Looking Back at the History of Sault Ste. Marie
Sault Ste. Marie is the oldest city in Michigan and one of the oldest cities in the United States. Let us take a quick trip back in time to learn a little more about this historic place. Many thanks to Bernie Arbic and his book City of the Rapids for collecting and sharing our history. Also thanks to guest blogger Seth Harris.
For more than two thousand years, the native inhabitants of the Sault Ste. Marie area had utilized the St. Marys River and its resources. It came to be such a staple in their existence that they gave it a name: Bahweting. Later, in 1668, Father Jacques Marquette established a permanent mission called Sault de Sainte Marie. The actions of Father Marquette set in motion events that would lead to present-day Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.
The famous trader John Johnston made his way to Sault Ste. Marie and put down roots here in 1794. His family played host to other notable settlers in the area, including the Schoolcraft family. John Johnston’s daughter, Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, became a well-known writer.
In 1797, the Northwest Fur Company created a canal and, “lock of sorts,” on the Canadian side of the St. Marys River. It gets credit as being the first attempt to more easily navigate the rapids. As we’ll see later, this small lock would eventually be overshadowed by the massive structures we visit today.
Construction for the State Lock (the first official Soo Lock) began in 1853 and was completed in 1855. The first boat locked through the State Lock on June 18, 1855. It was a steamer named Illinois, and it was captained by Jack Wilson. Later that day, a steamer named Baltimore became the first vessel to, “lock through,” downbound. The Freeman was the first sailing ship to utilize the Lock.
In September 1881, the Weitzel Lock was opened. The first ship through the Weitzel was the City of Cleveland. Later, in 1888, the State Lock was removed to make room for the original Poe Lock, which opened August 3, 1896. On October 21, 1914, the Davis Lock was opened. In September 1919, the Sabin Lock was finished. The MacArthur Lock was completed in 1943, and the new Poe Lock was opened in 1968.
While the Soo Locks were being built, repaired, and replaced, other structures, all of which are still standing today, were being erected. For example, the historic water tower, located at the corner of Ryan and Easterday, was finished in 1894. The grand opening of the powerhouse on the canal in Sault Ste. Marie took place in October 1902. The Federal Building, now City Hall, was completed in 1910. Last, but certainly not least, the Soo Theatre had its grand opening on March 12, 1930.
We know we missed a LOT of Sault Ste. Marie’s history, for example, the only Michigan Governor from the Upper Peninsula, Chase S. Osborn, resided in the Soo! With 351 years of history as a city and over 2,000 years of history for the area, this would be an incredibly long story if we tried to touch on everything.
Thank you for taking this trip through Sault Ste. Marie’s history with us. If you have historical facts you would like to share, get a hold of us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, and tag it with #ilovethesoo.