History of New Baltimore
by Alan Naldrett
The first settlers in the New Baltimore area were the Native Americans who probably, five to ten thousand years ago, arrived in the area by crossing one of the many lakes or rivers. An early source states that the greater area surrounding what is now New Baltimore was not visited much, except as a burial ground. The name they gave to the Macomb County area was Pagigendamowinaki, which means “great burial place of the Indians” in the Chippewa language. The Chippewa/Ojibwa Native Americans were the predominant tribe in the area and their burial mounds were found in so many that there is a major road In Macomb County called Mound Road. French explorers led by Pierre Yax first came to the New Baltimore area in 1796. They had a land grant signed by President John Quincy Adams July 3, 1826. This document traced a "Land Patent" back to him in 1812 from when Michigan was still part of the Northwest Territory. Pierre Yax’s land was at the mouth of Crapeau Creek. Fabian Robertjean made the first government purchase of land in the area in 1820. The Treaty of Detroit created three Native American reservations, two in nearby Chesterfield, as depicted on the map, and one in neighboring Ira Township.
Yax and other French settlers trapped and hunted animals, traded furs and other items with the Native Americans, and they for the most part got along quite well, with some settlers inter-marrying with them. One of the main trade items was the salt from the nearby Salt River. As they began to farm the area, they marked off “strip farms” which were long narrow portions of land platted so that the narrow end was by the river or lake, allowing for many settlers to have access to the water they needed for farming. In 1845 businessman Alfred Ashley came from neighboring Mt. Clemens and purchased 60 acres on either side of Washington, an area that became known as the Village of Ashley. In 1851 Alfred Ashley platted the village and founded the village’s first post office, which was christened Ashleyville in order to avoid confusion with another Ashley located in Michigan. In 1867, the name was changed to New Baltimore. The original village encompassed the center part of what is now New Baltimore, extending northwest along Base, Clay and Maria Streets down to Anchor Bay.
Alfred Ashley opened a sawmill in the village named for him, as he had 25 years earlier in Mt. Clemens. He was a member of the company that built the plank road to Romeo and built the first dock and the first steamboat in the village. He was also a member of the Legislature in 1828 and was one of the founders of the village’s First Congregational Church at Base and Alfred Streets. Ashley was incorporated as a village in 1867 and the name was officially changed to New Baltimore. The village took advantage of its close proximity to the water to develop manufacturing and agricultural businesses whose wares were conveniently shipped to surrounding areas via Anchor Bay, and the St. Clair and Detroit Rivers. Some of these businesses were factories that produced bricks, brooms, coffins, corsets, and creamery products. New Baltimore had three stave mills as well (Perkins Stave Mill pictured), and staves from New Baltimore were used to make barrels all around the state. From the docks of New Baltimore, lumber and other building materials were shipped to outlying areas from piers that extended more than 100 feet from the shore.
Grand Trunk Railroad had a line that ran from Detroit to Port Huron in the late 1800s. Beginning in 1870, the Detroit Urban Railroad had a branch that ran from Detroit to Port Huron until the early 1930s. The train ran through New Baltimore, and because the village was in the middle of the route, the power plant for the train was built in New Baltimore on Highview Avenue. The interurban trains, as they were called, ran along Gratiot, down 23 Mile Road into New Baltimore, and out along M-29 to Anchorville and Fair Haven. The depot for New Baltimore was located across the street from where the New Baltimore Municipal Offices are in the 21st Century, the one-time location of Hathaway Institute.
Hatheway Institute was a school built in 1876 with money left to the village by local tycoon Gilbert Hatheway in 1871. Gilbert Hatheway owned a stave factory, commercial docks, and a shipping business. Due to prolonged litigation regarding the estate and interest, the money left to the city had grown considerably by the time the school was built. A beautiful three-story building with a gymnasium on the top was built and the building served as a high school and teacher training institute for many decades. It was razed in 1970.
From the 1860s to the 1880s, New Baltimore’s manufacturing base began to take second place to its burgeoning status as a tourist center. With resort ships and the interurban trains bringing people from Detroit and other environs, New Baltimore became home to a mineral bath house, an opera house, a brewery, taverns, boating marinas and piers, luxury hotels, and other social and recreational activities catering to a tourist trade. Pictured is an early parade down Washington Street, and the St. Clair Hotel which was on Front Street near the waterfront.
New Baltimore had its own water plant, beginning in the late 1800s. The village was able to produce its own electricity as well. The plant was located down by the water on Front Street. Many versions of this building have been located by the water tower in the City Park, and the latest version is in the same place.
In 1931, New Baltimore was incorporated as a city. In the 1970s the New Baltimore Historical Society formed with intent to preserve the city’s rich and vibrant history. During the 1980s they would store the town archives in the city library, until the Grand Pacific House was purchased to use as a city museum. The museum was opened in 1985 and in 1999 the society paid off the mortgage on the building.
By Alan Naldrett