The Port Huron and Northwestern was the first railroad to be built in Michigan’s Thumb. In 1879, they began constructing a line north from Port Huron toward the northern tip of the Thumb. The second Thumb railroad was the Saginaw, Tuscola and Huron named for the three counties where it would operate. This line was created, in 1881 by Saginaw businessmen and by investors in the well-established Flint and Pere Marquette Railroad that, by that time, had a line between its two namesake cities as well as a major line from the Toledo area to Flint. In the Nineteenth century, the town we now know as Ludington was named Pere Marquette in honor of the great French explorer who was buried there. It is also the mouth of the Pere Marquette River. Similar to the Port Huron and Northwestern, the Saginaw, Tuscola and Huron was a narrow gauge line. By 1882, the S. T, & H. reached Sebewaing and, by 1886, it final destination: Bad Axe.
The wooden station that you see pictured above was erected in 1883 and served as both a passenger and freight station. The Saginaw, Tuscola and Huron was closely associated with the Flint and Pere Marquette from its inception. In 1891, the line was converted to a standard gauge rail line ending the need to transfer shipments from smaller to larger cars at Saginaw. The Pere Marquette Railroad was formed in 1899 by a merger of the Flint and Pere Marquette, the Detroit, Lansing and Northern and the Chicago and West Michigan creating a network that provided service from Buffalo across southern Ontario then across Michigan and into Grand Rapids and Chicago. That railroad, in 1900, acquired the Saginaw, Tuscola and Huron giving the Pere Marquette control of the lion’s share of railroads in the Thumb. The exception was the Pontiac, Oxford and Northern that was controlled by the Grand Trunk Western. The Pere Marquette was purchased by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad in 1926 and merged into that company in 1947. In 1985, that line began to sell or abandoned lightly used branch lines including all of its trackage in the Thumb. The Huron and Eastern Railroad took over as the operator of the line from Saginaw to Bad Axe and continues to offer freight service. It is interesting to think that the line from Saginaw to Bad Axe that started hauling freight on that route in 1886 still serve customers 127 years later. Now, as at its birth, it is primarily a granger railroad.
Sebewaing is one of a small number of Michigan locations with an Ojibwa name. Under the territorial governors, a major effort was made to sign treaties with Indians such that they would surrender their land claims, often in return for small payments. This confined Indians, although very difficult to accomplish since there was no way a state militia could keep native Americans on their land. There was also a belief that Indians would be much better off if they moved west from Michigan and settled in the Great American Desert, presumably an area that the European and African migrants to the United States would never want to settle. Territorial governor Lewis Cass argued that Indians had been offered the benefits of Christianity and Western Civilization but rejected them so they were destined to extinction. There were, however, some Christian ministers who took a different view and believed they had a duty to convert Indians. A Lutheran minister from Ann Arbor, the Reverend John F. J. Auch, sought a location where he might establish a colony of believers who would farm and carry out missionary work among the Chippewa. In 1845, he selected a location in Huron County an originally called it Sibbewaing which is, apparently, the Ojibwa work for crooked creek. A post office opened here in 1857 and the village was incorporated in 1879, just a few years before the arrival of the Saginaw, Huron and Tuscola.
Date of construction: 1883
Architect: Unknown to me
Architectural style: Vernacular railroad depot for small village
Use in 2013: Apparently an abandoned building
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: Not listed
Photograph: Ren Farley; July 11, 2013
Description prepared: August, 2013
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