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As with history itself ....
this page is a work in progress.
IN THE BEGINNING...
Sault Ste. Marie is the oldest city in
Michigan, and among the oldest cities in the United States.
Archaeologists maintain that
ancestors of the present day Chippewa (or Ojibway) Indians
have resided in the Great Lakes region since at least 800 A.D.
Oral traditions speak of a westward migration from the
Atlantic Seaboard, which proceeded through the Great Lakes
region until it came to Sault Ste. Marie, where the migration
wave split into two groups – one went along the north shore of
Lake Superior into Canada, and the other went south of Lake
Superior into Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.
European colonization, The Anishinaabeg (an Ojibwe/Chippewa
word meaning ‘The People’)
gathered here in the summer for the
excellent fishing grounds along the turbulent waters that
linked the Great Lakes of Superior and Huron. The area’s
first full-time residents lived in lodges framed of wood
poles, sheathed with bark or animal hides – They called the area “Bahweting,”
or “The Gathering Place.” The river below the rapids provided
an abundance of fish for the Chippewa, Ottawa and
other Indian tribes from throughout the region who migrated
here during the peak fishing season. During the winter they
isolated to small family groups and hunted in the forests. But
Spring once again brought the families together in camps to
collect maple sap, which was boiled down into sugar; and in
autumn, families gathered to collect wild rice, which was
abundant in many areas. The river was the main gathering place, and this site also
served as the Wadjiwong (Great Hill) Ancient Burial Grounds,
one of the earliest known Anishinaabeg graveyards.
In the 1600’s, French
explorers, Jesuit missionaries, voyageurs and British fur
traders began to venture into the beautiful territory. After
the visit of Étienne Brűlé in 1623, the French called it
"Sault de Gaston" in honor of Gaston (Duke of Orleans) the
brother of King Louis XIII of France. In
1668, Jesuit missionary and explorer Fr. Jacques Marquette
built the first permanent wooden structure in the State of
Michigan; it was a mission for the local Indian population. At
that time, he renamed the settlement Sault Ste. Marie, in
honor of the Virgin Mary—the first "city" in the Great Lakes
While there is some debate on
the exact meaning of "Sault," scholars of early French note
that the word translates into jump, referring to the place
where one needs to "jump", or put into the St. Mary’s River.
This translation relates to the treacherous rapids and
cascades that fall over 20 feet from the level of Lake
Superior to the level of the lower lakes. Hundreds of years
ago, this prohibited boat traffic and necessitated an overland
portage from one lake to the other. This is how Portage
Avenue, the main street running along the river, got its
In the late
1790's, John Johnston was considered to be first permanent
white settler in the Sault. He came with his native wife who
was the daughter of Chippewa Chief Waub-o-jeeg. His eldest
daughter Jane, married Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, who was sent to
the Sault as the Indian Agent with the first U. S. troops. He
became famous for his native American research and writing,
much of it made possible with the assistance of Jane, at first
as interpreter, and her family connections. Two other
daughters also married prominent white men, Anna married James
Schoolcraft, the brother of Henry Rowe Schoolcraft and
Charlotte married a missionary working in Canada named Mr.
MacMurray. A son George worked as a fur trader for a while
and also worked for Henry Schoolcraft in various roles for the
Indian Agency. The youngest daughter, Eliza never married.
Johnston had another son, John McDougall who settled on Sugar
Island (an island along the St. Mary’s river) across from
Canada. John McDougall Johnston was also the last official
Indian Agent in the area.
The homes of
John Johnston and Henry Schoolcraft along with that of Bishop
Frederic Baraga are open to visitors as part of the
City's Historic Homes & Structures
rehabilitation & preservation program.
County Historical Society President, Mary June, graciously
donated this Timeline and History of Sault Ste. Marie
information. The City has a long and interesting
history. This timeline helps walk the reader through local
history from the 1600's through 1977.
the Soo Locks history
US Corps. of Engineers)
The St. Marys River is the only water
connection between Lake Superior and the other Great
Lakes. There is a section of the river known as the St.
Marys Rapids where the water falls about 21 feet from
the level of Lake Superior to the level of the lower
lakes. This natural barrier through navigation made
necessary the construction of the locks project known as
the St. Marys Falls Canal.
The world-famous Soo Locks form a
passage for deep-draft ships around the rapids in the
St. Marys River. Before white men came to the area, the Ojibway Indians who lived nearby portaged their canoes
around the "Bawating" (rapids) to reach Lake Superior
from the St. Marys River.
Early pioneers arriving in the
territory were forced to carry their canoes around the
rapids. When settlement of the Northwest Territory
brought increased trade and large boats, it became
necessary to unload the boats, haul the cargoes around
the rapids in wagons, and reload in other boats.
In 1797, the Northwest Fur Company
constructed a navigation lock 38 feet long on the
Canadian side of the river for small boats. This lock
remained in use until destroyed in the War of 1812.
Freight and boats were again portaged around the rapids.
Congress passed an act in 1852
granting 750,000 acres of public land to the State of
Michigan as compensation to the company that would build
a lock permitting waterborne commerce between Lake
Superior and the other Great Lakes. The Fairbanks Scale
Company, which had extensive mining interests, in the
upper peninsula, undertook this challenging construction
project in 1853.
In spite of adverse conditions,
Fairbanks' aggressive accountant, Charles T. Harvey,
completed a system of two locks, in tandem, each 350
feet long, within the 2 year deadline set by the State
of Michigan. On May 31, 1855, the locks were turned over
to the state and designated as the State Lock.
Boats which passed through the State
Lock were required to pay a toll of four cents per ton,
until 1877, when the toll was reduced to three cents.
Within a few years, commerce through
the canal had grown to national importance, and the need
for new locks became clear. The funds required exceeded
the state's capabilities, and thus, in 1881 the locks
were transferred to the United States government, and
were placed under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers. The Corps has operated the locks,
toll free, since that time.
Learn More about the Soo Locks
from both a historical and modern perspective:
Sault Ste. Marie Convention and Visitors Bureau:
Information on past and present activities at the Soo
Locks and Locks Park.
Soo Locks Visitor Center: The Visitors Center at the Soo Locks
contains a theater featuring films on the historic and
operation of the locks and the St. Marys River, a
large relief map of the Great Lakes region as well as
exhibits, maps and photographs of interest. A
crew of knowledgeable staff is in charge of the
Visitors Center during the tourist season. The center
is open to the public from Mother's Day to
mid-October, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. A public address
system in the observation platform lets visitors know
which vessels are coming through the locks.
U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers: Includes web-cams
of the locks and information on the locks and how they
CITY HALL - A
- HISTORY OF THE CITY HALL SITE
In 1910, construction was completed on
this building to house the U.S. Post Office and various
federal offices. The U.S. Post Office operated from
this building until 1858. Various federal offices
continued to operate here through the early 1870’s,
including a federal court room, the Selective Service,
Immigration and Naturalization. U.S Forest Service, and
Social Security Offices.
In 1981, the Federal Building was
purchased by Delbert W. (Wayne) Zimmerman from the U.S.
Government Services Administration. Then in 1989,
Tendercare (Michigan), Inc. purchased this facility to
house their corporate headquarters for ownership and
management of over 30 nursing homes in Michigan. In
19922, Tendercare signed an agreement to house The River
of History Museum on the main floor of this building.
Prior to the sale of the Tendercare
Corporation on October 31, 2007, Dr. Louis Lukenda and
the Tendercare Board of Directors offered (The Federal
Building) as a gift to the City of Sault Ste. Marie to
serve as a new home for City offices. On October 28,
2007, the City Commission unanimously accepted this very
generous gift on behalf of the community.
On June 7, 2011, the Federal Building
was reopened to serve the citizens of Sault Ste. Marie,
one century after its initial opening in 1910.
more about the site and the renovation project.
Baaweting (Place of the Rapids)
The Anishinaabeg populated the St.
Marys River shore where City Hall now stands
for thousands of years prior to European colonization.
The river was the main gathering place of the
Anishinaabeg, and this site also served as the Wadjiwong
(Great Hill) ancient burial grounds, one of the earliest
known Anishinaabeg graveyards.
Anishinaabeg gathered in Sault Ste.
Marie, then called Baaweting, to harvest the river's
amazing bounty of native fish to sustain them through
the challenging winters. Anishinaabeg from throughout
the Great Lakes Basin also gathered here for spiritual
and social reasons.
In 1820, the Anishinaabeg (Chippewa
Tribe of Indians) ceded a substantial portion of Sault
Ste Marie to the United States. The Anishinaabeg signed
another important treaty here in 1836, ceding most of
what is now the Upper Peninsula and Northern Lower
Michigan to the United States, making Michigan statehood
possible while reserving the right to hunt, fish and
gather in the treaty ceded territory. Today, the
descendants of the Anishinaabeg people play a
significant social and economic role in the City as the
Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.
European Settlement of Sault Ste. Marie
The European history around the rapids
of the St. Marys River began some time between 1618 and
1621 when French explorer Etienne Brule crossed the
northern shore of Lakes Huron, then went up the St.
Marys River into Lake Superior. Subsequent European
explorers to this site included Jean Nicolet, Father
Isaac Jogues, Father Charles Raymbault, Medard Chouary,
and Pierre Esprit Radisson.
In 1668 Jesuit Father Jacques
Marquette established the first European settlement in
present day Michigan when he built a mission in Sault
Ste. Marie. The location of the mission is thought to
be near the northwest corner of the City Hall
According to available historic
records, European presence in Sault Ste. Marie was
somewhat sporadic through the 1700’s. By the late
1700’s, however, a permanent European presence
co-existed with the Chippewas in Sault Ste. Marie.
Military History of the City Hall Grounds
In 1750, Chevalier de Repentigny was
sent by the Governor-General of New France to the Sault
to build a fort to provide a safe retreat for French
Voyageurs traveling the western sea (Lake Superior).
Based on historical maps and excavations, For De
Repentigny straddled Water Street just east of the
City Hall grounds.
In 1763, the treaty of Paris
transferred control of New France (Canada) to the
British. After the Revolutionary War, the treaty of
Paris of 1783 established the St. Marys River as part of
the boundary between U.S. and British Territory.
In order to secure control over this
area, Colonel Hugh Brady was sent by the U.S. Government
to establish a fort in 1822. This fort was originally
built on land that the City Hall now occupies. Fort
Brady remained on this site for 70 years until it was
relocated on the hill overlooking the locks. The site
of the second Fort Brady is now the home to Lake
Superior State University.
HISTORICAL THINGS TO SEE AND DO
Sault Historic Sites:
The Sault Historic Sites was founded in
1967 as a nonprofit corporation with the mission of
restoring, and presenting Sault Ste. Marie
history to visitors and local residents alike.
the Museum Ship Valley Camp, the Sault Historic
Sites now owns and operates several locations in Sault
Museum Ship Valley Camp
Tower Of History
River Of History Museum
Water Street Historic Block
George Kemp Marina
Historic Homes and Historic
Locks Park Walkway
The Historic Locks Park Walkway is an ongoing
community effort, started in 1982, to link the numerous
historic features of the Sault Ste. Marie waterfront. The
reconstruction and interpretation underway at various points
along the Walkway help tell the story behind over 350 years
of the Sault’s heritage.
The Water Street Historic Homes is a rehabilitation project of four
structures that represent over 150 years of the city's
historical development. These four structures include the John
Johnston House, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft House, Bishop Frederic
Baraga House, and Kemp Coal Dock Office Building. These
buildings represent important people and events in which the
city is best known for. The three residences are especially
significant and the local community over the past 50 years has
made efforts to preserve these structures.
Public Library: 541 Library Drive,
Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan (History
& Genealogy Dept)
Eastern Upper Peninsula is an historically significant
area in Michigan and Canadian history. Bayliss Public
Library has a collection of materials of historical and
genealogical interest. Both historians and genealogists
may find valuable resources within this collection.
These materials relate to the history of the Eastern
Upper Peninsula and the people who have resided here.
The focus of this collection is Chippewa, Luce, and
Mackinac Counties. The
collection includes Michigan-related books, documents,
and other materials, plus a variety of indexes,
databases, microfilm, and on-line full text
transcriptions and photographic records.
County Historical Society (CCHS):
A nonprofit organization committed to the preservation
and presentation of the history and culture of Chippewa
County and Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. CCHS promotes public awareness of
local history by sponsoring artistic and cultural
activities. CCHS operates a History Center that will be a
vibrant place where people may encounter, explore, and
learn about the past. It houses a Gift Shop, a display
area, meeting area, office/library space, and the
Register of Historic Places : National Park Services
State Register of Historic Places: MSHDA - Historic
(but certainly not all) of the historic sites in Sault
Ste. Marie are listed on the National and State Historic
Registers; visit the websites listed below to begin
exploring these landmarks.
Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians: History and Culture:
Based in Sault Ste. Marie on the St. Marys River between Lake Superior and Lake Huron,
members of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa
Indians are descended from the Anishinaabeg people who
have lived in the Great Lakes Basin for millennia,
traveled from coast to coast in migrations and trading.
Today's tribe is a sovereign "nation within a nation"
that has preserved its history and culture and rekindled
its native language to pass down to the seventh
generation. Learn more about the Sault Tribe from
early days right up to today.
Chippewa County Genealogical Society
Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan
225 E Portage Avenue - Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan 49783