History Timeline

Note that the timeline is presented in two sections:  Michigan History and Port Huron Area History.

Lucius Beach residence, 1859

The residence of Lucius Beach as depicted on an 1859 map of St. Clair and Macomb Counties (located in Section 32, Port Huron Township). Library of Congress collection.

MICHIGAN (and Relevant National) HISTORY

Pre-European Period: Approximately 10,000 BC – AD 1650 
This pre-contact (with Europeans) period is subdivided into more specific eras, the Paleo-Indian (10,000 – 8,000 BC), the Archaic (8,000 – 1,000 BC), and the Woodland (1,000 BC – AD 1,650).  At the time of contact, it is estimated that there were about 15,000 native peoples living in what is now Michigan.  The majority belonged to three major groups, called “The Three Fires.”  These were the Chippewa (or Ojibway) of the upper peninsula (UP) and eastern lower peninsula (LP), the Ottawa of the western LP, and the Potowatami of the southeastern LP.  Other groups were the Huron (or Wyandot) in the southeastern LP, the Sauk of Saginaw Valley, the St. Joseph River’s Miami, and the Menominee in the western UP.

French (European) Period:  1600s – 1760

  • Early 1600s  Etienne Brule is believed to be the first European to enter what is to become Michigan.  Jean Nicolet followed, being the first to travel the Straights of Mackinac (1634).
  • 1668  Father Jacques Marquette founded first permanent settlement in Michigan, at Sault (“Soo”) St. Marie, and another shortly after at St. Ignace (1671).
  • 1679  Rene Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, contructs the first sailing vessel to plow the Great Lakes, the Griffon, only to mysteriously lose her shortly thereafter.
  • Late 1600s  The St. Joseph River area was a focal point.  Fort Miami built in 1679 at its mouth, a mission was founded (1690) at what is now Niles, and the building of Fort St. Joseph soon followed.
  • 1701  Detroit, as Fort Pontchartrain, is founded by Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac.
  • 1754  French and Indian War begins.  Lasts until 1763.

English (European) Period:  1760 – 1796 (the British ignored the 1783 Treaty of Paris here)

  • 1763  Pontiac’s Rebellion.  The charismatic Ottawa chief united natives against the English and encroaching settlement.  The English lost many forts, but Pontiac failed to maintain a siege of Detroit and the rebellion fizzled out.
  • 1764  Fort Sinclair/St. Clair established at what is now the City of St. Clair.
  • 1787  Northwest Territory formed; Michigan is sketched out as part of this territory (although its boundaries varied until it became a territory).  Slavery is prohibited.
Southeast Michigan in 1836.

A portion of an 1836 map of Michigan and environs, including the disputed southern border. From an 1843 compilation of early documents held by the Library of Congress.

American Period:  1796- Present

  • 1805  Michigan is made a territory, with Detroit its seat of governance.
  • 1812  War of 1812.
  • 1813  Americans retake Detroit after it had surrendered to the British in 1812 (during the War of 1812).
  • 1818  First public land sales in the southern part of the state.
  • 1825  Erie Canal opened.
  • 1830  First chartered railroad, the Pontiac and Detroit Railway Company.  Industrial Revolution begins–lasts until the 1880s.
  • 1835  “Ohio (or Toledo) War” over southern border.  Michigan ends up with the Upper Peninsula in a sort-of exchange for this border area.
  • 1837  Michigan becomes a state, the 26th of the Union.  Internal improvements were quickly commenced, but the Panic of 1837 severely damaged the infant state’s financial stability and the people’s willingness to fund future projects.
  • 1840s-1880s  Copper mining boom.
  • 1840s- ~1900  Lumbering was a very lucrative industry, especially after the Civil War ended, and died out with the clearing of almost all old growth trees.
  • 1847  Lansing made the capital.
  • 1850s- ~1900  Michigan is nation’s leading producer of iron ore.
  • 1854  Republican party founded in Jackson.
  • 1855  Soo Canal and Locks open.  Agricultural College of the State of Michigan established, which later becomes Michigan State University.
  • 1861  Civil War begins (ends 1865).
  • 1862  Homestead Act.  Around 90% of all homesteads in Michigan are later found to have been fraudulent, stripping legal applicants of trees.
  • 1873  Financial panic of 1873.  Small business closures and higher unemployment.
  • 1880s Copper mining boom ends.  Industrial Revolution ends.
  • 1893  Financial panic of 1893.  Small business closures and higher unemployment.
  • 1894  Pullman strike.
  • 1896  First gas-powered auto tested, in Detroit.
  • 1899  First auto factory opens in Detroit, Olds.
  • 1908  First Ford Model T made.  General Motors founded.
  • 1913  Massive storm, the “White Hurricane.”
  • 1914  World War I begins.
  • 1917  United States breaks neutrality and declares war on Germany.
  • 1918  WWI ends in November.
  • 1929  Stock market crashes in October, the Great Depression follows.
  • 1932  Close to 10,000 banks have closed and unemployment is around 25%.
  • 1939  WWII begins.
  • 1941  US joins war.  Economic boom caused by manufacturing for World War II necessities.
  • Early 1970High unemployment and high inflation.
  • 2007  The Great Recession starts.  Shadow banking system recognized.


Pre-European Period

  • 100s-400s BC.  Hopewell Tradition Indians (of the Couture Complex) create massive burial mounds.
  • 1679.  La Salle’s Griffin, the first European ship in The Great Lakes, stops in Port Huron. Father Louis Hennepin notes the abundance of resources and the friendly Indians.

French (European) Period

  • 1686-1688.  To help maintain a fur trade monopoly, Fort St. Joseph was constructed by the French in 1686 with the help of allied but non-local Ojibwa natives. Destroyed by the French in 1688.  It was located under the Blue Water Bridge.
  • 1696.  French ally Young Gull (Kioskance) came south from his UP home in order to defeat some area British-allied Iroquois, and made Port Huron his permanent residence. Others followed, making the Ojibwa (or Chippewa) the dominant natives in the area until the Treaty of 1807.
  • >1749  Lumber mill at Indian Creek and Black River, owned by a Mr. Gervais (or Jervais), a resident of Detroit (Mitts p. 84. Indian Creek had been called Gervais Creek; Jenks p. 365 writes only that there was a mill here prior to 1800).  Indian Creek no longer exists in Port Huron (the mouth was in the vicinity south and east of the 10th Street Bridge, apparently along Dockside Drive).
Indian Creek at Black Creek, PH, 1859

Indian Creek at Black Creek, Port Huron, as shown on “Map of the counties of Macomb & St. Clair, Michigan” (1859), Library of Congress. The creek no longer exists.

English (European) Period

  • 1780  Duperon Baby builds lumber mill on a creek that came to bear his name for 40 years, but only for three years. This mill may have been the same one Antoine Morass was operating in 1786.  The creek, in Marysville south of Port Huron, is known as Bunce.
  • 1782  First permanent non-native settle in Port Huron: Pierre Brandamour (or Brindamour, or Branidmore) and Denis Caslet (Causlet).
  • 1786  Antoine Morass was operating a lumber mill at Baby/Bunce Creek.
  • 1790  First French-Canadian settlers arrive, via Detroit, in the Port Huron/Fort Gratiot area.  Anselm Petit probably joins them 2-3 years later, and is credited as the first permanent settler within the the future Port Huron city limits.

American Period

  • 1807  Chippewa Reservation established.
  • 1805  Fire that leveled Detroit creates a demand for lumber in area.
  • 1812  War of 1812 creates some demand for lumber, which is supplied locally by Ignace Morass’ mill in Clyde Township (if not others also).
  • 1814  Fort Gratiot is completed (built near the earlier Fort St. Joseph).
  • 1818  ZW Bunce awarded land claim that included Bunce’s Creek and built a mill below Morass’ mill.  It was not worked continually.  Also that year, first platted settlement in region, at St. Clair.
  • 1819  First house on Court Street erected, by Anselm Petit.
  • 1820  HR Schoolcraft’s expedition stops at Fort Gratiot.  Both Chippewa and Ottawa tribe members are noted in the area.
  • 1821  St. Clair County established.
  • 1825  Michigan’s first lighthouse built at Fort Gratiot.  Port Huron, then known as Desmond, has its first trading house (owned by James Cook) and first inn (owned by Louis Facer).
  • 1827  A legislative act called for the making of townships, and the huge townships of Desmond and Sinclair are formed (origin of name choice is unknown).  Port Huron will fall within Desmond, and all area townships as we know them will be carved out of these two.
  • 1832  Michigan’s first steam-powered saw mill is opened along the Black River by the Black River Mill Company.  Cholera epidemic.
  • 1833  Military Road from Detroit is completed.
  • 1834  First Black River bridge constructed.
  • 1835  Village of Peru platted (reason for choice of name is not known) by Edward Petit (he is also considered the first non-native settler of Huron County, having opened a trading post in the southwest area in 1833.  It became White Rock, which was destroyed by the 1871 fire).  To the west of Peru, White and Harrington platted the Village of Desmond.
  • 1836  Chippewa Reservation ceded to the United States.
  • 1837  The name of Desmond Township is changed to Port Huron.  Gratiot, on the north side of Black River, is platted by John Thorn.  North of that, the Town of Huron is platted, as is the Butler Plat.  That same busy year a petition to the circuit court asking that Peru, Desmond, Gratiot, Fort Gratiot, and Huron be consolidated into the new village of Port Huron was granted.
  • 1843  Bunce built a new mill at Bunce’s Creek.
  • 1846  Bunce converts his lumber mill to steam operation, increasing its capacity by 5 times.
  • 1849  Port Huron incorporated as a village.
  • 1854  Thomas Edison’s family moves to Port Huron.
  • 1857  Port Huron incorporated as a city.
  • 1863  Oil and gas well drilling “boom,” until 1865.
  • 1866  Fort Gratiot Township established, taken out of Port Huron Township.
  • 1871  Port Huron is made county seat (after bitter dispute with St. Clair).  Fire of 1871 does major damage and kills around 200 people.
  • 1879  Fort Gratiot is abandoned, dismantled in 1882.
  • 1881  Second major fire in area, known as the “Thumb Fire.”  Kills 242 people and causes $2.35 million in damages.  Negatively impacts ship building.
  • 1885  Upton Manufacturing moves from Battle Creek to Port Huron.
  • 1886  Michigan’s first electric railway begins in Port Huron (it was the third in the nation).  Michigan’s first commercial petroleum production begins in Port Huron, but much higher yielding oil fields found elsewhere.
  • 1889  Jenks Shipbuilding Company established.
  • 1890  Upton Manufacturing is renamed to Port Huron Engine & Thresher Co.
  • 1891  World’s first under-river train tunnel opens (Port Huron to Sarnia).
  • 1893  Fort Gratiot Village annexed to Port Huron.
  • 1899  Port Huron Engine & Thresher Company opens a second plant in what is to be called South Park, Port Huron.
  • 1900  Factory Land Company formed and the first of its plats filed in 1901.  Lumbering in Michigan is coming to an end.
  • 1901  An industrial area is platted and marketed for by a private firm, the Factory Land Company, and the multi-use area is called South Park.
  • 1910  Acheson Oildag (Acheson Colloids) moved to Port Huron from New York.
  • 1913  The “White Hurricane,” a massive winter storm, hit the Great Lakes.
  • 1917  Mueller Metals opens in Port Huron, mostly making brass rods for munitions.
  • 1924  Dunn Paper manufacturer opens.
  • 1938  Blue Water Bridge opens, connecting Port Huron and Sarnia.


Anonymous (2002). A Brief History of Michigan. Found at: http://www.michigan.gov/documents/deq/CMG_90-4_313148_7.pdf

Burnell, M. C. (1983). Blue Water Reflections: A Pictorial History of Port Huron and the St. Clair River District. Virginia Beach: Donning Company Publishers.

Catton, Bruce (1984 [1976]).  Michigan: A History.  New York:  W. W. Norton & Co.

Connell, M. (2013, April 6). Port Huron is Rooted in Indian Mounds. Retrieved from TheTimesHerald.Com: http://archive.thetimesherald.com/article/20130406/OPINION02/304060005/Mike-Connell-Port-Huron-rooted-Indian-mounds

Creamer, Mary Lou (2006).  Port Huron: 1857-2007, Celebrating our Past.  St. Clair (MI): Site Creative.

Eckert, Kathryn Bishop (1993).  Buildings of Michigan.  New York:  Oxford University Press.

Jenks, W. L. (1912). St. Clair County, Michigan, its history and its people; a narrative account of its historical progress and its principal interests. Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company.

Mitts, Dorothy M. (1969).  That Noble Country.  Philadelphia:  Dorrance & Company.

Random History (2010).  A History of the U.S. Economy (Random History web site).

Rosentreter, R. L. (2014). Michigan: A History of Explorers, Entrepreneurs, and Everyday People. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Schoolcraft, H. R. (1821). Narrative Journal of Travels Through the Northwestern Regions of the United States. Albany: E & E Hosford.

Comments or Suggestions

Electric Railway in early Port Huron

This looks like a fun place! Electric Railway Cars share the street with horse-and-buggies. Circa 1905 Port Huron, Military Street. Library of Congress collection.