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OTTISSIPPI: Chapter 16 part 2 | Early St. Clair County Pioneers cont.

By Cheryl Morgan

BWHL is proud to share excerpts from Cheryl Morgan’s book, Ottissippi. To purchase a copy of Cheryl’s book in its entirety, click here.

In 1838, the mail route from Mt. Clemons to Fort Gratiot was weekly. There were Indian trails in every direction and the rivers for transportation, and a few roads. 

“The Indian burial mound on Water Street on the site of the federal building at the end of 6th Street and Black River. Scaffolds seven to eight feet high and small low houses made of wood were built over graves. Early pioneers saw numerous ancient burial rites. The deceased were buried in a sitting position, placed that way after death. Dressed in his best and wrapped in a most brightly-colored blanket, with ornaments, weapons, jewelry, and foodstuff, he was buried facing West toward Indian Heaven. Foods, weapons, and other necessities for the journey of four days were buried with the body” (Mitts, D., As the Wild Goose Flies, The Times Herald, SCC Library, MI Room).

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“In 1838, Oliver Hazard Perry (not the famous general) from Cleveland came to St. Clair County to hunt elk in the forests of Clyde Township with two other men. Their camp being near the Great Indian Trail, Abbottsford and Beard Road, Perry became lost near an old Indian camp near Mill Creek or Pine River. In his diary, he wrote that the Indians were not numerous, but occasionally a band would go by their camp, which was in a pine grove in a swail: ‘Their wigwams were scattered all through the woods, and the Chippeweas from Canada were in the habit of hunting on these grounds every fall. We found great numbers of elk horns hung up in their camps. Peter Non E Quit, a Saginaw Indian, killed while we were hunting two elk in one day some three miles from our camp, but the fall being too dry for good hunting, the Indians all left for Belle River where the hunting was better’. After passing the forks of the Black River, we came to where a man lived by the name of Beard. He gave us something to eat and some first-rate whiskey to drink. He showed us an extraordinary, large pair of elk horns that the Indians had given him’. 

The men stayed at Mr. Wadhams’ home the following night on the return to Port Huron. Mrs. Wadhams made them comfortable. She said that the old buck elk they kept in a fence with some deer had broken out and ran through the window after her, and she had sprung up the ladder into the garret of the log house, screaming and halloed most lustily, when Mr. Wadhams, finding out the trouble, got his rifle and shot the elk in the house” (Larry Wakefield, 1999 Michigan Out of Doors). 

“In 1849, Gold Fever broke out in the West and California; the horde of immigrants drifted by sea and land to California” (Jenks, Biographical Memoirs of SCCMI).

Jane M. Kinney (vol. 29. MPHC. 1899 p. 170) wrote of Clyde, Wadhams, and Abbottsford. She wrote of the sawmills in the area, Farrand Mills at Lakeport, Brockway Center, Wadhams, Howard Mills, Beards, Bunce, Abbott, Chase, and Miller, of the Sanborns, Whites, Williams, and Rust and Co. 

“Wolves, bears, and wild cats roamed the woods. A log schoolhouse was made at Abbottsford, a Corduroy Road followed the old Indian trails from the St. Clair River. She tells of the area being the favorite camping ground of the Indians traveling from Saginaw, Michigan and Sarnia and Walpole Island in Ontario. How they heard the Christian Indians singing hymns on sweet summer evenings. 

She wrote, ‘They always came to our home for flour and meat, tea, sugar, straw for their beds. Mother spoke their tongue; her father was a storekeeper at Bear Creek (now Sydenham) on the east side of St. Clair River, Harsens Island, and Baby’s Point. Uncle Sampson and Henry Ward traded among them. 

Settlers started with an axe, a pot, blankets, and a gun, a month or two of provisions, energy, and self- denial. There was much hard work to make a home in the woods. Often starting with a lean-to to live in, then a bigger shelter of saplings and posts, then a log home chinked with mud and sand. Large bark slabs were laid over saplings like a trough for the rain to run. Paper was dipped in oil to make a transparent window. Fireplaces were stones filled with sand with a stick and mud chimney and packed with clay as mortar. Pots were suspended and could be swung over the fire. A Dutch oven was often used for baking”. 

“Robert Durling came to Marine City and was sheriff, constable, and village marshal. In the mid-1800s, he captured a major crime gang of river pirates, which infested the shore from Port Huron to Detroit. Stealing from warehouses, boats, and dwellings, they were a desperate gang, shrewd and daring. Officers and citizens were afraid to hunt them out, but Mr. Durling, with determination in performance of his duties, followed them to their lair on the St. Clair Flats, surrounded them, and bagged his game, breaking up the gang of thieves that had become the terror to the people of the river” (Wisc. Historical Co.). 

“The use of intoxicants upon all noted occasions and upon most common events of pioneer life was held to be a necessity. Liquor was used as a cure for all diseases that assailed the system. At births, weddings, and deaths, its inspiring aid was sought. 

Prominent in the history of each new settlement were the bees when extra help was needed to accomplish some task, such as loggings and raisings. At these bees, whiskey was free and was often the secret which attracted them to the place. The timber used was much larger than used now, (so) a large force was called together. Problems and accidents led to the Temperance Laws” (History of Macomb County). 

“The Temperance Societies were organized to bring sobriety to the land. Perhaps in no city in the world had more earnest workers than that at Port Huron. The lessons which it then taught and the earnest manner of the teachers rescued numbers of people from the ruin which strong drink was bringing or had already brought upon them” (Western Historical Co.). “Whiskey was the main money crop of the Frontier farmer” (Lexington Michigan History, www). 

“Port Huron north of Black River was known as Frenchtown and south of Black River was Dutchtown, as there were many Germans” (Mitts). 

“Supplies dwindled in the winter, and spring brought great rejoicing when supplies came in. Flour barrels were pricey in the spring. Women had sewing circles for friendly company. 

Fires caused a great loss of property and ruination of homes and businesses. Many were rendered homeless and penniless by the great disasters. Bucket brigades tried to save structures. 

There were no free schools in Michigan until 1842 in Detroit; around 1870, the system extended throughout the State. Sand trays and slate boards were used. There were few textbooks. Schools were open only about three to six months of the year” (Bald, MI in 4 Centuries).

THE CANADIAN EARLY SETTLERS

The Traitor Campau lived on the Canadian side of the river, directly opposite the city of St. Clair. The government gave him this farm, and it has since been known as the Sutherland Farm. John Courtney, a Dutch farmer, lived above Campau on the Canadian side of the St. Clair River. He is said to be the first White settler in Lambton County. Sampson Ward was North of Courtney back of Elk Island. Frank Bartrow, the blacksmith, lived near Ward. 

Mary Bean was the first White female child born on Black River. She married Richard Bean, a soldier under General Harrison. He was at the Battle of Tippecanoe and was discharged in 1815. He drew a pension, as long as he lived. In 1824, he moved near Judge Bunce and then to Black River above Wadhams, making shingles and farming. Richard Jr. as a child was a frequent companion with the Indian boys. He went on to be highway commissioner and held other township and school offices. 

David Lockwood was born at the fort. His parents were here when the fort was built in 1814.  

Dr. Justin Rice, a prominent Detroit physician, was one of the owners of the Black River Steam Saw Mill Company and a staunch democrat. 

John Miller was the bookkeeper and manager for the Black River Steam Mill Co. who became Port Huron’s first banker. He was born at Sugar Lake, Ontario in 1818. He was also village president and mayor, then representative to the State Legislature. 

Ezra Rust called St. Clair home as a child. He went on to become one of the very wealthy timber barons of the Northwest. He had brothers and a sister. 

John Wells opened roads through the forests for lumbering along Black River. 

Other early St. Clair County pioneers were the Smiths, Browns, Caswells, Phillips, Cooke, Wards, Westbrooks, Witmans, Wordens, Clarkes, and Beards, John, Ai, and James. Other men of honor were Fulton, Harrington, Hartsuff, Kimball, Griswold, William Bancroft, and Henry Howard. 

Newport was Yankee Point and, later, Marine City. 

Omar Conger was a lawyer, lumberman, and politician. He was also a United States Senator. He was the man responsible for the Harbor of Refuge at Harbor Beach. He was influential in the building of the Lake St. Clair Ship Canal and the Port Huron Customs House. 

Mark Hopkins was the first postmaster of St. Clair. He was a hotelier and went on to railroad fame. 

Henry McMorran owned McMorran and Co. and Michigan Mills. They loaded huge vessels with ground flours. He was also a large chicory coffee producer, among other achievements. He was a philanthropist who built the McMorran Auditorium for the people of Port Huron. 

James W. Sanborn, merchant and seafarer to the West Indies and the Atlantic, came to Port Huron with Abner Coburn, since Governor of Maine, Charles Merrill, and Joseph Kelsey. They located 25,000 acres of land in St. Clair and Sanilac Counties. He went to Lapeer and became a legislative representative. He had large lumber interest on the Saginaw, Muskegon, Ausable, Thunder Bay, Rivers, Pine River in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and Cheboygan, Michigan. He had a quick perception and was far-seeing. He was among the foremost organizers of the Republican Party under the Oak Tree at Jackson, Michigan, making history. He was elected to the House of Representatives, then Commissioner of the State Land Office.

“Aura Stewart’s father, Henry, a distiller, came to Michigan on foot with his brother from New York. He worked at the Distillery of Mack and Miller on Harsens Island, turning grain into whiskey. He had worked in the lumber business and as a farmer and distiller on the Thames in Ontario. 

The Strait of St. Clair and Detroit Rivers was a very rich region. Transportation facilities greatly improved the potential; there was great growth in population in the 1830s and 1840s. Steamers greatly improved transportation on Lake Erie. The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 to circumvent Niagara Falls opened up the West to settlement and reasonable transportation costs”. Aura Stewart

“Enos Goodrich came to Michigan in 1834. His recollection of the journey was in the MPHC, vol. 26, 1896: ‘It was a chill morning in November when our staunch Lake Steamer came up at the dock and disgorged its human freight upon the muddy streets of what then was Detroit, Michigan. The aspect was neither romantic nor inviting. The heavy rains of November had saturated the black mud along the low banks of the river, and it was churned to a thin paste by contact with wheels and hoofs of everything capable of locomotion, for a paved street was what the Michigan of that period had never known. 

About every second man I saw was a Frenchman, and every third man a Negro. The French generally bore indisputable marks of a mingling of Indian blood. 

But to me there was one thing cheering: I had got rid of the seething, nauseating fumes of the greasy sick engine and the deathly sickness produced by the ceaseless rock of the boat, and my number ten Stoga boots were once more planted upon Terra Firma. Passing the rest of that chill November day sizing up the Detroit of 1834 and settling my system from the unpleasant sensations of my first trip across Lake Erie, I took my first night’s slumber on Michigan soil and early the following morning struck out for the still more remote west. I found nothing of that miserable starvation fare at back woods taverns, which so many emigrants complained of. On the contrary, we found the rude tables of the Frontier hostelries bountifully supplied with the necessities of life and what to me were real luxuries, venison and wild honey found in abundance at nearly every meal in the territory. 

I was always an ardent admirer of the works of nature; the Lordly woods, the green fields, the blue skies, the fleecy floating clouds, and the running waters always possessed charms for me which I never found in dusty towns and crowded cities. I have spent some lonesome days in cities, but I never yet saw a lonesome day where I could go out and read in Nature, Nature’s God’”. 

A.M. Beardsley, born in 1815 in the Wooly West, wrote of early life: “A log cabin was 20 feet square with three little seven-by-nine inch, windows, one and a half stories high and roofed with wood shingles. The cabin was furnished with homemade furniture.

Chills and fever came every spring and fall. Mosquitos, fleas, and bedbug pests, millions without number annoyed and sucked the life blood out of us every night. Ponds and lakes then held pestilence and poisons, causing sickness and death. 

The celebration of the completion of the Erie Canal and first public improvements were of great consequence in the New Country. Whiskey was free and gunpowder filled the air over the country. 

Free speech, free press, and free schools make this the Paradise Age of the world. The day of superstition, witchery and omens, signs of the moon and woodchucks are fast fading away. 

Trains cross every township in the country, bringing to our very doors the comfort and luxuries not only of our own state, but from every section of the Union, purchased for a trifle compared to the early days. Travel was by ox team to the Lake to haul salt to preserve bacon.

We rejoiced that those early days are but a memory, and we live in this Golden Age to see the wonderful things man has wrought” (MPHC vol. 5, 28). 

“The first County Court was held at St. Clair Village on January 28, 1822. The first question presented to the court was the application of Andrew Westbrook for a tavern license. James and David Robertson were his bondsmen. The court granted the application provided the tavern be conducted at the Westbrook Dwelling House. William Brown, Moses Birdsal, Zephaniah W. Bunce, and James Robertson were granted a similar license the same day to conduct taverns. On January 30, licenses to keep taverns were granted to Oliver Record and James Fulton. In January 1823, licenses to keep taverns were granted to Reuben Hamilton and Charles Chortier (Western Historical Co.). James Fulton was granted a license to maintain a ferry across Pine River. James Wolverton was granted a like permission to keep a ferry on Belle River. 

When the Erie Canal opened in 1825 to circumvent Niagara Falls, the steamships came in great numbers with hordes of people looking for freedom and cheap land to build farms on. It was a great melting pot of people. The settlement and development of St. Clair County followed slowly, and the population of 327 which had been in the Census of 1820 increased during the decade of 1830 to 1840 from 1,114 to 4,606” (W.L. Jenks SCC Centennial & Home Coming Celebration 1921). 

John Farmer’s maps were potent in bringing emigrants to Michigan. They were sold in the Eastern states in 1830. 15,000 emigrants arrived in 1830, and the steamboats were crowded through 1837 with passengers for Michigan and the West, to say nothing of those who arrived by land and sail vessel. In 1831, in one week 2,000 arrived by steamboat. They came to Michigan to purchase land and settle in Michigan. Steam and sail vessels were crowded to the utmost capacity. On October 7, 1834, four steamboats brought nearly 900 passengers. In 1836, three boats arrived each day with over 700 passengers. On one day in May, 2,400 arrived. The roads to the interior were literally thronged with wagons. One citizen observed a wagon leaving the city every five minutes during the 12 daylight hours. Most of the people were coming from New York and New England. Most of the immigrants were hardy, honest small farmers. 

“There were no records kept of early migrations. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants arrived at ‘The Ellis Island of the Midwest’ in the two decades after the Civil War. Port Huron became the first stop for many immigrants from and through Canada, who crossed at Sarnia in Upper Canada to Port Huron, Michigan, USA. Few roads were available; many stayed in St. Clair County, some went on to Flint and other places in Southern Michigan and the West. Hamilton, Ontario was the checkpoint for immigration by water. St. Albans Border Crossing Records at Vermont, where records include entries from all ports along the Canada and United States border. 

The National Archives has microfilm records of passengers. The LDS Church also has records on microfilm. The Port of Detroit, Michigan recorded land crossings and vessel crossings from Ontario. Manifest records recorded the contents of vessels. The National Archives and LDS offer films of passenger lists of those entering through the Port of Detroit from 1906 to 1954; they include other Michigan ports of entry, Bay City, Detroit, Port Huron, and Sault Sainte Marie. These records are also at other repositories, including the Library of Michigan in Lansing. Another good resource is a book by Jan Steven Zalewski (1993), Guide to Records of Border Crossings between the United States and Canada, 1895 to 1954.

Half of the immigrants came from Canada. Port Huron, next to New York, receives the largest number of any ports in the United States. Between 1860 and 1900, more than 700,000 immigrants came to Michigan, and nearly 400,000 of these new arrivals were born in foreign countries” (Michigan Manual 2001 -2002, the Legislative Service Bureau, Michigan 2002/ Marilyn and Diana Hebner).

There are six official ports along the Michigan-Ontario border:

• Wallaceburg, Ontario (ON) to Algonac, Michigan (MI)

• Windsor, ON to Detroit, MI 

• Sombra, ON to Marine City, MI 

• Sarnia/Point Edward, ON to Port Huron, MI 

• Port Lambton, ON to Roberts Landing, MI

• Sault Ste. Marie, ON to Sault Ste. Marie, MI

“These are the official ports. It was very common for people to cross by boat, canoe, horse, or walk across when the river froze. Only a few records exist for the majority of the crossings from Ontario to Michigan” (Marilyn Hebner, President, SCC Family History Group/MI Genealogical Council. Diana Hebner, Research, SCCFHG and MGC). 

“The long, exposed border was a drawback, the forest and swamps and the Indians who lived there. 

This was the area of greatest immigration next to New York’s Ellis Island. The immigrants came from the world over; there was immense diversity. Many military men came to claim their war bounty lands. Many others sold their land bounties to speculators. Many Germans and Irish came to America and this region beginning in 1670. Dutch, Finns, and Scandinavians came. Later the Italians, Poles, Greeks, Hungarians, and others” (Clever Bald, MI in Four Centuries). 

“The great wave of settlers began coming in the 1830 to 1840s. By 1834, there were 87,278 non-Indians in Michigan, 85,856 living in the Southern Lower Peninsula. In 1837, when Michigan became a State, there were 174,543 people living in Michigan. By 1840, there were 212,267 people living in Michigan. These were mostly farmers from the Eastern states. 

Immigrants sailing across the Atlantic on returning timber vessels carried their own food and bedding and lived huddled below decks for the duration of the trip, taking from 6 to 10 weeks depending on the weather. There was no difficulty, whether the wind was favorable or calm, in distinguishing by odour alone a crowded immigrant ship. The passengers suffered from the ills that crowding brings about and from the ravages of the cholera epidemics of 1832 and 1834. All were detained at the quarantine stations on Grosse Ile. Many a pioneer family left a grave there and arrived with fewer members than it had on leaving Britain” (Canada West Last Frontier).

In 1837, Mr. Trowbridge wrote to Governor Cass in Paris as the U.S. Minister to France: “The opening of navigation has brought us immense crowds of old-fashioned immigrants with their wives and babies and wagons and spinning wheels and a hundred dollars to buy an eighty-acre lot for each of the boys. I never saw so many crowded boats. Yesterday May 28, 1837, our arrivals were eight steamboats, one ship, three large brigs, and nineteen schooners. The day before, seven steamboats arrived. One the preceding day, the James Madison took up the lake upwards of one thousand passengers and the Pennsylvania followed with as many as she could carry. There is as much bustle in our streets as ever, and although money is so very scarce, nobody has failed here and all wear cheerful faces.” 

At Detroit, Mrs. Jameson stated, “there are some excellent shops in the town, a theatre, and a great number of taverns and gaming houses. There is also a great number of bookseller shops. 

One of the local diversions was riding back and forth on the ferry which ran to the Canadian shore. The passengers she described as English emigrants and French Canadians; brisk Americans; dark, sad-looking Indians folded in their blankets; farmers; storekeepers; speculators in wheat; artisans; and trim girls with black eyes and short petticoats, speaking a Norman Patois and bringing baskets of fruit to the Detroit market. 

Captain Marryat said that Windsor had fine stores stocked with choice English goods, sent there “entirely for the supply of Americans by smugglers. There is also a row of tailor shops, for cloth is a very dear article in America and costs nearly double the price it does in the English Provinces. The Americans go over there and are measured for a suit of clothes which, when ready, they put on and cross back to Detroit with their old clothes in a bundle.” 

Mrs. Martineau tells of one settler who three years before had purchased his eighty acres of land for a dollar an acre: “He could now sell it for twenty dollars an acre. He shot last year a hundred deer and sold them for three dollars apiece. . .” 

She tells of coming upon an immigrant party near Ypsilanti, consisting of a woman and her eight children: “She had brought them in a wagon, four hundred miles, and if they could only live through the one hundred miles that remained before they reached her husband’s lot of land, she hoped they might thrive.” 

“This was the raw material of which Detroit and Michigan were wrought – the raw material of strong hands and fearless hearts of devotion and stubborn determination” (Frank Woodford, “Yankees in Wonderland”. Michigan Room SCC Library). 

“The Orphan Train immigrants were homeless and orphaned children from New York and Boston who came on trains to the West. There were 150,000 children who went West for adoption and a home between 1854 to 1929. The children were accompanied with an official who made the arrangements with families who would care for them” (Al and Dave Eicher).

La Riviere Noire – Black River – was an open sewer; residents kept their windows shut. 

“Records were not kept in the early migrations; the people just kept coming. They came on steamers and sailing vessels by the hundreds every day. The population nearly doubled between 1837 and 1845. There was huge economic significance of the railroads to Chicago. This greatly reduced transportation costs. There was now a speedy, reliable service route to the East. 

The traveler of modern days can scarcely appreciate the difficulty of the opening of the Gratiot Turnpike Highway. From Detroit to Port Huron was one vast stretch of forest with slough holes, pit falls, swails, and mud at such frequent intervals as would appall the traveler of today. Four of five miles above Mt. Clemons, the road passed through a swamp which, in the wet season, furnished the wild duck and swan with a swimming place and the Indian with a splendid hunting ground for bird game” (History of St. Clair County MI, Wisc. Hist. Co. p. 150). 

“Reverend Oren Cook Thompson was a well-loved man who did much to provide for education and spiritual needs among the early settlers at St. Clair and among the county residents. He started a school which was to teach many leading men. His home was also a station on the Underground Railroad. 

Sam Edison, father of the famous Thomas Edison, was a supplier to Fort Gratiot. He kept a garden and small dairy on the fort grounds near the North end of Pine Grove Park. Tom’s brother, William, ran an early rail service and transportation service in the city of Port Huron. 

Great highways were planned from Detroit to Lake Michigan and Black River to Grand Rapids. Father Ricard, our Third Territorial Judge, was instrumental in establishing four roads: Fort Gratiot, Pontiac, Grand River, and Detroit and Chicago.

The churches in each village were the primary social functions and religious renewal. The banding of hopes and dreams, the comfort found in togetherness against a hostile society. 

The children went to school for three months in the winter and farmed all summer. A sand box was used for lessons. Teachers were not trained, but those who were educated were sought out. 

In 1837, there was a severe famine; all suffered from it. Everything was recycled: clothes, buildings, bath water, and flour sacks. Bootleggers or kitchen operators were too numerous to mention. Bathtub gin was popular. 

St. Clair County was progressive on building roads. It became the leading road building companies home, they were leading the way to good roads. Road building equipment was made and sold here. Farming equipment was also built here. 

Michigan was the great lever opening up fountains of wealth and civilization. In 1834, many pioneers came to Michigan, it being the West at that time, the Old West. Michigan by nature was the very lap of wealth and power.

In 1855, wheat, corn, grain, potatoes, and lumber were being shipped in great quantities. In 1856, the great tide of emigration from every part of Europe came” (MPHC vol. 38, p. 589). “Most of our great grandparents were among them. The Detroit Port Huron region was the next most important immigration center in the New World next to New York and New Jersey. There was no point of immigration; they just freely came West through Michigan. Many went onward to other points West. There was no written documentation of these early crossings. 

Port Huron, owing to its central location for the important producing and shipping interests, it has become the point from which the major part of these are managed. Being at the end of a road by the rapids at the foot of a long stretch of smooth water, Port Huron naturally became a depot and entrepot for supplies, and so the town grew” (Western Historical Co. History of St. Clair County, MI). 

“In 1857, the Agricultural College of Michigan was established in Lansing, the first of its kind in the nation. 

The Panic of 1857 was a trying time for the citizens of Michigan and St. Clair County. Lumber was not bought, and the people suffered. The value of farm products depreciated and prices of commodities increased. The effect was perceptively visible. Impoverishment and ruin stared many in the face, and escape there from was only accomplished after trials no pen can adequately describe” (Western Historical Co.). 

In 1872, the Michigan Grange was organized to help Michigan farmers. In 1879, the streets of Port Huron were a mess, mainly due to cattle, hogs, and geese wandering through the streets. It was said to be the filthiest American city. Notices were given to owners of cattle or other livestock that they would be impounded if found running at large at night. 

In 1882, Marine City had a major salt company on Catholic Point. 

The country experienced another financial panic in 1890. 

William Bard was the founder of life insurance in America. He was the President of New York Life Insurance and Trust Company. His father was physician to George Washington and his family in New York. His grandfather was the first physician to dissect the human body.

Aura Stewart wrote of the New Country coming in 1815:

“Coming as I did from an inland and thickly settled district, I had seen no flowing water save brooks and rivulets. I had seen no forests but in the distance and, though a boy of twelve, I could not but feel impressed with the beauty of my new home. The dense and almost impenetrable forests, the magnificent River St. Clair, the countless number of every variety of water fowls flying over my head or resting and sporting on the bosom of the beautiful waters, the howling of wolves at night, the constantly passing and repassing canoes of the strange looking Indians, their stealthy tread through the woods and their unintelligible shouts as they passed each other, and last but not least, the merry songs of the French voyageurs toiling at the oar and propelling their boats swiftly over the blue waters – these were new scenes to me and called forth my wonder and delight. 

Nearly sixty years of my life having been spent in Michigan, I have witnessed the improvements made in the county of St. Clair; flourishing towns have sprung up and a large portion of our older settlers have become wealthy. All have shared in the conveniences of modern improvements and comforts. But yet for my own part, I could enjoy no greater pleasure than for a short time to see Michigan as I saw it in 1815, wild and romantic as it then was. Fancy ofttimes leads me back to the dear old primitive days, and then I am a boy again. 

“Alas, the vision lingers not; I am an old man with increasing infirmities and nothing is left me but the memory of the past” (Marine City Gazette 1876/Wisconsin Historical Co.). 

“After the Fur Trade had moved to other areas, there were sawmills and ship building and repair, mining and manufacturing of salt and innumerable other industries, some of which were fisheries, tanneries, cooper shops – barrels, dry docks, ship chandleries and sail makers, breweries and boiler works, carriage and wagon manufacturing, auto plants, manufactured agriculture implements and road making equipment, mule power, street railway, electricity, and street cars. 

The first electrified street railroad in America was in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Port Huron was the first city in the world to have electric cars cross a movable bridge and the first to have street cars lighted with incandescent lamps. 

The whining and screeching of the planing mills mingled with the caulkers’ mallets on the hundreds of boats in Black and St. Clair Rivers. The clang and bang of riveters in the boiler works and shrieks of whistles from tugs working the St. Clair River all made for a mechanical symphony. The vibrant pulsating industries gave the area continued life and economic stability to transition from Lumber Central to a progressive community. 

Michigan, was an empire in itself with the world’s most important inland waterway for transportation. The St. Clair River region led the way both as shipbuilders and masters of ships. There were sloops, schooners, barques, brigs, steamers, barges, and cargo ships” (Mitts, D., As the Wild Goose Flies, The Times Herald, SCC Library, MI Room). 

“James Edward O’Sullivan, a contractor-engineer who envisioned the Grand Coulee Dam, and after untold hardship and ridicule saw it through, had his start in Port Huron.   

Miciah Walker was a self-taught hydraulic engineer who in 1873 established Port Huron Waterworks. He helped in saving millions of dollars of property in Chicago with two fire trucks he was delivering to the area. He built hydraulic engines in Fenton, Michigan at his factory, and became the Walker System of Water Works. He went on to build Waterworks in 15 cities and villages. Michael Walsh was his engineer” (Mitts, That Noble Country).

Thomas Edison spent his boyhood in Port Huron and learned his craft here. There is not space to elaborate on him. There are many other works written about him, and the Internet is a great source. Henry Ford history can also be found on the Internet. Thomas Edison and Henry Ford were lifelong friends. The Port Huron Engine and Thresher Company was one of the manufacturing concerns Henry Ford worked with in development of Ford farm equipment. Trying all types to test and study them, he acquired some of their tractors and every other tractor available, which led to the 1916 Fordson Tractor, which became a famous household word and made Henry a wealthy man. 

Port Huron was the leader in the country for road building equipment. The first mile of macadamized road was birthed here by the Port Huron Engine and Thresher Co. on 24th Street. Port Huron Engine and Thresher Co. was known far and wide as the most complete macadamizing outfit in the world. The first Convention of Road Builders was held in Port Huron. 

The Railroad Tunnel was completed in 1891. Joseph Hobson, Canada’s greatest engineer, was responsible for this great feat, making him world famous for building the first under-river tunnel. He, having worked on the bridges at Niagra and was chief engineer of the Great Western Railroad. In later years, he was chief engineer of the Grand Trunk Railroad, rebuilding Victoria Bridge at Montreal, Ontario over the St. Lawrence River. 

The tunnel between Port Huron and Sarnia was built of solid cast iron plates bolted together. The length of the tunnel is 6,026 feet. A thousand tons of nuts and bolts were used in the construction. The lining of the tunnel weighed 28,000 tons. 

The Detroit Edison Power Plant in Marysville, Michigan was built in 1914. It imploded in 2015, its usefulness over. C. Harold Wills and Henry Ford worked for Detroit Edison Co. They met at night to create the Auto Industry. Wills was the chief engineer for Ford from its inception in 1903. Wills left the company in 1919 and began his own auto co. manufacturing plant in Marysville. He worked for Walter Chrysler, selling patents to him in the 1920s. Francis Malane was the plant manager for, Wills St. Clair. Wills was the founder of Marysville, creating a village for his employees. He produced 14,000 vehicles and closed the plant in 1926.

The “Northern” automobile was manufactured in Port Huron in 1907, Willian E. Metzger organized the company. The EMF Co. was merged with the Studebaker Brothers and became Studebaker Corp. Studebaker cars were manufactured in Port Huron until 1912 and were discontinued in 1964. Harold S. Vance became president. Studebaker later merged with Packard Motor Co. 

Havers Motor Car Company was a Port Huron manufacturing company. Cass Motor Truck began in 1910, as did the Havers Motor Co. 

Buhl Aircraft had a Marysville factory and airstrip at what is now Busha Highway, along the St. Clair River. 

William Pitt Edison had a carriage and transit business that became a train service: The Rapid Transit Service from Port Huron to Detroit, the Electric Interurban Railway, and the Detroit Urban Railway. 

In 1918, snow removal starts on Michigan roads. The automobile was beginning to be used by more people around the 1920s. The passenger train was done in 1926. By 1932, street cars were done. Automobiles and trucks had replaced the horse, boat, and train for passenger transportation and the transport of many goods.

Women were allowed to vote in 1920. 

Small villages and small towns sprung up everywhere, in large measure they were self-sufficient, grouped about the mill. The coming of the railroads changed small town life. Many small towns vanished, leaving not even a trace of the activities of pioneer days. Ghost towns, buildings converted to other uses, or merely a name that is left in some obscure map or paper, or the old folks who remain to remind the next generation of the old days.  

In 1938, the Blue Water Bridge opens. 

The Great Depression came, and all suffered, using up, making do and wearing out whatever they had. Depending on others for kindness to survive. 

In 1941, Michigan was the Arsenal of Democracy for WWII. By 1945, when the War ended, 673,000 Michigan men and women had served. 

In 1957, the Mackinac Bridge was complete, linking the Lower Peninsula of Michigan to the Upper Peninsula. In 1959, the St. Lawrence Seaway opens.

In 1967, the Michigan State Income Tax was enacted. 

In 1973, the Vietnam War ended, and 400,000 Michigan men and women had served. 

Other great men came to and from St. Clair County. These lists are not all inclusive. Jenks (1912) has written three volumes, and Andreas (1884) has written the history and biographical memoirs of St. Clair County. These works are a more complete history of St. Clair County and its men, people and government of the early history as an American Country, the United States of America. 

Part 3 of Ch. 16 will be published in two weeks. Until then, check out Cheryl’s previous excerpts here

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PERIODICALS

Blue Water Indian Pow Wow, 1995, booklet

Friends of the St. Clair River Watershed, Brochure

Harpers Magazine, Vol. 98, Pokagon, Simon, The massacre of Fort Dearborn at Chicago, 1899, www

Marine City Gazette, 1876, Western Historical Co., Aura Stewart, Early St. Clair County

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Sarnia Observer, Shirley Brownlee, 1857, Lumbering, Barnes, Ojibwe, 1967

Saturday Evening Post, 1947, Robert Murphy, Mother Rodd

The Detroit News Tribune, 1896, Dixon, Mother Rodd

The Penny Magazine, April 29, 1837, Ontario, Canada

The Smithsonian, 2014, Amanda Foreman, The Birth of American Freedom and the Founding of the Union

This book came about after a visit to the library where I could not find local Indian History. I grew up in the St. Clair and Black River area of Michigan, fishing on all the area waters with my father and brothers. I loved books, libraries, horses and puzzles; I was not a tech person. I love to cook, garden, travel, and camp. I was determined to find and share the truth. This has been a difficult journey in every way. I give you, the reader, the truth and blessings I also reaped. Cheryl Morgan

Cheryl Morgan lives near Port Huron, Michigan with her husband Tom and dog Fred.

Don’t forget to “like ” us on Facebook!

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