Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, (population 14,324) located on the St. Mary’s River, is the oldest city in Michigan. For hundreds of years prior to the arrival of European settlers, Native Americans on the northern lake used the banks of the St. Mary’s River as a gathering place, as well as a source of food, fish, and game.
The first French explorers passed through in 1622, finding the area to be the center of Native American life in the upper Great Lakes. In 1668, Sault Ste. Marie was founded by Father Jacques Marquette as one city separated by the St. Mary’s River. The community later was split in two when the Upper Peninsula was transferred from Canada to the United States in 1797.
With discovery of copper and iron ore in the western reaches of Lake Superior, commerce and trade experienced major growth, leading to the development of the first American lock in 1855. In time, additional locks would be constructed and enlarged.
The Sault Ste. Marie Foundation for Culture and History provides ongoing and extensive outreach to the local student population. Summer camps provide lessons in local history and hands-on archaeological digs at the site of the old Fort Brady military camp.
The museum ship Valley Camp offers tours of the ship’s crew quarters, pilothouse, engine room, and upper deck. The cargo hold allows for more than 100 exhibits, featuring shipwreck artifacts from the ill-fated freighter Edmund Fitzgerald.
The city of Sault Ste. Marie, in partnership with the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society, secured a $100,000 grant through the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Clean Michigan Initiative to restore the exterior of the 1899 U.S. Weather Bureau Building. The historical society occupies the building, a contributing structure to the St. Mary’s Falls Canal National Historic Landmark through a long-term lease from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The Chippewa County Historical Society, in conjunction with the city of Sault Ste. Marie and the Sault Ste. Marie Downtown Development Authority, worked to stabilize and substantially rehabilitate the historic “News Building,” the last surviving example of Romanesque Revival in the city. It is now used as the headquarters for the historical society, which opens historic waterfront homes to the public during the summer tourism season. Actors and musicians in period costumes and local artisans and craftspeople enhance these events. A grant from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs allowed the professional videotaping of the performers to be shown during the winter months at the historical society building.
Designated a Preserve America Community in January 2009.