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EARLY HISTORY OF

SAINT LOUIS

Gratiot County- map  1897-1898Joseph Clapp and his helper Sylvanus Groom cut their way from Maple Rapids to Lutheran Mission and the Indian Cemetery to the horseshoe bend in Pine River and built a cabin home in 1853. The following spring Joseph Clapp married Matilda Smith of Sandusky, Ohio. Her brothers came along, Seaman and Elias Smith, and all worked in lumbering. By 1856 Clapp's sawmill was in operation. More settlers moved in. In the same year Sydney S. Hastings, brought his family by Indian canoe upriver from Saginaw. He became county surveyor.

In 1855 Jacob Wilden opened a general store. The new settlement was named Pine River because it lay along the banks of the Pine River. The Pine River Post Office hired Billy Gruett, a young French-Indian man, to carry the first mail by Indian pony.

To the Southwest Pine River Village Dr. John R. Cheesman took for a tract of land partially plotted by his brother, Edward Cheesman, and Gilbert Pratt, and named his hamlet "Saint Louis." In 1865 the two settlements decided to united under the name of Saint Louis.

(Louis D. Preston, pioneer surveyor, is said to have done the earliest platting of our town. A tradition among Preston's descendants holds that Saint Louis was named to honor his service to the new settlement.)

October 15, 1868 Saint Louis incorporated as a village. The first election was held the following November. The citizens elected as first village president the Honorable John L. Evans.

Clapp Park in the Middle of the MittenPicture of park that founder Joseph Clapp donated to the city and which marks the geographical center of the lower peninsula of the State of Michigan, or "The Middle of the Mitten."

Saint Louis laid along the route of the huge log drives, down Pine River, from Montcalm, Mecosta, and Isabella Counties, and on through Gratiot and Midland to Saginaw's mighty sawmills. Lumbering was the leading industry for the opening years of Saint Louis. By the end of the Civil War, 1865, the population of Saint Louis totaled 140. A booming salt industry in and around Saginaw led Henry L. Holcomb and John L. Evans to try their luck at drilling for salt, in Saint Louis, in 1869. The discovered instead a flowing well that produced magnetic water. Holcomb and Evans, entrepreneurs that they were, recognized that, although they had not found brine, they had discovered something of greater value. They built a crude, temporary bath house to meet the growing demands for baths. In 1869 the plank road to Saginaw was built. In that year the town's first newspaper "The Saint Louis Gazette," began publishing. Its successor was "The Herald," . In 1953 Clarence and Odessa Smazel were publishing "The Saint Louis Leader-Press."


By 1870 Holcomb and Evans had had a more permanent structure on the Pine River. That which had been free became a commercial enterprise. (see related story - The Saratoga of the West) By 1871 the Saginaw Valley and Saint Louis Railroad was completed. This, together with travel on the plank road, made a way for many travelers to get to the healing waters of Saint Louis.

By 1880 we had 2 tanneries, 2 elevators, a flour mill, a sawmill, a planing factory, a foundry, and a stave-and-shingle mill. Two railroads and a roundhouse made the town important as a shipping center. Four hotels accommodated commercial travelers and health seekers.

In the Spring of 1881 the Sanatorium , officially known as the Magnetic Springs Hotel opened. Since it adjoined the pleasant landscaped approach to the bath house, it some was known as the Park Hotel or Park House. Built by Dr. Willis P. Andrews and Dr. John M. Combs It was the era of fabulous wealth, in the history of Saint Louis. It was also the time of lumber barons and mineral baths. Henry L. Holcomb built one of Michigan's most elaborately beautiful opera houses. Actors en route between Saginaw and Grand Rapids stopped in Saint Louis for one night stands. An academy, a public school, and four churches already were well-established part of the town's civic life..

Between 1870 and 1887 the village of Saint Louis had 7 hotels;

1. Park Hotel
2. Exchange Hotel, (Loafer House, Commercial House)
3. Paige House
4. Harrington House
5. Wessels House
6. Leonard House
7. Eastman Hotel

By 1888 the first electric lights were turned on. In the Spring of 1891 the tiny village was incorporated as the City of Saint Louis, with Dr. A. R. Wheeler as our first mayor. Since 1899 Saint Louis has owned and operated its own power plant.

More detailed stories are found on other pages of this web site.

 

Last Updated July 1, 2008