The Times Herald from Port Huron, Michigan on March 28, 1999 · Page 145
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The Times Herald from Port Huron, Michigan · Page 145

Port Huron, Michigan
Issue Date:
Sunday, March 28, 1999
Page 145
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SUNDAY, MARCH 28,1999 A Century of Progress TIMES HERALD, PORT HURON, MICHIGAN 9JJ ,;i 1 I . , . " ) I. , 4 , ST w Submitted by HOWARD STEIN of Wadhams OLD BRIDGE: The old iron bridge, shown in the background of this photo from the late 1930s, was replaced in 1939-40. Wadhams school, which can be seen atop the bluffs, was built in 1937. The iron bridge was dismantled and sold for scrap. WADHAMS Region's fastest-growing commercial center attributes success to location I- r M r i rases mamBi nssm mnm n Z2 JLj "fiT" By RALPH W. POLOVICH, Times Herald; MAJOR THOROUGHFARE: Wadhams Road is a major north-south road in St. Clair County. Thousands of cars each day from the northern part of the county are tunneled across the Black River at Wadhams By MIKECONNELL Times Hapld WADHAMS Thirty years ago, cousins Howard and Kenneth Stein decided Jhey would build a car wash near the intersection of Wadhams and Lapeer roads. ' They approached the Michigan National Bank branch office in Port Huron and asked for a $ 1 7,000 loan, little more than a third of a proposed $47,000 project. The loan committee was skeptical. "Theyiasked why we wanted to build out in the boondocks," Howard Stein recalled, laughing at the memory. ,: Skepticism aside, the loan was made and the car wash was built, opening in early 1970. More significantly, that unpretentious car wash marked jthe reawakening of commercial development in what indeed had been the boondocks, a somnolent village overlooking the Black River in Kimball Township. THIRTY YEARS later. Wadhams is one of: the region's fastest-grow ing t commercial centers. Its attraction, to use the cliche, is. location, location and location. Wadhams sits astride two important highway corridors: Interstate 69, part of the shortest and quickest route between Toronto and Chicago. Congress is now weigh ing a proposal to extend 1-69 to Houston as part of a Canada-to-Mexico superhighway. Wadhams Road, which is rapidly becoming the gateway to Michigan's Thumb ls north-south travelers seek an alternative to traffic congestion in north Port Huron. THIS IS NOT the first growth spurt fof- Wadhams. The community traces ifr roots to a 19th century timber boom In 18,25, an enterprising Detroit businessman named Robert Smart decided lo build a sawmill in the Michigan wilderness where the virgin forest included seemingly end- (ill They asked why we wanted to build out in the boondocks." HOWARD STEIN, Wadhams businessman V V ST. Cjf AIRl, Wadhams f ProgrjS less groves of towering white pines as well as stands of oak, cherry, walnut and other hardwoods. The mill was built near the head of navigation on the Black River. Mr. Smart named it Clyde Mills for the Clyde River in his native Scotland. William Austin Burt, who oversaw the mill's construction, later gained fame for discovering iron-ore deposits in the Upper Peninsula and for developing the solar compass and one of the earliest typewriters. In 1827, the mill was bought by Ralph Wadhams, a Connecticut-bom merchant who had become familiar with St. Clair County as an agent for the Huron Land Co. In 1829, Mr. Wadhams sold a store he co-owned in Detroit and moved to Clyde Mills. He would spend the next 48 years the remainder of his life living on the bluffs above where the south-flowing Black River curves east toward its confluence with the St. Clair River in Port Huron. BEFORE HIS death in 1877, Mr. Wadhams saw enormous changes in his community. In 1849, a toll road between Port Huron and Lapeer was developed by four St. Clair County entrepreneurs: John Beard, Lewis Brockway, A H. Fish and John Sanborn. The roadway was paved with thick wooden planks to keep heavily laden wagons from sinking into the mud that came annually with the spring thaw. With the opening of the plank road, teamsters carted lumber to the docks in Port Huron. Logs also w,ere floated down the river on seasonal floods or shipped aboard schooners that navigated the river as far west as Clyde Mills. By the 1850s, the first of Michigan's many great timber booms was centered in the Black River valley. In 1852 alone, 92.9 million board feet of lumber were produced at mills between Algonac and Lexington. Mr. Wadhams' mill produced 1.5 million board feet that year. Clyde Mills, which had loaned its name to Clyde Township in 1836, became part of Kimball Township in 1 855 w hen Kimball was carved from the southern section of Clyde. W.L. Jenks, author of The History of St. Clair County, wrote in 1912, "It is said Mr. Wadhams was very fond of the name (Clyde Mills), and (was greatly disappointed when jthroiigh the organization of new townships, the name Clyde was finally attached to a township in which neither he, nor his mill or post office, was located." BY THE CIVIL WAR years, the lumberjacks had moved north into the Saginaw and Cass river valleys. The great forests of the Black River valley were gone. A horseman could ride for miles without seeing a mature tree. Farming replaced timber as the region's economic mainstay. Mr. Wadhams, a bachelor who turned to cattle raising in his later years, died on March 28, 1877. The next year, the Port Huron & Northern Railway was founded by 1 1 local businessmen including such familiar names as Henry McMorran, D.B. Harrington and the Sanborn brothers. The PH&N's original branch went from Port Huron to Croswell. In the early 1880s, the railway developed a line to Saginaw via such communities as Clyde Mills, Avoca, Yale and Brown City. It was during this period that Clyde Mills was renamed Wadhams, both in honor of its pioneer settler and to clear up confusion about the village's location in Kimball rather than Clyde Township. The Clyde Mills Post Office, discontinued in 1872 after 37 years of operation, reopened in 1886 as the Wadhams Post Office. In 1 889, the Flint & Pcre Marquette WADHAMS FACTS AND FIGURES Population Kimball Tbwnship population in 1900: 1,437 t Kimball Towfiship population in 1999: 8,100 ; 1 j Important dates: 1825: Robert Smart, a Detroit businessman, builds a sawmill on the Black River at a site he names Clyde Mills after the River Clyde in his native Scotland. 1827: Connecticut native Ralph Wadhams (1798-1877) buys the mill. 1835: Clyde Mills Post Office opens; Mr. Wadhams is postmaster. 1836: Clyde Township is organized, taking its name from the village ol Clyde Mills. I 1849: Th Port Huron and Lapeer Plank Roadi one of the main east-west highways of ferly St. Clair County, is developed by jour local businessmen (John Beard, Lewis Brockway, A.H. Fish, J.W. Sanborn). A toll road, it Is paved with wooden planks. 1852: Ralph Wadhams' sawmill produces 1.$ million board feet of lumber, part of tli 92.9 million board feet pro- f . . -- "- duced that year at mills between Algonac and Lexington. 1855: Kimball Township, including Clyde Mills, is formed from Clyde Township. 1872: Clyde Mills Post Office closed. 1878: Port Huron & Northern Railway is founded by Henry McMorran, J.W. Sanborn, D.B. Harrington and eight other local businessmen. Its Saginaw branch, built In the early 1880s, runs past Clyde Mills. Circa 1885: Clyde Mills is renamed Wadhams. 1886: Wadhams Post Office opens. 1889: PH&N Railway is absorbed by the Flint & Pere Marquette Railroad. Circa 1900: Iron bridge is built over the Black River on Wadhams Road. 1900: "Flint" is dropped from the name of the Pere Marquette Railroad. 1921: Lapeer Road goes from dirt to gravel surface. It is paved in 1928. 1939: "Stocky" Stockman, '.iter known as "Mayor ot Wadhams," buys the Wadhams General Store. 1939-40: The iron bridge is dismantled and sold for scrap. The existing Wadhams Road bridge is built. 1947: Chesapeake & Ohio buys Pere Marquette Railroad. 1976: Wadhams Road bridge is widened, reinforced, resurfaced. 1978: Abortive effort to create the city of East Wadhams on the outskirts of Port Huron. 1980: C&0 Railroad becomes Chessie System. Its Port Huron to Saginaw line is by now little used, especially between Port Huron and Brown City. 1984: Wadhams Road replaces Bartlett Road as the main north-south street of Wadhams. A new stretch of Wadhams Road includes the first interchange east of Port Huron on Interstate 69; Wadhams Plaza opens; Wadhams Council of Commerce is formed. 1987: First Wadhams Sawmill Festival is held. 1989-90: Water system expanded, upgraded. Howard Stein buys a local campground and gets a K0A franchise, starting the evolution of Sawmill City. 1996: Congress considers plan to extend I-69 fiom Indianapolis to Houston as part of a North American trade corridor from Port Huron to Brownsville, Texas. 1999: County Parks and Recreation Department seeks grant for a 9.82-mile hiking trail between Wadhams and Avoca on the abandoned rail line. Railroad bought the PH&N Railway. In 1900, the rapidly expanding Pere Marquette dropped "Flint" from its corporate name. BY THE TURN of the century, Wadhams was a service center for outlying farms. The village included a schoolhouse and a handful of merchants: a hotel and rooming house, a livery, a bakery, a hardware, a general store. An iron bridge was built across the Black River, just east of the old sawmill, on Wadhams Road in about 1900. Wadhams resident Robert Stein remembers crossing the iron bridge in the late 1930s on a horse-drawn hay wagon. Wadhams Road was then a little-traveled country lane. Lapeer Road was much busier. It was a major east-west highway connecting Michigan cities such as Lansing and Flint with Ontario cities such as London and Toronto. In 1921, Lapeer Road was smoothed and graveled. Seven years later, as the automobile became ubiquitous, it was paved. THROUGH midcentury, Wadhams remained a quiet farming village. "In 1949, 1 came out here to play ball." recalled retired Judge James Kelly, a longtime Wadhams resident who at the time was a young graduate of the University of Virginia's law school. "Where the Clyde Township hall is, it was a dirt road as 1 remember. v. It was out in the country, I know that," he said. A leading mid-century businessman was Thomas Paul "Stocky"; Stockman, w ho became known is the ; "mayor of Wadhams," an unofficial but well-earned title. He bought the Wadhams General Store in 1939. That same year, work began on a new Wadhams Road bridge. The old iron bridge was dismantled and later ; sold for scrap during World War II. ' In 1947, the Pere Marquette Rail-; road became part of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad, which in 1980 was renamed the Chessie System (and is ' known today as CSX). THE 1970 OPENING of that humble car wash, now owned by; Please see WADHAMS, 10 if Complete Family 1 . Dentistry Including Cosmetic Dentistry sf Implant Dentistry )... c o. ( 1 J v&bWimwNtmm Dr. Mackenzie and Dr. Jundi - Samman are proud to serve their community with the highest quality of dentistry they believe in... Both doctors look forward to serving both current patients and new patients j r..

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