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Souvenirs of Saginaw River Floods of the 1870s

“Apparently this series was popular, for when more than twenty-five inches of rain fell between March 9 and 20 the following year [1871] the flooding returned, and so did the Goodridges with a second Saginaw flood series.” John Vincent Jezierski, The Enterprising Images: The Goodridge Brothers, African American Photographers, 1847 – 1922.

Providing access, transportation and source of food, the Saginaw River system shaped settlement in the region. People settled in the area and thrived, primarily because of the river connection. However, as we have seen from recent events, the rivers can also be unpredictable and incredibly destructive.

As Saginaw grew and boomed in the years following the Civil War, high water and flooding was an unwelcome, common occurrence. It was an especially major problem in downtown East Saginaw. Much of the area – especially between Washington and Jefferson Avenues - had been a bayou, and when the river overflowed its banks, it poured into the streets, homes, barns and elegant new business blocks.

The Goodridge Brothers photographed and documented these floods. The images were made into stenographic views and carefully marketed views. Jezierski notes that the Saginaw Courier reported: “These views have been placed on cards and are for sale. They are an interesting study and will doubtless be valuable in times to come as an illustrated reminder of the great freshet of 1871, the likes of which may never occur again.” Although the paper was certainly correct about the documentary value of the images, it was much less accurate about prognosticating future water levels.

To learn more about the history of the Goodridge Brothers – visit here.

Note: The Castle Museum of Saginaw County History preserves a large collection of Goodridge Brothers stereographic views. Although we are unable to electronically supply the special viewer that would have imparted a three-dimensional effect, the images still are powerful reminder of the power of the nature.

Since 1870, street names have changed – Cass Street is now known as Baum Street and Williams Street is now Janes Street.


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