Sault Historic Placards

Did you know one of the most historic streets in all of Michigan lies within Sault Ste. Marie? Water Street, located near the Soo Locks, was once the cultural hub of Sault Ste. Marie when the French arrived in 1668. And it has long been the cultural hub of the Native American people that were here long before the arrival of Europeans. Continue reading for more about the placards celebrating the history of Sault Ste. Marie through the eras. Or take the history home with you by downloading the placards here. We’d like to give a special thanks to the Chippewa County Historical Society for the research and creation of the placards along Water Street.

Step back into history as you explore the placards along Water Street. From the earliest encounters between Europeans and indigenous peoples to the founding of Fort Brady and the bustling trade of the 19th century, each plaque unveils a new chapter in Sault Ste. Marie’s captivating narrative. Discover tales of exploration, trade, and cultural exchange that have shaped the city’s identity over centuries.

The Gathering Place

As you begin your stroll, immerse yourself in the origins of Water Street as a gathering place for Native American tribes and Michigan’s first European settlers. Learn about the St. Marys River, known as Baaweting to the Anishinaabeg people, and its role in shaping the region’s history. Discover the site’s significance as the location of Michigan’s first European settlement and the scene of pivotal colonial events, setting the stage for the stories to come.

Fort Brady and America

Continue westward and encounter the legacy of Fort Brady, a testament to Sault Ste. Marie’s strategic importance in colonial America. Explore the fort’s role in safeguarding French interests and countering English trade attempts, all while witnessing the enduring presence of Jean Baptiste Cadotte and his Ojibwe family amidst changing political tides. Delve into the stories of French Army officers and their efforts to establish a stronghold in the heart of the Great Lakes.

Take a walk through time

The Creation of the Soo Locks

Arrive at the next stop and learn how Sault Ste. Marie’s economic importance to the nation was established. In the 1830s, Sault Ste. Marie underwent major changes with the founding of Fort Brady and the discovery of valuable copper and iron ore. The opening of the Soo Locks in 1855 was a game-changer, turning the town into a vital hub for ore transportation. Initially isolated, the town saw better connectivity with the arrival of the railroad in 1888. After the Civil War, Fort Brady was rebuilt and later moved, with its old grounds becoming today’s Brady Park.

The End of an Era

Near the end of the 19th century Sault Ste. Marie faced two devastating fires on Water Street, destroying numerous buildings, including the Chippewa House and the Sault Ste. Marie National Bank. Water Street was a bustling business hub, but fires in 1886 and 1896 led to the construction of more fireproof buildings on other streets. Early hotels like the Chippewa House and the Michigan Exchange Hotel were pivotal in the area’s history but eventually succumbed to fires. The Elijah B. Allen House, built around 1822, is one of the oldest continuously occupied homes in Michigan, notable for its varied ownership and historical significance. The street names in Sault Ste. Marie commemorate important figures in the city’s history, such as John Johnston, Colonel Hugh Brady, Reverend Abel Bingham, Samuel Ashmun, and Chase S. Osborn.

Into the 20th Century

As time, much like a walk along Water Street, marched on, so did Sault Ste. Marie. The historic placards celebrate the Greatest Generation and beyond with a detailed look at the 20th century.

A Strong Military Presence

Following the Civil War, the strategic importance of Sault Ste. Marie led to the establishment of significant military defense installations, particularly during wartime. Fort Brady, initially built near the current location in 1822, was moved to a hilltop site in 1893 and was active until 1945. During World War II, up to 7,300 soldiers were stationed at the fort, which later served briefly during the Korean War before being deactivated in 1960. Other military presences included the Michigan National Guard and the U.S. Coast Guard, which has been in Sault Ste. Marie since its formation in 1915.

Still a “River Town”

Finally, contemplate the city’s enduring connection to the St. Marys River as you reach the last placards. Lake Superior, fed by numerous rivers and streams, empties through the St. Marys River, with a significant portion of its flow passing through the Little Rapids Cut. Despite common usage, the official name of the river lacks an apostrophe, as per historical practice. Steere Island, once a summer retreat adorned with cottages, was owned by Judge Joseph H. Steere and hosted prominent families from Sault Ste. Marie. Dredging altered the landscape, creating the Hay Lake Channel in 1894, shortening the distance between Lake Huron and Lake Superior. Fort Brady’s relocation in 1893 also marked a significant chapter in the Sault’s history, later repurposed as a branch campus of Michigan College of Mining and Technology, now Lake Superior State University.