MNA Protecting Michigan History

by Hannah Ettema
MNA Intern

Not only does MNA protect nature throughout Michigan, but at the Sauk Indian Trail Plant Preserve, a little piece of Michigan history is saved forever.

The Sauk Trail has witnessed magnificent changes in history. From glacial changes to population changes to technological changes, the trail acts as a worthy marker of history and its unyielding power as a force of time.

Early History

The land on the preserve was once part of the Great Sauk trail, which ran from western Illinois to Detroit.

Based on excavated evidence by paleontologists from the University of Michigan, some theories suggest that game animals were using the trail as migratory routes more than 10,000 years ago.

By the time Europeans arrived in Michigan in the seventeenth century the trail was already a well-established pathway through the wilderness. The trail roughly followed the line of abundant forests to the north as it connected with open grasslands to the south.

map Sauk Indian Trail Michigan

the Sauk Indian Trail through Michigan

With the construction of the Eric Canal in 1825, the traffic on the trail increased. Travelers would leave their boats in Detroit and continue west towards Chicago or other cities along the way.

The same year the canal opened, the United States appropriated $3,000 for the Sauk trail. As the second federal highway in the nation, the money was needed to accommodate for the large amount of traffic.

As traffic continued, towns began growing along the trail. Spaced at about fifteen mile intervals, small agricultural towns like Saline, Clinton, Jonesville, Allen, Quincy, Bronson, Sturgis, White Pigeon and Niles grew and served as station stops for the trail.

Transportation Advances

After the Civil War, the railroad system grew throughout the country. Recognizing the geographic sensibility of the trail, a railroad was constructed parallel to it bringing more wealth and affluence to the people and towns along the corridor.

With the railroad’s arrival, some small farming towns became industry centers. Washtenaw County in Southeast Michigan became one of the leading producers of wool in the country because of sheep raisers from England settling there off of the trail. Their wool would eventually be used for soldier uniforms in WWI and II and later for car upholstery.

Soon the automobile was the means of transportation in America and with it came the need for roads. In 1916 Congress passed the Federal Aid Road Act with hopes of constructing a highway system that could replace the railroad as the major means of surface transportation in the country.

In the early 1920s paving began of the Chicago Road (Sauk Trail) to become US-112.

wildflowers at the sanctuary

wildflowers at the sanctuary

Since the construction of I-69 and I-94 across the state, traffic on US-12 has shifted allowing for history to be preserved and the route to still be used as a regional connector.

For more information about US-12, click here.

For more information about Sauk Indian Trail Plant Preserve and other MNA properties, click here.