Saginaw: A Historic Michigan City

If you’re traveling in mid-Michigan, you may want to stop by the city of Saginaw. Located along the banks of the Saginaw River, the city proudly boasts many original buildings from its early history. Originally populated by Native Americans and then French missionaries and traders, Saginaw grew in the mid-1800s. The city enjoyed its first economic heyday in the 1870s and 80s from its lumber and salt production. Economies of other states relied upon lumber from the Saginaw Valley for the construction of buildings and furnishings in rapidly expanding cities. Michigan hardwood was prized for its density and scarce knots—at one point producing ¼ of the nation’s lumber (much of that lumber coming from the Saginaw Valley region). Lumber and salt made many men (and one woman) rich. Those lumber barons endowed public libraries, built extravagant clubs, and constructed magnificent mansions. As lumbering died down in the area, Saginaw entrepreneurs found alternative ways to make money. Numerous businesses kept Saginaw citizens employed and the wealth of the area growing. In the 20th century, the automobile industry would come to dominate Saginaw’s economy. Today, Saginaw’s history is on display for all those traveling to the area. You can visit the Castle Museum of Saginaw County History (a former post office) to see exhibits about the area’s culture. View a video clip of the Roaming Historian at the Castle Museum. The Saginaw Art Museum, a former mansion, displays works of art of local and national renown. The opulent Temple Theatre is a perfect place to attend a show, or you can grab a drink in a saloon that’s been standing in the same place since the lumbering days—the Schuch Hotel. For whatever reason you may stop by Saginaw, make sure you check out this Michigan city’s historical sites before you leave.

The following photo gallery highlights some of my favorite historical buildings and “can’t-miss” places. The visual tour starts in the downtown area leading you down scenic Washington Ave. where many former mansions are located. After passing these grand buildings of yore, you can choose to visit the Saginaw Zoo or the Japanese Cultural Center before passing by Saginaw’s ornate water treatment plant.  Before you cross the bridge over to the historic “Old Town” area, you may want to have a picnic on Ojibway park (to your right on Ezra Rust Avenue) or explore the rose gardens to your left. Across the bridge are several eateries and shops housed in century-old buildings. Enjoy a little shopping before you head down to see the art collections housed in a beautiful mansion. Explore the English gardens out back of the Saginaw Art Museum–be sure to bring your art materials (or at least a camera)—the view is sure to inspire.  I hope that you get a chance to see some of these gems when traveling to Saginaw, Michigan.

Tip: When traveling to non-touristy areas like Saginaw, I make it a point to stop by local antique stores, artisan shops, and other small businesses. Since merchants in non-tourist areas can’t count on travel dollars, their prices are generally geared to match what the local economy can bear. I’ve found antiques, art, hand-crafted chocolates, and a slew of other treasures for a relative steal while gaining the benefit of being able to support small business owners. It ‘s a win-win travel tip!

Disclosure: Although I truly believe that the Castle Museum is a gem, I want my readers to know that I sit on the Board of Directors of this organization. This position is unpaid and I derive no financial benefit from promoting the Castle Museum. I have enjoyed this beautiful building and its collections since I was a child and I would do a disservice to my readers not to let you know about this downtown gem. But in the interest of full disclosure, I do want you to know my role in its operation.