Bay City, Michigan was once – quite reasonably – known as “Lower Saginaw,” being located along the Saginaw River, in Saginaw County and south of its larger neighboring city, Saginaw. However, large ships ran into problems shipping to Saginaw due to its shallow shipping lanes. “Lower Saginaw” was blessed with deep waters and, thus, became a more reasonable location for the growth of the industry, much of which relied on shipping. “Lower Saginaw” outgrew its namesake and its name was changed to Bay City. It later became the most populous community in the county and the location of the county seat. Bay City has a population of approximately 34,424 residents and a median income of $35K.
During the mid-19th century, Bay City was a thriving trade center, owing to its deep shipping lanes and wealth of timber. Much of its industry, logically, was tied up in shipbuilding, milling, and lumber. Primarily because of these industries, Bay City enjoyed an economic boom in the mid-19th century. Enterprising industrialists amassed fortunes and constructed vast mansions, many of which are now historical monuments.
Madonna, often called the Queen of Pop, was born and raised in Bay City, MI. Her hit song, “This Used to be My Playground,” was purportedly written after a visit to her childhood home. She is the recipient of over 200 awards and has been inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Despite these accolades and her global stardom, Bay City has not yet followed suit with the likes of Liverpool (home of The Beatles) and Tupelo, Mississippi (home of Elvis Presley) in advertising its homegrown musical talent. She once caused a local uproar by referring to her home town, albeit affectionately, as a “smelly little town in Northern Michigan.” She followed up moments later, saying, “I have great affection for Bay City.”
The words ‘Bay City’ might also bring to mind another musical act, Bay City Rollers. However, that group is not from Michigan, or even from the United States. They were a Scottish rock group, best known for the hit “Saturday Night,” who picked their band’s name by throwing a dart at a map. The dart landed right next to Bay City, and thus the name Bay City Rollers was born.
Bay City is well known in the area for its nearly year-round festivals, celebrating everything from boat racing (Bay City River Roar Races) and beer tasting (Apps & Ales) to Santa Clause (Santa’s Arrival) and waterfalls (Friday at the Falls.) In particular, the Bay City Fourth of July Fireworks Festival attracts visitors from all over America and boasts a carnival atmosphere with food and fireworks from July 2-4th each year.
Boating is a popular activity in Bay City, owing to its location along the Saginaw River and on the Saginaw Bay coastline. It boasts the nation’s largest freshwater wetland. Wetlands are fragile environments which support abundant plant and animal life and are easily disturbed by human interaction. Until the mid-20th century, the prevailing attitude in government was that wetlands needed “reclaiming.” The state of Michigan, in particular, was changed intrinsically by this approach, with as much as 11 million acres of wetland (¾ of Michigan’s original wetland area) destroyed. Though this “reclaim the wetlands” philosophy has gone out of vogue, the destruction and development of wetland areas continue on a smaller scale today.
Bay City, MI is a small town with a large personality. Shops, restaurants and pubs thrive in beautifully renovated 19th century buildings downtown. It is the home of Madonna and the namesake of Scotland’s “Bay City Rollers.” Whether you come for the historical buildings, vast wetlands, boating, water skiing, great food, and drink or one of its many yearly festivals, Bay City is a fun place to be!
“Midland Street Commercial District Bay City MI C” by Andrew Jameson – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Midland_Street_Commercial_District_Bay_City_MI_C.jpg#/media/