Deep Roots

By Rich Adams


The Great Lakes Bay Region is steeped in history, from Native American origins to today’s modern businesses and industries. In development of the area, historic businesses sprouted up in each major city of the region.



There are a number of business districts in Bay City, including the Banks, Broadway Avenue, Columbus Avenue, Downtown and Johnson Street districts. The historic Midland Street Historic Business District is on the west side of the city and is noted for a variety of unique businesses, according to the Bay City website. Based on a nominating form for the National Register of Historic Places, when lumbering died out, the district’s economy faltered and came to a standstill during the Great Depression. As a result, many of the buildings look like they did in 1929, the application noted. The district is home to about 60 businesses.

“When visitors come to the Midland Street district, they are charmed by the ambiance,” said Kevin Novellino, owner of Brooklyn Boyz Pizzeria and Italian Eatery. “There is potential for the Midland Street Historic District, and we are just waiting for investment in the district.”


Historic Businesses:


Founded in 1906, the Michigan Sugar Co. started with the beet sugar processing industry in Michigan growing from the decline of the lumbering industry in the Saginaw Valley in the late 1800s. Local leaders searched for a crop to bring economic revitalization to the area. In 1884, a man from Saginaw visiting Germany noticed how well sugarbeet crops were performing for the people there. Seeds he brought back with him from his travels ended up with Dr. Robert C. Kedzie, a chemistry professor at Michigan State Agricultural College. Kedzie was enthusiastic about the sugarbeet’s potential for the Saginaw Valley, and he imported 1,500 pounds of seed from France and distributed it to farmers across the state.



Since 1885, when family patriarch Gennaro Fabiano opened a cantina in San Ippolito, Italy, the Fabiano family has prided itself on providing efficient and dependable customer service. Fabiano immigrated to the United States in 1899, and worked on the railroad in St. Louis, Missouri, to earn money to bring his family to America. Today, Fabiano Brothers Inc. is a family-owned and family-operated wholesale beer and wine distributor. The company provides service to licensed alcoholic beverage retailers in central and northern Michigan from headquarters in Bay City and regional office and distribution facilities in Petoskey.



Midland’s first fashionable residential neighborhood included Italianate and Queen Anne homes along West Main Street, built for early professionals and lumber entrepreneurs. Modest homes for shopkeepers and workers stood nearby. The West Main Street Historic District was established in 1979, with the hopes of preserving and documenting Midland’s historical structures. In 1897, Herbert Henry Dow founded Dow Chemical Co. in Midland, which enabled the city to survive the end of the logging era and to grow to its present size.



Founded in 1897, Dow has a long, rich history in the Great Lakes Bay Region. Herbert Henry Dow left the Midland Chemical Co., continued his research and in 1895 moved to Ohio to form Dow Process Co.based on his new research of extracting chloride and caustic soda from sodium chloride. The following year he returned to Midland, where he formed Dow Chemical. Dow today is helping address some of the world’s most challenging problems. The company works passionately to innovate and create sustainable solutions, and it has been vital to the success of the Great Lakes Bay Region.



Founded more than 100 years ago in Midland with the purpose of providing banking services for the local community, Chemical Bank has grown extensively over the years, and now serves well over 100 different communities throughout the Lower Peninsula. At the core, it has remained a community bank committed to helping provide financial services to all the communities it serves.



Old Saginaw City was the original commercial center of Saginaw. The early to mid-1800s saw the development of a commercial area dependent upon traffic from the Saginaw River and the lumbermen working in the area. As the lumber boom developed in the 1860s, most of the existing brick businesses were built. The lumber eventually disappeared, but the commercial district of Old Saginaw City survived, mainly because it supplied the community with needed goods. Today Old Saginaw City remains a visible commercial center, changing to meet the needs of new generations on the west side.


Historic Businesses:


Established in 1905 in Saginaw, founder Frederick H. Stevens Jr. used a single horse and dray to haul baggage to and from the Michigan Central Passenger Depot. Stevens has continued under the leadership of the same family for its entire history. Members of the fourth and fifth generations of the company founder continue to hold executive positions in the company.



Guy S. Garber, a young farm implement salesman of exceptional ability and bold vision, saw the automobile as the vehicle of the future. In 1907, he founded Garber Buick of Saginaw, now America’s oldest, family-owned General Motors dealership. In 1913, Garber Buick was appointed by GM Buick Division as one of the original “Buick Thirteen” distributors, and he was granted wholesale responsibility for selling Buicks from Saginaw County north to the Straits of Mackinac.



Prior to 1874, the Saginaw area didn’t have a hospital. In fact, there wasn’t a hospital north of Detroit. But because of the influx of workers from the rugged lumber industry, the county’s population grew rapidly, and four Daughters of Charity came to Saginaw to establish St. Mary’s Hospital. The sisters used Monitor House, a 15-room building that was used both as a hotel and boarding house, as their medical facility. St. Mary’s performed the area’s first open heart surgery in 1984, and its cardiac care department has performed over 20,000 procedures since.



The Mount Pleasant Downtown Historic District has been the commercial, business and social site of the city’s historic core since its establishment in 1860, according to the National Register of Historic Places. The district contains historic buildings dating to 1875 and contained the bulk of the city’s commercial activities during that period. The district contains 135 businesses, including 70 buildings dating from the 1870s to the 1950s.

“Historic downtown is the very core of Mount Pleasant,” said Helen Chase, owner of Trillium Fine Clothing for Women on Broadway Street, which was founded in 1947 as Marianne Fashion Center and has been continuously operating for 72 years. “These blocks hold the origins, the history and the memories of the city; it is ‘home.’ Generations have shopped, eaten, attended to financial needs, enjoyed ice cream, had a haircut, strolled the streets and visited Santa in December. A special array of local, unique, independent retailers, services industries and restaurants continue to choose the community of historic downtown Mount Pleasant.”


Historic businesses:


Established in 1892, Central Michigan University has more than 20,000 students on its Mount Pleasant campus and 7,000 students enrolled online at more than 60 locations worldwide. CMU offers 200 academic programs at the undergraduate, master’s, specialist and doctoral levels, including programs in entrepreneurship, journalism, music, audiology, teacher education, psychology and physician assistant. The School of Engineering and Technology has accredited programs in mechanical, electrical and computer engineering. CMU has also established a College of Medicine, which opened in fall 2013.



The walkable shopping district of Frankenmuth is dotted by Bavarian architecture. With the famed Bavarian Inn, Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland and Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth, the unique appeal of the city is hard to pin down because there is so much it offers. There are cuckoo clocks, quilt shops and woolen mills; sausage companies serving up house-made Bavarian specialties and a massive Cheese Haus with 160-plus options; and the Frankenmuth River Place Shops that include more than 35 stores for a European-inspired shopping experience.


Historic businesses:


William Abraham developed his fiber-processing skills in 1910. His son, Arnold Abraham, focused on wool processing during World War II and up until the mid-1970s. Arnold’s daughter, Kathy, and her husband, Gary Zeilinger, opened their new facility on Weiss Street in 1985. The Zeilinger Wool Co. has a retail store and also offers tours where visitors can see the processing of sheep wool and other exotic animal fibers.

“At Frankenmuth Insurance, our ‘neighbor helping neighbor’ value holds true after more than 150 years of operation,” said Sarah Peyok, marketing specialist for the company. “From the area’s beginnings in the mid-1800s to the vibrant tourist destination of today, community members have remained committed to helping one another achieve success. Our company grew out of this spirit. Early settlers banded together to face the toughest trial of the time—fire—and pledged to help each other in times of need by creating an association that eventually evolved into today’s Frankenmuth Insurance.”



In 1868, a group of Bavarian pioneer settlers decided to form a mutual insurance society for protection against perils striking their buildings and goods. In exchange for a premium, all members contributed toward the coverage of one another’s sustained losses. Upon establishing Deutschen Frankenmuther Unterstützung Verein (German Frankenmuth Aid Association), operating out of the back room of the Nuechterlein Mortuary, the seed of Frankenmuth Insurance was planted.