The Marine City area was home to a number of native American tribes in the pre-colonial period. Fragmentary records indicate migrations of Algonquian speaking folk like the Fox Tribe and Iroquoian speakers like the Neutrals lived here for a time. Ojibwa and Adawa peoples became dominant in the 18th century.
The first Europeans were the French explorers like LaSalle who sailed past this site in 1679 aboard the Griffon. By the late 18th century a few intrepid French farmers came north out of Detroit and established ribbon or strip farms on land just south of the future Marine City. Michigan became a territory in 1805 and settlers came in greater numbers. The Erie Canal opened in 1825 and with it a direct shipping route for Michigan products eastward to New York markets and a much easier route for immigrant settlers westward. It is exactly during this period that Marine City emerged as an important maritime center. Over 250 wooden ships were built in the ship yards on the banks of the Belle River that runs south east through town to empty into the St. Clair River. A colony, a village and then a city burgeoned around this industry. The wood came from the virgin forests right here. Fortunes were made, other industries started and the community that went through at least four name changes became incorporated as Marine City in 1887. Money was spent on stylish homes of the era and city fathers followed suit with a stylish new home for city government at 300 Broadway St. A professional architect, George Mason, was employed and he used the popular Richardson Romanesque style for the building.
Marine City has examples of Greek or Classical Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne, Stick Style and Vernacular Victorian houses. Visitors are encouraged to take a slow drive down city side streets to see these homes. Broadway and Water Streets are graced by several well preserved examples of Victorian era storefronts.
The 20th Century held both good and bad fortune for the city. Ship building in wood was passe' and other industries like salt mining failed. Light industry and retail became the mainstays of the city economy. A moderated economy produced a blessing. Large numbers of 19th century commercial and residential structures survived to be restored and newly treasured. Unlike many Blue Water communities, Marine City still has a good portion of its old town left and a healthy commitment to preserve and protect that legacy. The Pride and Heritage Museum at 405 S. Main St. has a treasure trove of artifacts, papers, photographs, maritime pieces, a scale model of the city in the 19th century, and a wealth of clothing, tools, blacksmith equipment and household articles collected from town. Call (810) 765-5446 for museum hours. Across Main St. is the Captain David Lester Historical Residence. This carefully restored Italianate style mansion may be visited. Call (810) 765-5912 for tour information.
Marine City, the Belle River and the St. Clair River looking north. Photo by Jim Cottrell.
The 1884 City Hall designed by George Mason.
Water Street looking south about 1870.
Water Street today.
A classic example of Italianate Style, the Bower-Rose Funeral Home.
The Guy Center City Offices and the Peche Island Rear Range Light.