Saginaw Facts & History

Geography

The Saginaw community is located in Mid-Michigan, in a region known as the Tri-Cities area (Saginaw, Midland, and Bay City). It’s comprised of slightly over 800 square miles of excellent agricultural land, forests, waterways, and industrial areas. To the south are the major industrial cities of Flint and Detroit. To the north are Michigan’s wonderful natural attractions of lakes, recreation areas, and the Upper Peninsula.  To the west is the heart of Michigan, and to the east is Michigan’s Thumb, an area renowned for its admirable farming industry. Saginaw is a community truly situated at the center of Michigan and all of its attractions. 

Within and around Saginaw County are several smaller communities, each with their own appeal. Nearly three million visitors arrive each year in Frankenmuth to experience its Bavarian architecture, attractions, and its world-famous Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland store.  Midland and Freeland are located very close to the MBS Airport (Tri-City
International Airport), Michigan’s third-largest commercial airport, and contain diverse educational, retail, service, and industrial businesses.  And Chesaning is renowned for its history and the Chesaning Showboat.

Saginaw County Map

History ¹

The earliest evidence of a population in the Saginaw Valley is from Paleo-Indian nomads of around 12,000 years ago. They came to the Saginaw Valley to hunt the mammoth and other big game. They left behind them permanent records of their existence in some of the most valuable archaeological sites in Michigan.  The population changed from nomadic Paleo-Indians to the Early Archaic culture, then to the Middle Archaic culture, when the first permanent Indian settlements were made at around 3000 B.C.

The Early Woodland cultures followed, including the Hopewell Indians – the prehistoric mound builders – who settled along the Saginaw River around 500 B.C. By the time the first European explorers and missionaries arrived around 1650, the Late Woodland Indians were occupying the river settlements. The name Saginaw is derived from an Ojibway term “O-Sag-e-non” or “Sag-in-a-we” that means “to flow out” and probably refers to the outflow of the Saginaw River into the Saginaw Bay. The Ojibway were one of the Late Woodland Indian cultures.

Immediately after the War of 1812, the American Fur Company established a trading post on the west side of the Saginaw River. Fort Saginaw was built at what is now Court and Hamilton Streets in 1822 but, due to the mosquito-infested swampland surrounding it, it was abandoned in 1823. In 1836, Saginaw City, population 400, was founded by Norman Little. By the middle of the century, the population grew to 900, due in part to the German immigrants who established agricultural settlements in the area.
Due to infusions of capital by Jesse Hoyt of New York, residents flourished on the eastern side of the Saginaw River as well and East Saginaw was incorporated as a village in 1854. The value of the land’s forests was heavily publicized by Norman Little and in 1855 there were 23 sawmills in the area producing a hundred-million board feet of lumber a year. By the 1880s, two sawmills alone each produced over 50 million board feet.

Intense rivalry and competition developed between Saginaw City and East Saginaw, with the latter being much more prosperous due to funds given by Jesse Hoyt. The rivalry resulted in many civic improvements for both, and a severe case of one-upmanship between the two communities.  Architecturally, East Saginaw prospered quite well, with an elaborate 1898 French chateau-style post office (today it’s a museum) and a grand Richardsonian-style library built in 1890 named the Hoyt Library. The library was made possible by a gift of $100,000 from Jesse Hoyt in 1883, plus additional funds afterward.

From the late 1800s to the current day, Saginaw (the combination of both Saginaw City and East Saginaw) has seen its share of memorable events, tragedies, and  accomplishments. It saw the transition from carriage works to one of the country’s first automobile dealerships, from peacetime activities to being a key manufacturer of wartime materiél.  It saw its residents become famous, such as actress Marie Dressler and cowboy actor Tim McCoy. It had part of itself destroyed in a terrible fire and severe floods, and rebuilt to greater proportions. By virtue of it all, the people of the community of Saginaw can be proud of their heritage.

¹ Historical material obtained from Saginaw’s Changeable Past: An Illustrated History, by Jeremy W. Kilar, G. Bradley Publishing, Inc. 1994

Industry & Commerce

Saginaw has over 8,000 business listings, including many in major industries such as Eaton Corporation, the Saginaw and Central Foundry Divisions of GM, Saginaw Machine Systems, and Thompson Saginaw Ball Screw. There are three hospitals within the county. The service industry is heavily represented by the Fashion Square Mall and many shopping plazas throughout the city and township, numerous professional office centers, and a wide variety of restaurants.

Arts, Leisure, and Attractions

Recreational opportunities within and around Saginaw include its many parks, the Saginaw Children’s Zoo, various fairs, the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, museums, theaters, gardens, a waterpark, and a symphonic orchestra. Other attractions include a farmers´ market that dates back to the turn of the century, the Japanese Cultural Center with its tea house and gardens, annual summertime athletic events, horseback riding, golf, tennis, boating, fishing, and hunting.