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Arrow Left Arrow Right. During Michigan's territorial period, a county and township government were organized at Saginaw. Growth of the settlement was fueled rapidly during the 19th century by the lumber industry. Saginaw was the site of numerous sawmills and served as a port for Great Lakes vessels. In , Lewis Cass , in the Treaty of Saginaw , negotiated the prerogative for the United States to own and settle the area with the leaders of the Ojibwe. In , Campau attempted to expand across to the east bank of the river but was rejected by the Chippewas. Two companies were stationed at the fort.
A group of investors purchased some land near the fort and had it platted under the name, Town of Sagana. Due to the extremely harsh seasons and illnesses, Fort Saginaw was abandoned by By the late s, the American Fur Company was operating a post at Saginaw. Few plots were sold and after the U. Army pulled out, the town languished for most of the following decade.
The town was re-platted in December , comprising riverfront from Cass Street, on the south, to Harrison Street, and north to Jefferson. These plots sold slowly. By , only 24 plots had been sold and the remainder were transferred to a new owner, who made another plat in February However, the financial crisis of the Panic of dampened interest in purchasing properties.
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After selling only 58 out of the plots, the remainder was sold again in Saginaw was the location of the annual government payment to the Ojibwe and Ottawa of the area, starting in the s. This also attracted many French-Canadian and Euro-American merchants, primarily involved in selling watered down whiskey. The main cause for the founding and subsequent development of Saginaw was the large demand for lumber as the United States expanded westward.
A virgin growth forest principally consisting of white pine trees covered most of Michigan. The convenient access to transportation provided by the Saginaw River and its numerous tributaries fueled a massive expansion in population and economic activity.
As the trees were being cut down in the region, logs were floated down the rivers to sawmills located in Saginaw, destined to be loaded onto ships and later railroad cars. Multiple settlements comprise present-day Saginaw. On the west side of the river the first settlement around what had been Fort Saginaw developed into Saginaw, which was incorporated as a city in , containing the seat of the Saginaw County government. On the east side of the river a parallel settlement, East Saginaw, developed which was incorporated first as a village in , and then as a city in Also south of East Saginaw, on the east bank of the river, the village of Salina formed.
Salina's name relates to the salty brine that led to a growing industry of salt production in the area. Both Saginaw and East Saginaw quickly became a hub for railroad transportation in addition to ships making their way on the Saginaw River. Lumber production peaked by the early s, but had virtually disappeared by the end of the 19th century.
In addition to salt production, which experienced an eventual decline as well, growing industries, such as those supporting the area's agriculture and manufacturing, developed. On June 28, , the Michigan state legislature passed Act to consolidate the cities of Saginaw and East Saginaw into a single city. The consolidation of Saginaw became effective with the election of officers on March 12, The provisions of the city charter were established by the same act of the legislature that provided for the consolidation.
Saginaw was to be governed by a city council consisting of two aldermen elected from 21 wards and a mainly ceremonial executive mayor who was to have fairly weak powers. This was to be, as numerous other elected officials, along with elected or appointed boards, controlled much of the administrative and executive functions of government.
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The efficient and cohesive functioning of the Saginaw city government also was constrained by remaining rivalries between residents, business owners, and politicians from the former two cities. The distinctions and rivalries between Saginaw's east side and west side persisted into the 20th century in various forms, and continues to influence Saginaw's social, political, economic landscape, even into the s. In the early 20th century, automobile production proliferated throughout Michigan, but most notably in Detroit. Other Michigan cities became suppliers to Detroit factories, sometimes with factories of their own.
In Saginaw, the Jackson-Church-Wilcox Company began as a partnership in for producing steering gear under the "Jacox" brand. This formed the basis for the Saginaw Steering Gear Division, created in General Motors and other manufacturers established foundries and other automobile-related manufacturing facilities in Saginaw, for the production of chemicals and plate glass, as well as metal fabrication. This early development of a symbiotic relationship with the auto industry set the course for the future of the city.
In , a new Michigan state constitution was adopted. The new Michigan state constitution mandated increased home rule powers for local units of government, and the Michigan state legislature enacted the Home Rule Cities Act in Under this statute , cities were permitted to frame and adopt their own city charters and were given great flexibility in structuring their local governments.
The government, under the charter, had continued to be inefficient and provided for much political infighting. In , a new city charter was adopted with voter approval and which followed a commission form of city government that had gained in popular interest among various cities across the United States in the early 20th century.
The new government consisted of five commissioners, each elected separately at-large , who served both as the city council and as the executive heads of various city government departments.
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One of the commissioners served as the mayor, which was a mostly ceremonial role. The city charter was followed for little more than two decades when the voters of the city again adopted another new city charter in following the council-manager form of government. The government under the city charter retained some of the independent boards that were given authority independent of the elected city commissioners.
This caused some inefficiency and political friction. The economic consequences of the Great Depression during the s provided the final catalyst for municipal government reform. In contrast to the previous government structures, the charter, having taken effect in , provided for all administration of city government to be headed directly by a single officer, the city manager , who was appointed by, and accountable to a city council of nine members elected as a group by the entire city at-large.
The system was designed to address two principal issues with Saginaw's history of municipal government, the inefficiency and politics associated with having executive and administrative authority spread among many different officers and boards, and political rivalries and friction between various geographic areas of the city, mainly the east side and the west side. During much of the 20th century, Saginaw's economy was dominated by manufacturing related to the automotive industry; most notably, manual transmission assemblies, steering gear boxes and power steering pumps.
At the height of manufacturing in the s and s, the city and neighboring Buena Vista Township hosted 12 General Motors plants, an Eaton Manufacturing plant demolished where 5, people produced auto parts ,  and numerous smaller concerns. Turning its efforts to the production of munitions , ordnance and components for military vehicles made Saginaw a significant contributor to the Allies' victory.
Perhaps most famously, Saginaw was home to a production facility that produced. Migration from across the country, particularly from the Southern United States , drastically increased Saginaw's population during the war years and through the s. This population growth included the expanded presence of African Americans and Latinos in Saginaw. Even before the end of the war, the needs of Saginaw's growth became clear, and were met by significant investment in the city's infrastructure.
In the years following World War II , the Michigan state legislature enacted laws making it increasingly difficult for incorporated cities to expand by annexing territory from neighboring townships. Townships, which had historically served an agrarian, smaller population than that of larger cities, were given the ability to provide nearly all of the same services that an incorporated city could.
Although Midland pursued and continues to pursue a policy of "No annexation, no water,"  Saginaw chose to sell water to neighboring communities under long-term contracts. This allowed the townships to further develop at the expense of the city, the limits of which changed little after consolidation in — The unintended consequence of this choice was that Saginaw's population stopped growing, new housing development focused on the suburban townships, and businesses eventually followed.
Manufacturing in Saginaw declined in the latter half of the 20th century, leading to high unemployment in the city. As a result, the city's population diminished; from to , the population of Saginaw proper decreased by nearly 10,; Michigan's population during that period decreased by 0.
In addition, Saginaw has faced increasing social problems relating to poverty as a result of its high rate of unemployment. In recent years, Saginaw's crime rate has been a major area of concern for the community. Saginaw's economic conditions, compounded by the — global financial crisis , are another significant area of concern for the city's residents. The decline of manufacturing jobs has resulted in higher than average rates of unemployment.
Property values in the city have declined, decreasing the amount the city government collects in property taxes. Unemployment in Saginaw peaked in July , according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, standing at The unemployment rate dropped to 9. Unemployment and population loss in the late 20th and early 21st centuries has led to urban blight , a rise in abandoned homes providing locations for criminal activity.
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In recent years city officials, law enforcement, and neighborhood watch associations have made progress in preventing this activity by heavily patrolling target areas and offering rewards for reporting illegal or suspicious activities. Efforts to reduce blight in Saginaw increased greatly in , with the United States Department of the Treasury approving a grant to demolish vacant and abandoned properties via the Michigan State Housing Development Authority. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder praised the initiative, saying, "With these federal funds, we'll be able to launch large-scale demolition programs that strike at the blight that is weakening too many neighborhoods in these cities.
As the abandoned properties come down, property values will go up, and crime will go down. That will encourage the people who live in these neighborhoods to stay in their homes and be part of the revitalization of their communities. The Saginaw city government can legally tear down only publicly owned properties, a number that stands above The federal grant provides funds to demolish nearly structures. After the grant's approval, Saginaw city officials announced a program to purchase unwanted, abandoned structures from their owners, which would be then added to the list of homes to tear down.