Evidence of human habitation in the Saginaw Valley, home to the city of Saginaw (population 57,523), reaches back 12,000 years. The first permanent settlement dates to 1816, when Joseph Campau set up a trading post. Shortly thereafter the United States established Fort Saginaw. The area continued to grow, and lumber production became the area’s largest industry. By 1855 there were 23 sawmills producing 100 million board feet of lumber a year.
The current city of Saginaw is actually the result of two municipalities, Saginaw and East Saginaw, merging in 1899. Lumber production gave way to automobile manufacturing in the 20th century. During this time Saginaw saw a large swell in population due to immigration, particularly by African Americans from the American south. By the end of the 20th century the automobile industry was in decline.
Thanks to its rich history, Saginaw has a number of cultural resources to share with locals and visitors. The Castle Museum, operated by the Saginaw County Historical Society, provides exhibits on local history and industry, and is also the home of the Saginaw Voyageurs. The Voyageurs are a living history reenactment group that recreates the journeys of the original voyagers who traveled from Montreal, Quebec to Saginaw. The Voyageurs have traveled the entire route in a 34-foot canoe now on display at the museum.
The Juneteenth Creative Cultural Center & Museum in Saginaw is dedicated to promoting Juneteenth (June 19, 1865) as African American Independence Day. The museum is open year round for visitors interested in African and African Diaspora cultural heritage, and hosts annual observances.
Saginaw is located within the Motor Cities National Heritage Area and participates in regional promotion of itineraries that explore the area’s automotive heritage.
Saginaw’s Elf Khurafeh Shriners built the Temple Theatre in 1927 as a theater and clubhouse. The theater was once known as the “Showplace of Northeastern Michigan,” but 75 years later was in a severe state of disrepair. A local family stepped in, bought the theater, and began a complete restoration of the 1,750-seat Temple Theatre and the adjacent Temple Ballroom. The city of Saginaw brokered a deal to sell the nearby Tower building to the family for $1, and two preservation projects were completed in historic downtown Saginaw. About $5 million was invested in the Temple Theatre/Elf Khurafeh Complex. Today, the Temple Theatre is mid-Michigan’s premier entertainment venue for concerts, movies, live performances, and more.
Designated a Preserve America Community in March 2008.