harvey Williams, which was afterward turned into the famous “Halls of the Montezuma’s,” where Mr. Emerson dispensed his liberal hospitality to all.  Previous to the starting of East Saginaw proper several other small buildings were constructed by the Indians and settlers.  One of them was a mission house built by the Government for the Indians about where the free bridge now spans the river.  The first missionary stationed here was, I believe, Mr. Bradley, who preached to both Indians and whites.  There was another mission house below Lower Saginaw (now Bay City), where the last treaty between Gen. Cass and the Indians was signed.  Alfred Hoyt and Norman Little, his manager first built a sawmill, a warehouse and a store.  While the mill was being built Charles Grant erected a story and a half building on what is now Water Street.  Then the Irving House in the same square where the Bancroft House stands as put up after which they built an office near by.  In the fall of 1850 I purchased a lot from Mr. Hoyt for $50, and put up a residence and shop at a cost of $90 additional.  In the summer of 1852 John Moiles purchased the property from me for $500 in gold.  With that, money I could have bought six lots with dwelling house where the Hoyt Block stands.


Important Events

In order to give the reader valuable information regarding the most important events occurring since, the time the forest was transformed into the city of East Saginaw, the following condensations up to and including 1870 are taken from a recent history of the county:

(When the name of the city is omitted East Saginaw is meant.)

1850 – Village platted; first birth, a son of Lyman Ensign; Mayflower mills built at cost of $50,000 building of plank road first stave yard in the county, established in Saginaw City by H. Shaw.

1851 – German Evangelical Lutheran Church, St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, and St. John’s Episcopal Church organized at Saginaw City; first school started in a log shanty where now stands the Bancroft House.

1852 – Completion of “old Academy,” the present site of Hoyt street school at a cost of $2,500; William B. Fox opened a select school with 80 scholars in attendance; organization of M.E. Church, with A.C. Shaw, pastor.

1853 – Telegraph in working order between Detroit and Saginaw; saw mill and 500,000 feet of lumber at Carrollton, owned by Volney Chapin, of Ann Arbor, burned; loss $13,000; mail route from Saginaw City to Corunna established.

1855 – O-Saw-Wa-Bon Lodge No 14, I.O. O.F., instituted; large railroad meeting – steps taken to secure railroad communication with Lansing and southwest at west endeavored to secure Jackson, Lansing & Saginaw Railroad on this side; incorporated as a village; establishment of the first bank, on Genesee avenue.

1856 – A military company, called Hampton guards, Capt. Thomas M. Lyon organized; first Masonic Lodge – Saginaw, No. 77 chartered.

1857 – Organization of Flint & Pere Marquette Railroad Company, road completed for travel 1862 East engine called the Pollywog; Saginaw City charter granted population 536; a saw mill, 750,000 feet lumber and many ball docks burned at Zilwaukie, loss about $25,000; Charles Richman, who settled in the valley in 1836, died at Saginaw City; Hon. James G. Birney, a former resident of the county, and a candidate for the Presidency in 1844, died at Englewool, N. J.: Saginaw City incorporated – Gardner D. Williams first Mayor; M.E. Church of Saginaw City organized; U.S. Land office located; Congregational Church organized, Rev. M. Smith officiating  present edifice dedicated June 15, 1868, cost $36,000; organization of the tire companies “Pioneer, No. 51,: and “Jesse Hoyt, No. 2” which included in their membership the best citizens of the village.

1858 – Hon. Gardner D. Williams of Saginaw City passed away.

1859 – Bill passed and approved in State Legislature to appropriate $10,000 to develop salt interests in the valley; East Saginaw became a city; Saginaw City Light Infantry, Capt. Louis Franke, composed mostly of Germans, organized; articles of association of Salt Manufacturing Company signed, capital stock $50,000, salt water found following year, and stock increased to $250,000.  The Weekly Courier founded by George F. Lewis; laying of first rail of the Flint & Pere Marquette Railroad; opening of the Bancroft House; death of Hon. Norman Little; organization of the German Library Association.

1860 – Organization at Saginaw City of the Saginaw Valley Agricultural Society; steam gristmill of W.L. P. Little located at Saginaw City, destroyed by fire, loss $35,000, insurance $22,000; grand Fourth of July celebration and glorious time.

1861 – Twenty-three buildings and large amount of lumber, staves, etc., burned loss $55,000, insurance $17,000; Company H of the Second Regiment Michigan Volunteer Guards, left Detroit for Washington; and Hoyt Light Guards, of East Saginaw, and Saginaw City Guards left their respective cities for Fort Wayne, Ind; fire destroyed four buildings, loss 445,000, insurance $24,0650.

1863 – Organization of Saginaw River Bridge Company, in 1864 built Genesee Avenue Bridge; soon after built Bristol Street Bridge; First Baptist Church of Saginaw organized; Everett House built by a Mr. Crouse.

1864 – Saginaw Valley Chapter No. 31, established; death at Saginaw City of Mrs. Jane A. Little; widow of Hon. Norman Little; first lighting of the city by gas; departure from Saginaw City of the Sixteenth Regiment Michigan Volunteers Infantry after a two weeks furlough; departure at Saginaw City of Capt. Lockwood’s Company of the Ninth Cavalry; dedication of M.E. Church at Salina: first car run on street railway; Saginaw Street railroad built.

1865 – Loss of $100,000 by burning of entire block: A.W. Wright’s mill burned, loss $80,000, Insurance $20,000; property of Chicago Salt & Lumber Company destroyed by fire, loss $20,000; First National Bank organized, capital $100,000; Daily Enterprise established.

1866 – Valley Encampment, No 90, I.O.O.F., chartered.

1867 – Completion to Saginaw City of Jackson, Lansing & Saginaw Railroad.

1868 – Presbyterian Church organized; lighting of Saginaw City by gas; Wah-Wah-Sum Boat Club of Saginaw City organized; Saginaw City Turn Verein organized; founding of the Saginaw Zeitung; first Nicholson pavement laid; The Daily Courier established.

1870 – Plank road completed between Saginaw City and St. Louis; organization of Liberal Church of Saginaw City; Home for the Friendless established.