How Did Michigan Cities Get Their Names? Part 9

In our ongoing series of how cities in Michigan got their names, we’ve been able to share with you the history of cities from around our state. In case you missed them, here are Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7 and Part 8. This week, check out part nine, which shares the stories of how five more Michigan cities were named.

Bay City
Bay City was first known as the village of Lower Saginaw in 1838. Its name was changed to Bay City when Bay County was organized in 1857. By 1860, Lower Saginaw was becoming a bustling community of about 2,000 with several mills, and many small businesses in operation. In 1865, the village of Bay City was incorporated as a city. It was a time of rapid growth with lumbering and shipbuilding, creating many jobs.

Menominee
Menominee gets its name from a regional Native American tribe known as the Menominee, which roughly translates into “Wild Rice.” The area was originally the home of the Menominee Indian Tribe. They now have a reservation along the Wolf River in North Central Wisconsin. Menominee gained prominence as a lumber town. In its heyday Menominee produced more lumber than any other city in America.

Pontiac
The first settlers arrived in what is now the City of Pontiac in 1818. Two years later there were enough people there to form a village named after the famous Indian Chief (Chief Pontiac) who had made his headquarters in the area only a few years prior. The village was officially recognized by the state legislature in 1837 and it incorporated as a city in 1861.

Rockford
The first important settler of what would become the city of Rockford was Smith Lapham. Lapham built his own sawmill on his side of the river, which was completed by 1844. Other settlers soon followed. By the fall of 1845, the settlement had about 5 houses. Since the settlement existed largely on land owned or sold by Smith Lapham, it became known as Laphamville. By 1865 the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad Company had begun a railroad extending northward through the village. The railroad had been advising the residents to adopt a shorter name, and when a newly arrived resident from Rockford, Illinois proposed the name of his former town, the new name was narrowly approved. It was replatted under the name Rockford in 1865 and incorporated as the Village of Rockford in June 1866 with 315 inhabitants.

Marysville
Edward P. Vickery settled at the present day foot of Huron Boulevard in Marysville. He named the operation Vickery’s Landing and the settlement surrounding it eventually became known as Vicksburg. However, there was already another Vicksburg, Michigan, so in 1859 the name was changed to Marysville, after Nelson Mill’s (an entrepreneur in the area) wife Mary.

How Did Michigan Cities Get Their Names? Part 8

In our ongoing series of how cities in Michigan got their names, we’ve been able to share with you the history of cities from around our state. In case you missed them, here are Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6 and Part 7. This week, check out part seven, which shares the stories of how five more Michigan cities were named.

Escanaba
As is the case with several cities in Michigan, Escanaba’s name comes from Native American language. Escanaba is actually an Ojibwa (Chippewa) Indian word meaning “flat rock.” The name stuck when European settlers arrived and began lumber operations there in the 1830s. The community was officially incorporated in 1863, when the Chicago and North Western Transportation Company built the first iron-ore dock on Lake Michigan.

Benton Harbor
Benton Harbor was founded on a swampy area bordered by the Paw Paw River, through which a canal was built, creating a harbor. It was originally called Brunson Harbor after Sterne Brunson, one of the city’s founders. However, in 1865 the name was changed to Benton Harbor to honor Thomas Hart Benton, a Missouri Senator who helped Michigan achieve statehood. In 1869, Benton Harbor was organized as a village and in 1891 was incorporated as a city.

Hamtramck
Hamtramck’s name has been a subject of confusion for several years, but it was actually named for Colonel John Francis Hamtramck. Col. Hamtramck was a French-Canadian soldier who fought for the Americans during the American War for Independence. He was at the surrender of Detroit from the British in 1796 and shortly afterwards built a home near the present entrance to the Belle Isle Bridge. When Wayne County was organized in the early 1900’s the area was formally named.

Fenton
There aren’t many cities in Michigan that can claim their names were the result of a night of cards like Fenton can. The city was originally called Dibbleville in honor of Clark Dibble, who first settled the area. However, in 1837 William M. Fenton (a lawyer and land speculator) and Robert LeRoy (a land speculator) played a game of cards in which LeRoy lost, with Fenton getting to change the name. The consolation prize of the game, given to Robert LeRoy, was putting his name to LeRoy Street, the main route through the city. The game didn’t stop at one hand. The men continued on naming other streets, choosing names (like Adelaide and Elizabeth) in turn, according to the fall of the cards.

Omer
Michigan’s self-proclaimed smallest city (it’s actually 2nd smallest according to 2010 U.S. census data) was originally intended to be called “Homer” by its founders by George Gorie and George Carscallen, who set up a sawmill along the Rifle River in the mid-1860s. The town was first named Rifle River Mills, but Carscallen wanted to rename the town as Homer. However, he found a post office in another town with that name, so he simply dropped the leading H, producing the final name. Omer was incorporated as a city following the lumber boom of 1903.

How Did Michigan Cities Get Their Names? Part 7

In our ongoing series of how cities in Michigan got their names, we’ve been able to share with you the history of cities from around our state. In case you missed them, here are Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6. This week, check out part seven, which shares the stories of how five more Michigan cities were named.

Holland
As you might have guessed, Holland was settled by Dutch immigrants. They were looking to escape social, cultural and economic troubles in Europe in the 1840’s. The settlement established by them was known as the “Holland Kolonie.” It was formally founded in 1847.

Pigeon
Started as a railroad town in 1883, Pigeon was originally called Berne Junction. However, the new community began calling it Pigeon due to the nearby Pigeon River. The river was named for the huge flocks of passenger pigeons that lived near the river. It’s said the flocks were so thick that, when flying, they blacked out the sky. Despite this though, the passenger pigeon was named extinct by 1914.

Ypsilanti
Like Pigeon, Ypsilanti wasn’t always known by the name is has today. The city was originally a trading post set up in 1809 and called Woodruff’s Grove after Major Thomas Woodruff. The name was later changed to Ypsilanti in 1829 in honor of Demetrius Ypsilanti. Ypsilanti was a hero in the Greek War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire.

Munising
Munising is a Native American name meaning “Place of the Great Island.” In 1820 the Chippewa village was located at the mouth of the Anna River, but they later moved camp to Sand Point. Munising was actually officially founded in 1850, but the first civilization was built in Au Train. The town consisted of thirty homes, one blacksmith shop, the bay furnace, a sawmill and a government lighthouse.

Gaylord
Gaylord’s namesake comes from Augustine Smith Gaylord. It was established in 1872 and named Barnes, but it was changed a year later to honor Gaylord, who was an attorney for the Jackson, Lansing, Saginaw railroad. Still, if you were to ask someone why the name was changed just a year later to Gaylord, no one could tell you as the reason for doing so has been lost!