How Did Michigan Cities Get Their Names? Part 2

Last week, we shared the first part in our series explaining how Michigan cities were named. This week, check out part two, which shares the story of how five more states were named.

How the name of Michigan’s capital city came to be is a fun story. In the 1830s, two brothers from New York tried to scam their fellow statesman by going to Lansing, New York, and trying to sell plots of land in an area of Michigan that was underwater most of the year. When men who bought plots of land realized they had been scammed, they settled in the area that is now metropolitan Lansing and renamed the area “Lansing Township” as an homage to their home village in New York. In 1847, the state constitution required that the capital of Michigan be moved out of Detroit. Lansing Township was chosen out of frustration with the process.  In 1848, the area was eventually given the name of Lansing. From November 9 – 17, check out the Lansing Film Festival, which will feature foreign films, documentaries and student productions from around the world.

Ann Arbor:
There are a couple theories about the origin of Ann Arbor, but the most agreed-upon theory revolves around two men named John Allen and Elisha Ramsey, two pioneers who were part of a group of settlers who set up a community by the Huron River in 1824. Both Rumsey and Allen’s wives were named Ann, and the word “arbor” means “a leafy, shady recess formed by tree branches, shrubs, etc.,” which perfectly describes the landscape of the area in 1824. Explore this city that does things a little bit differently:

Surrounded in mystery and legend, Petoskey is said to be named after the son of a French fur trader and Ottawa princess. He was named Petosegay. The translation of the name is “rising sun,” “rays of dawn,” or “sunbeams of promise” due to the bright light that shone on his face near the Kalamazoo river when he was born. He was a successful merchant and trader, who also married an Ottawa princess. It’s said a small settlement was started on his land just a north of Bear Creek and was named Petoskey (an English translation) after him. Petoskey is known for its bike trails, including Little Traverse Wheelway, a 26-mile stretch that follows the shoreline from Charlevoix north to Harbor Springs.

Bad Axe
While surveying Huron County in 1861, Rudolph Papst and George Willis Pack made camp and found a badly damaged axe at the site. The camp became known as Bad Axe Camp after a sign Papst placed at the camp and near a trail. When he returned from the Civil War in 1870, he founded a small city in the place of the camp. It was called Bad Axe.

Sault Sainte Marie:
The origin of the name of the oldest city in Michigan goes back to the 1600s, when French missionaries and fur traders went into the area, calling it Sault du Gastogne. In 1668, Fr. Jacques Marquette, who you may remember from the story of Ludington’s history in part one,  renamed the settlement Sault Ste. Marie, in honor of the Virgin Mary—the first “city” in the Great Lakes region.  Fun fact: Native Americans gathered here more than 2,000 years ago for the wealth of fish and fur and called the area “Bahweting,” or “The Gathering Place.” In February, check out the 44th Annual International I-500 Snowmobile Race, also nicknamed “NASCAR on Ice.”

  • Lynn Anderson

    You should add how Novi got its name – it was the #6 stagecoach stop on the Detroit-to-Chicago route. Using Roman numerials, that would be shown as No. VI – eventually becoming Novi!

  • Adam

    @Lynn – That’s a common myth. Here’s an excerpt from “Several popular but historically inaccurate explanations have been given for the origin of the name Novi. One version is that it was named after the 6th tollgate (No. VI) on the Grand River toll road. However, the township was named in 1832 and the toll road was not constructed until the 1850s. A similar claim is made about the township being stop number 6 on the railroad. However, the Holly, Wayne and Monroe (now CSX) railroad was not constructed through the township until 1870 – 1871, almost 40 years after it was named.”

  • Matt

    How about one on my hometown? — Temperance!

  • Cindy Ruschke

    I was told Clio was a stop on the train route- County Line 10 – CLIO

  • Pingback: sled trader | Latest Auto News

  • Pingback: How Did Michigan Cities Get Their Names? Part 3 | Pure Michigan Connect

  • Joy W

    Would you do one on Saranac please? It’s a great town. We heard it was named for an Indian princess, but could have been named after Saranac Lake NY, too. Thanks.

  • Pingback: William Brundage – Max Broock Realtors – Bloomfield Hills, Birmingham MI Michigan, Sylvan Lake Homes – Real Estate – Luxury » » How Did Michigan Cities Get Their Names? Parts 1, 2 and 3

  • Sharon

    how did Mesick get it’s name?

  • Scott

    Mesick was named after an explorer who, while walking through the Mesick area fell to the ground screaming “Me sick! Me sick!” due to a stomach ailment. He has since died, sorry to say.

  • Pingback: Pure Michigan Blog | How Did Cities Get Their Names? Part 4 | Pure Michigan Connect

  • Pingback: Pure Michigan Blog | How Did Cities Get Their Names? Part 6 | Pure Michigan Connect

  • Jerry

    Mesick was named after the man that founded it Howard Mesick. All of the roads are named after his children. he started the first lumber mill in town. I never heard the story that Scott has told but it is a good STORY!

  • Pingback: Pure Michigan Blog | How Did Cities Get Their Names? Part 7 | Pure Michigan Connect

  • Tim Gilkerson

    As the story goes, said found tool was actually referred to as a nasty hatchet, which evolved into Bad Axe because it sounded better.

  • Mona M

    Hi, how did they come up with the name for Burton, MI? (by Flint, MI)
    Thanks, I know it started out as Atherton Settlement in 1835 on Tread Creek with the Atherton family coming from NY. and the Atherton School was started by the daughter Betsy Atherton in 1836, it became Burton township in the 1850′s but after who?
    Thanks Mona