The Port of Bay City lies on the shores of the Saginaw River about four nautical miles upriver from Saginaw Bay in east central Michigan. The Port of Bay City is about 98 nautical miles (167 kilometers or 194 miles by air) south-southwest of Alpena and some 129 nautical miles (136 kilometers or 85 miles by air) northwest of Port Huron. The 2010 US Census reported a population of almost 35 thousand people in the Port of Bay City.
Main city of the Saginaw-Bay City-Saginaw metropolitan area, the Port of Bay City and the cities of Midland and Saginaw form what is known as the "Tri-Cities," or more recently the "Great Lakes Bay" region. Divided by the Saginaw River, the Port of Bay City's four drawbridges allow big ships to travel the river.
Before Europeans came, the Potawatomi Nation inhabited the region where the Port of Bay City is located today. They were part of the Council of Three Fires alliance with the Ojibwe and Ottawa. The Potawatomi fought in Tecumseh's War, the War of 1812, and the Peoria War, but they fought on different sides (British and American) depending on the political atmosphere at the time.
In the late 1820s, a treaty with the United States started the removal of the Potawatomi from the future Port of Bay City area. The United States was then creating reservations, and the Potawatomi were represented by Chief Che-Che-Pinqua (also known as Alexander Robinson) and fur trader Billy Caldwell, both of whom were half Potawatomi.
The treaty basically ceded most of the Potawatomi lands to the States of Michigan and Wisconsin. In the following years, the reservation lands shrank with the continuing influx of European settlers. In 1833, the final Treaty of Chicago began the forced removal of the Potawatomi people west of the Mississippi River, although many either stayed in Michigan or fled to Canada.
In 1831, Leon Trombley built a log cabin on the Saginaw River's east bank, becoming the first settler in the future Port of Bay City. In 1834, another log cabin was built by John B. Trudell, and he bought an expanse of land along the river, making him the first permanent resident of the Port of Bay City. The city was established in 1837, and the Port of Bay City was incorporated as a city in 1865.
The Port of Bay City was at first known as "Lower Saginaw," and it was part of Saginaw County until Bay County was created in 1857 and its name was changed. Many settlers moved to Lower Saginaw (to become the Port of Bay City) because bigger ships could navigate the shallow waters near Saginaw. The deeper waters of the Port of Bay City made shipping-based industry easier and more profitable.
By 1860, the Port of Bay City was home to some two thousand people, and several small businesses and mills were operating in the city. With incorporation of the village of Bay City in 1865, rapid economic growth brought jobs in milling, lumbering, and ship-building to the Port of Bay City. Industrialists in the Port of Bay City floated lumber to the mills and factories, making a lot of money and building mansions that are historic landmarks today.
In 1873, a Port of Bay City pioneer, Charles C. Fitzhugh Jr., built a home on property that would become the Port of Bay City's city hall. In 1891, the Fitzhughs sold the property to the City specifically for the city hall and no other purpose.
In the late 19th Century, the Port of Bay City was home to many industries, including ship-builders and sawmills, that have since closed. Closing in 1975, the Defoe Shipbuilding Company made patrol craft, destroyers, and destroyer escorts for the US Navy.
Until 1905, the settled area on the river's west bank was a separate city, West Bay City. In 2005, the Port of Bay City celebrated its unification. Today, the Port of Bay City is the largest town in and the seat of the county.
Today, the Port of Bay City hosts international companies like General Motors, Dow Corning, and SC Johnson. Also contributing jobs to the local economy of the Port of Bay City are the Michigan Sugar Company and Bay Medical Center. Saginaw Valley State University and Delta College also contribute to the employ in the Port of Bay City in addition to providing educational opportunities.