Bay City, Michigan, (population 36,817) was founded in 1857. It is located near the mouth of the Saginaw River, which drains the Saginaw Valley and flows into the Saginaw Bay of Lake Huron. 

Shipyards in Bay City began opening during the 1850s and 1860s, building tugboats, yachts, and larger sailing ships. Shipbuilders such as Wheeler, Davidson, and Defoe continued turning out large freighters and several U.S. Navy vessels through the end of World War II. 

During the 1870s, logging and lumbering employed more workers than any other industry in the United States, and the industry’s epicenter was the Saginaw Valley. During peak years, some 10,000 workers were employed in more than 100 steam-powered sawmills along the river in Bay City, including the two largest in the world, the McGraw and Sage mills. By the early 1900s, lumbering had diminished, but Bay City remained the nation’s largest manufacturer of pre-cut mail order homes by the Aladdin, Lewis-Liberty, and Sterling companies.  

Other important industries also emerged during the early 1900s, including heavy equipment manufacturing, sugar beet processing, and coal extraction. More recently, auto parts manufacturing and tourism have become important elements of Bay City’s economy. 

After sitting idle for over three decades, Bay City’s only remaining railroad depot, the 1904 Pere Marquette, is once again becoming a center of activity. The exterior is being restored, and the interior will house a community foundation and the city’s convention and visitors bureau. 

The Historical Museum of Bay County draws visitors from around the world with its maritime galleries and changing exhibits on the people and industries of the area. Visitors also enjoy free, narrated river tours highlighting historical riverfront sites and community history. Other tours include Historic Trolley Tours that highlight different aspects of the city’s past and the annual Tour of Homes, which includes in-depth histories of houses along the route. 

Bay City celebrates River of Time, a living history event that attracts more than 50,000 visitors each year. The park is turned into a pioneer village and hundreds of re-enactors perform in several period encampment sites, depicting the Colonial period, the French and Indian War, and the Civil War.  

Designated a Preserve America Community in October 2007.

For more information

City of Bay City Historic District Commission

Convention & Visitors Bureau