How Did Michigan Cities Get Their Names? Part 10

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, Part 8 and Part 9.

Today, check out part ten, which shares the stories of how five more Michigan cities were named.

Charlotte

The area that would become Charlotte was owned by the U.S. Government until 1832, when George Barnes purchased the land. Barnes in turn sold the land to Edmond B. Bostwick, a land speculator from New York City three years later in 1835. Bostwick then sold a portion of the land to H.I. Lawrence, Townsend Harris and Francis Cochran. These four men can be credited for developing the village which they named after Bostwick’s wife, Charlotte. Charlotte was incorporated as a village on October 10, 1863 and as a city on March 29, 1871. It was designated as the county seat when Eaton County was organized in 1837; however, due to a lack of population and buildings, county functions were conducted at Bellevue until 1840.

Sparta

The Sparta area was first settled in 1844, with the township formally organized in 1846. The first settler in what is now the village was Jonathan Nash in 1846. Calling the place Nashville, he built a sawmill on Lick Creek. Subsequently, he changed the name of the creek to Nash Creek. Seeing as there was already a Nashville in Michigan, the state legislature suggested Sparta. The village was platted in 1867 and incorporated in 1883.

Alpena

Alpena County was first named “An-a-ma-kee,” or “Thunder,” in honor of an old Chippewa chief of the Thunder Bay band who had signed a treaty negotiated with Henry Schoolcraft in 1826.  After studying the Indian legends around the word “An-a-ma-kee” (or Animikee), Henry Schoolcraft concluded that the name was not completely appropriate.  Then he manufactured the name Alpena from “Al,” an Indian syllable meaning the, and either “pinai,” an Arabic word meaning “partridge,” or “peanaisse,” an old French word meaning “bird.”

Frankfort

In 1855 a fellow by the name of Frank Martin built a home on the northern shores of the swamp delta of the Betsie River.   But then big snowdrifts surrounded the house; so Frank built a wooden stockade around it to keep the snowdrifts away.    His neighbors thought it looked like a fort, so when the neighbors referred to Martin’s home they called it “Franks Fort”.  As time went on, you guessed it, it was shortened to Frankfort and the town had a name.

Clarkston

Linux Jacox from New York built the first house in Clarkston in 1830. He sold his claim to Butler Holcomb in 1831. In 1832, Holcomb built the second house and a sawmill on sections 20 and 21. The town was named for the Clark brothers, from New York. Jeremiah Clark, from Onondaga County, New York, came to Detroit in 1831, and in the autumn of 1832 located on section 7 in Independence Township where he built a log cabin. Among his three children were three boys, Edwin, Milton and Newton. Nelson W. Clark arrived in 1836 and became a prominent citizen in the township. In 1838, Holcomb sold his interests to the Clark brothers, who then built a grist mill. In 1842, the Clark brothers platted a tract of land on section 20 for a village and gave it the name Clarkston.

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.