Port Austin
Huron County Michigan

History of Bad Axe

Bad Axe, MI (Huron Avenue Looking East) (1930s) - Contributed by Paul Petosky

Bad Axe is the county-seat of Huron County, and is located in the townships of Verona and Colfax, the major portion of the village lying in the former. From the importance attached to it as the county-seat, and its prospective future growth, some facts in regard to its location and early settlement may be of interest.

In 1861, a surveying party in charge of Messrs. Pack and Papst, started out to locate a route for a public highway from Sand Beach to Sebewaing, for which the State legislature had made an appropriation. In the prosecution of their work they finally reached the mineral spring just north of the village, where, pitching their tents, they remained for a time. This had been a favorite place for sportsmen for many years, and a rude hut had been put up here for their accommodation. While here, one of the party found an old broken ax, which he took up and drove into a tree near by. One of the other party made a drawing on the tree of the now historical ax, and wrote underneath it, " Bad Axe " from which the village took its name. This tree was at the point where the road crosses the town line between the two townships, Verona and Colfax; and from this time on this place was known as Bad Axe Corners.

For some time there had been heated discussions and considerable strife among interested parties as to where the future county-seat of the county should be permanently located. The burning of the courthouse in 1864, where the seat then was, settled this controversy for a time by causing it to be located at Port Austin for a term of ten years. But the controversy in a few years arose again, and continued until finally settled by selecting its present location. During the annual session of the Board of Supervisors in October, 1872, while the contest between the shore towns to secure the permanent location of the county seat was at its height, a motion was made to locate the same at Bad Axe, which was finally adopted. Then Woods & Co. donated to the county 40 acres of land at this place to be used for county purposes, upon which the public buildings have since been erected.

By the Board of Supervisors the county officers were instructed to move with the county records from Port Austin to Bad Axe, Oct. 1, 1873, which the Board declared to be the future county seat of Huron County. At the appointed time the records were taken there, and all county officials moved there. Immediately a contract was let to Septimus Irwin to clear the site and put up a temporary building for the use of the county until permanent buildings could be erected.

This building was completed in time for the October term of the Board of Supervisors. At this time there were no other buildings near the new county seat, and a temporary shanty was put up as an eating-house for the Board. They bought their bedding, and when their daily official business had been transacted, they would spread their " shake-downs" on the floor of the court room and retire for the night. The country all about this place was then an unbroken forest.

Thus was inaugurated the beginning of a town destined to play no unimportant part in the future history of Huron County. In the fall of the same year Mr. Irwin commenced the erection of a hotel, which was completed the year following. This hotel was destroyed by the fire of 1881, but has since been rebuilt.

About the same time L. Mathews started a general store and was followed soon after by Robert Philp. Being away from all means of transportation, either by rail or water, the town had a slow growth. During seven years it reached a population of only 179. After the fire of 1881, which consumed the entire town, except the court-house and a few small houses, the place took on a new life, and it might be said a new birth, and has grown rapidly ever since, having now a population of about 800.

Bad Axe is located near the geographical center if the county, on rising ground which has a gentle slope from the site in each direction. The soil is rich, of a gravelly loam nature, which, added to the favorable location, renders drainage rapid and easy. The water is exceedingly pure, and is freed from limy substances. In a short space of time this wilderness has been transformed into cultivated farms, and a beautiful village of fine dwellings and pleasant lawns. In 1882 the western branch of the Port Huron & Northwestern Railway was completed through Bad Axe to Port Austin, which gave a new impetus to the growth of this village. The buildings here, like most of those put up in the county, are constructed of wood. A suitable clay has been found, and a brick-yard has been started by Warren Bros., who make a good quality of brick. There are many things to favor the belief that "Bad Axe" will cut its way to the front and be a large town. It is surrounded by a large agricultural country, of which it will be the trading center. Its manufacturing industries and its general business is equitably distributed, which is largely in its favor. It has one railroad, and in a short time will undoubtedly have another,—a branch from the Saginaw, Huron & Tuscola,—which will run from Saginaw Bay through to Sand Beach. There are parties who believe that the country about Bad Axe is favorable for the production of petroleum; but the geological formation will not warrant this belief, and in our judgment that which has stimulated this idea is only a surface indication. We should be glad, however, for the good people here, to find that we are mistaken.

John Ballentine keeps a large stock of general merchandise. He is one of the oldest settlers in the county, first started business at Verona, and moved to Bad Axe in 1882. When he first started a store at Verona he paid as high as five dollars freight on a barrel of sugar. This was unlike the experience of others. He was burned out by the fires of 1871 and 1881. Robert Philp & Co. deal in general merchandise, carrying a large stock of goods. Mr. Philp has the post-office. L. C. Carpenter & Co., Odell & Collins, George Smilley, J. A. Morgan and James C. Roberts are also dealers in general merchandise. B. L. Scott is one of the enterprising men of Bad Axe, locating hire in 1879. He manufactures lumber and flour, has a large elevator, and does a a general merchandise business. He cuts about 3,000,000 feet of lumber annually.

There are two planing-mills, carried on by Miller & Sons, and Bell Irwin. Reuben Rapson has a wagon factory, which he started in 1874. N. B. Sweet & Co. have a general furniture store and is also undertaker. James Stillwell keeps a general hardware store, and W. Hawley & Co. a clothing house. R. A. Johnson keeps a general assortment of harness and saddlery. N. J. Cummings and W. E. Small represent the jewelry trade. Mrs. Elizabeth Duke has a bakery and a confectionery store. J. C. Edwards has a tailor shop. Mesdames Rossiter & Brower have millinery and ladies' furnishing goods. Charles McAvoy has a blacksmith shop. A photograph gallery has been opened by John McEvoy. Joel Wallace, with his genial countenance, presides over a restaurant, saloon and a cigar and tobacco store. There are two other saloons in the town. Walker & Seeley are the pioneers here in the banking business. They have a fine two-story brick building, into which they have recently moved. Their banking rooms have been fitted up with a good deal of taste.

G. W. Bradley manufactures patent medicines, and has also a barber shop. John Andrews supplies the people with meats. Medical science is represented by Drs. John S. Deady (who also has a drug store), Hugh M. Gale and M. C. McDonnell.

The law is represented by W. T. Bope, George May wood, Win. Potter, J. F. Welch, Chipman and Carpenter and Warner. Richard Smith does an abstract, insurance and real-estate business.

The Central House, located on Main Street and kept by Thomas Morrow, is a large fine three-story building. It is well appointed in every way and is as clean, neat and tidy as-a doll house. The guests are carefully looked after, and there is no place in the county where the traveler will feel more at home than with landlord Morrow.

The Irwin House is a large, commodious structure, three stories high, located west of the courthouse on Main Street. It is well furnished and well kept.

The First Presbyterian Church.—In 1873 this Church was organized at Bad Axe and composed of members residing in the townships of Sheridan, Verona, Paris and Colfax. The members resided at a distance from Bad Axe, varying from three to twelve miles. They obtained two lots from Wood & Co. for a church building and parsonage, on condition that they were to put up these buildings; but, owing to the scattered condition of the members and their limited number, they were unable to build and the lots reverted to the original owners, and the membership was disbanded. In 1878, this society was reorganized, with ten members, by Rev. J. E. Beecher. Services were held in the school-house for a while, then in the Protestant Methodist church, until it was destroyed by the fire. After this, services were held occasionally at different places. In 1883, through the aid received from the Syndical Committee appointed by the Synod of Michigan to collect funds for the building of churches in the burnt district, this society began the erection of a church and parsonage, which was completed and the former dedicated in 1883. Later on, a pact of this congregation were united with the United Presbyterian's, who occupy the church built by the Relief Committee; the : other part still maintain their original organization, and are supplied from the Verona and Ubly Churches, by Rev. P. A. McMartin. The United Presbyterian's, were organized in 1.881, with Rev. F. W. Vertican presiding, who served until July, 1883. They had sixteen members. The present Pastor; Rev. J. P. Gibson, took charge in January, 1884. Present membership, about twenty-four. The edifice is very neat and attractive, and is of Gothic architecture.

The Baptist Church of Bad Axe was organized in 1878, with eight members: Rev. A. Corey, Pastor. The first church building was erected in 1879, at a ^ cost of $2,500. This building was destroyed by the \ fire of 1881. Under the zealous leadership of James J McArthur, who was then Pastor, the church was rebuilt, at a cost of $3,000. It is a handsome structure, and is an ornament to the town. The present Pastor is Rev. W. P. Owens. Membership, fifty-one. Methodist Episcopal Church.—Rev. George Walker was the first Pastor of this charge, in 1878. He was succeeded in 1880, by Rev. John Bettis, who held until 1882. Rev. Piercy Deling then look charge until 1884, when the Saginaw Conference appointed Rev. Henry King. The Church was organized in, 1880. Jacob Durfey & wife, and Duncan Williams and wife were the first members. The society has as good church building and a parsonage, and are practically out of debt Present membership is eighty-nine. A "Union Sunday-school" is connected with the Church, which is doing a good work. St. Paul's Protestant Episcopal Church—In the autumn of 1880 this society held its full services, in a school-house, Rev. W. H. Smythe officiating. A church building was framed in Detroit in 1881 and shipped to Bad Axe, via Sand Beach. It was hauled from Sand Beach to Bad Axe and completed in 1882, at a cost of $1,200. The rectory was built in 1883. At present there are forty communicants. The mission has been much improved, and is in a growing and thrifty condition. It is under the Diocese of Michigan. An interesting Sabbath-school is one of the features of this Church. Rev. John C. Anderson is in charge of this Church. Missionary services are also held by him at Ubly, Gagetown, and in the town of Grant, with a good attendance.

The Huron Tribune.—A mariner might as well undertake to navigate the Atlantic without a compass as for a people to attempt in this age to build up a town without the aid of the press. They are the great exponents of thought, and the potent power that gives life and success to all business enterprises. Believing in this principle, the people of this little village have established through their patronage two good newspapers to represent their interests.

The pioneer in this enterprise was the Haekivoodsman, very appropriately named at the time. It was started by Bell Irwin, and cast its light before the people of Bad Axe in 1876. In 1880, George A. Miller purchased it and changed the name to Huron Tribune, Originally it was Democratic in politics. When the change took place, it became Republican. In the spring of 1881, John Maywood bought a half interest, and in December, 1883, bought the other half, and is now editor and proprietor. Mr. Maywood is making a success out of his enterprise. The Tribune is a newsy, interesting paper, and is doing a good deal for the development of the county and the advancement of civilization.

Bad Axe Democrat—Early in 1884, E. J. Dunn, through the aid of the citizens of Bad Axe, started the above named paper. It was not a success, and was sold to J. T. Rorick, who is now editor and proprietor. In politics, as its name indicates, it is Democratic. Mr. Rorick has rapidly increased the circulation, and is laying a permanent foundation for a successful enterprise. He is a practical newspaper man, keenly alive to the interests and wants of the people and the future importance of Bad Axe. He is in the field at a propitious season, and we expect that the incoming administration will be aided and supported in the discharge of the onerous duties of government by his able paper.

The people of Bad Axe, looking to the proper rearing of the young, have been forward in establishing a good school. They have a fine one-story brick building with three commodious apartments. There are 160 pupils in attendance. The building, though large, is not commensurate for the growing demands of the village. A. J. Lynd is Principal, with two assistants—Miss Grace Norton and Miss Manning.

There are several societies in Bad Axe. The Masonic brethren have an organization here which was started this year. They have a hall well furnished, and suitable for a large membership. The Grand Army of the Republic have a Post at this place, Wisner, No. 70. It was organized in 1882. There is also a society of Good Templars, which has been established several years. One of the best things for the county is the Huron County Agricultural and Art Society, which holds its annual fairs here. It has been established several years. Bad Axe is one of the few towns in the county that enjoys the luxury of a brass band. This was organized July r, 1884. John M. Gary is President, C. A. Johnson, Secretary and R. Haller, Drum Major. For the time they have been together, they play exceedingly well.

Huron County may well be proud of her public buildings, for there are few county structures in the State that can surpass them for durability of construction and elegancy of style and finish. The Court House is a large two-story building, with a basement. It is built of stone and brick, and well appointed throughout. It is heated by a furnace, with all the latest improved fixtures. This building was erected in 1875, at a cost of $25,000, and was one of the few buildings that escaped the fire of 1881. The postoffice was first opened about three miles west, on the State road. This was in 1868. The mail was carried then the original way,—on the back of a horse,—and was received once a week. At this time there was no other building within three miles. Charles Brown was Postmaster, who held it until the spring of 1875, when Sep. Irwin was appointed. Robert Philp, the present Postmaster, succeeded Irwin the following fall. Daily mails are now received by rail, and twice a week from Sebewaing, by stage: daily by stage from Sand Beach.

The Verona Jail is one of the best jails in the State. It is three stories high, and is constructed of stone and brick and well finished. There are thirteen strong cells in it and living apartments for the keeper, which are first-class. It was completed in 1875 at a cost of $13,000. It also escaped the fire.

Soon after the county seat had been permanently located, the Board of Supervisors assembled together to make some provisions for the poor of the county. This was in the spring of 1875. The Board appointed a committee with authority to locate and purchase a site for the poor farm, which they proceeded to do. Two hundred acres of land was located about one mile west of Bad Axe, for which the county paid $600. Thomas Morrow was appointed overseer, and work was begun. The site was all wild land. The same season and the winter following, ten acres of land was cleared and a barn was built. The year 1876, Mr. Morrow cleared off fifteen acres more, and material was also gathered in for building a house. The following year the house was built. It is *a fine, large two-story house with attic, having some twenty-five rooms, and cost between $3,500 and $4,000. The rooms are comfortably furnished, well ventilated, and are heated by stoves. Another barn and two sheds were built, and more land cleared up and put under cultivation. One hundred and sixty acres have been improved altogether, which is all well fenced. The whole premises are in a good condition and well kept. The average number of poor persons here is about ten.

The farm is well stocked with cattle, hogs and horses. The clothing provided for the occupants is plain and substantial, and the food good and wholesome; and a physician is employed to look after their medical wants. They are made to feel at home, and to be as comfortable and happy as possible under the circumstances. The cost of supporting this establishment, together with some outside indigent persons, is estimated at $3,500 per year. Thomas Morrow resigned in 1882, and Winehast was appointed, who held his place until last fall, when the present overseer, Wm. Story, was appointed.

The people of Huron County deserve credit for attending so well to their poor. Charity and benevolence are among the noblest traits of the human character.

Portrait and Biographical Huron County MI 1884 Pg 467