Survivor of 1881’s Great Michigan Thumb Fire, Brown City Still Thrives
My initiation to Brown City was when I was around six years old. My mom had a cousin that lived in an old country farmhouse out in the country. I can barely remember the farm and can’t recall the inside at all. But I do remember when they gave me a collie puppy. I grew up with that dog ‘til I entered college. That was my introduction to Brown City. I never gave it another thought until years later when I began writing.
Brown City was founded in 1879 by Robert & John Brown, becoming a station on the Port Huron & Northwestern Railway. By 1880, the town was being built on farmland owned by the above-mentioned Robert. When the post office began that same year, Robert became the town's first postmaster. At the time, the town was called “Errol” but changed in 1881 to “Brown City”, thanks to the community efforts of Robert and John.
The railroad brought a lot of business and money to the town, thanks to the shipping of grain and lumber. Due to this growth, Brown City was finally incorporated as a village in 1887 and reached city status in 1907.
The second Great Michigan Thumb fire in 1881 destroyed much of the town, just ten years after the first “Great Thumb” fire of 1871. These fires were believed to be spread to a greater extent, caused by drought and piles of debris left by lumber companies: sawdust, discarded dry timber, fallen trees, and dried pulp. These fires tore through the counties of Huron, Sanilac, St. Clair, and Tuscola from September 4-6, hitting Brown City in its wake and destroying most of the town. One structure that was saved from the devastation was the infamous Bruce Mansion, the subject of one of Michigan’s most notorious ghost stories.
After re-building the town, Brown City continued to survive and do well, but unfortunately, most of those great old re-built storefronts and structures are gone. Below is a photo gallery showing many of the downtown businesses and buildings that were constructed after the 1881 fire. Decades later, many were unceremoniously torn down and more modern ones popped up.
You'll find Brown City in Sanilac County's Maple Valley Township in Michigan's Thumb...take a thumb trip this year!
The Michigan Thumb Town of Brown City
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