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An Early Look at Zilwaukee Township & Village

“Zilwaukee Township comprised at its organization, Jan. 20, 1854, all the land within its present limits, together with a large tract on the east side of the river, since, annexed to Buena Vista. Within the township proper are four villages or settlements: Bliss Mill settlement, containing a population of 174; Melbourne settlement, with 315 inhabitants; New York works settlement of 145 inhabitants and Zilwaukee village, containing a population of 915. The township outside these centers is thinly settled, containing only 81 people. The entire population is 1,630. The land along the river is low and marshy. The people look to the great industries of Rust, Eaton & Co., the New York works, Burt's mill and other factories as the main pillar of support.”History of Saginaw Co. Michigan, published by Charles C. Chapman, 1881. Photo: Postcard Souvenir of Zilwaukee

While the current health situation may prevent us from physically exploring our communities, it doesn't stop us from using other resources to study their histories. Often maps highlight the changing boundaries and landscapes of our county with a clarity that cannot be matched by text. As you look at these maps of Zilwaukee Township, you might want to compare them with a current map of the area.

Although the city of Zilwaukee was incorporated in 1964, the township of Zilwaukee traces it roots back much further. According to James C. Mills', History of Saginaw County, Michigan, the first purchase of land occurred in 1835 by a man named Fitzhugh. Actual development started after 1847, when Daniel and Solomon Johnson acquired the village site. (If you look at historic and current maps of Zilwaukee you find streets named after early developers and settlers of the community.)

1896 map of Zilwaukee

Mills stated, “The Johnsons were ambitious to make Zilwaukee an important point on the Saginaw River. Since the Carrollton [sand] bar often prevented the larger class of lake vessels from passing up to Saginaw City, he regarded Zilwaukee as the head of navigation, and frequently expressed his conviction that this was the best and logical place for a large city, which would the metropolis of Saginaw Valley.

In 1858, Truman Fox stated in his History of Saginaw County from 1819 down to the Present, “The principal business of the place at present is lumbering which carried on here to quite an extent.”

Comparing the 1877 map with the 1896 version, reveals a profound change in Zilwaukee's boundaries. Shortly after the earlier map was designed, a segment of the eastern portion of the township was transferred to Buena Vista Township. In 1881, the township was further reduced in size when the northern portion transferred to Bay County.    


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