IMAGES OF AMERICA: SAGINAW

Roberta Morey's Fascinating New Book on The People Who Shaped the Character of Our Community

Posted In:   From Issue 733   By: Robert E Martin

29th September, 2011     0

Arcadia Publishing's Images of America Series is a leading publisher of local and regional history in the United States with a mission to make history both accessible and meaningful through the publication of books on the heritage of America's people and places. 

The latest addition to their catalog is Saginaw by Robert Morey. A lifelong Saginaw resident, Roberta has used a sampling of her expansive collection of Saginaw memorabilia to tell a compelling visual and literary tale of the notable and unsung heroes that contributed to the unique cultural niche Saginaw possesses within the world. “There are Saginaw books that highlight the founding fathers, street scenes and early events,” writes Roberta, “but I wanted to emphasize Saginaw's people.” 

Even for lifelong residents of the Saginaw area, Roberta's work is revelatory, consisting of visual imagery and histories behind many gorgeous architectural wonders that have long since met the fate of the wrecking ball - Crary School, built on Carroll Street that as early as 1900 had a classroom for the hearing impaired; the old Arthur Hill Trade School, which was named for its benefactor, who willed the school district $200,000 to establish and maintain a trade school, which originally was constructed on the corner of Michigan Avenue & Mackinaw Street; and the Sweet School, built in 1874 in the Seventh Ward of East Saginaw. 

Equal attention to detail is focused upon many unsung 'heroes', such as Charles Coulter, world renowned biologist & orchid specialist Fred Case, and Tony Award winning director, producer, writer, and lyricist Jack O'Brien. 

Saginaw's history begins with its river system, as the first inhabitants of the area were the Chippewa Indians who used the Saginaw, Hiawassee and Tittabawassee Rivers for transportation, fishing, and rice harvesting. 

In 1675 Jesuit priest Fr. Henri Nouvel arrived by canoe from St. Ignace to minister to the local tribes. As the first European visitor, he arrived before the rivers delivered the fur traders, who established trading posts to barter with the Native Americans populating the region. 

In 1819, territorial governor Lewis Cass negotiated a treaty with the Native Americans in which millions of acres of their land was ceded to the U.S. government. After the treaty, settlers began to arrive and lumber barons from the East found the rivers could transport logs from the woods to sawmills that dotted the Saginaw River. 

After the lumber industry waned, many varied trades came into being and a long list of famous names became connected to the growth of the city. It is a sampling of these early developers, heroes, and modern-day entrepreneurs that are featured in this book.  

With two previous works about Saginaw logged into her publishing history, how did Roberta become interested in assembling and organizing this trilogy of pictorial biographies; and how long it take her to research, organize and assemble this latest collection? 

“The first two books dealt with my Saginaw Post Card collection. Collecting these cards led me to become interested in Saginaw's history. This latest book deals more with my collection of Saginaw photos, which I have accumulated through the years at estate and garage sales.”

  

“With this third book I wanted to emphasize people,” she explains. “I didn't want it to be another book that dealt again with Saginaw's famous early leaders or noted sports figures.  I wanted to incorporate some of Saginaw's unsung heroes and contemporary people who should be recognized. It took about a year to put everything together.” 

When pulling together a collection about pivotal people of Saginaw over the decades, processes of selection are in play and inevitably omissions will occur. In terms of entertainers, for example, Stewart Francke and Brian James D'Arcy are featured, yet Larry McCray and Dick Wagner seem conspicuously absent. So how did Roberta go about selecting which individuals to feature in this latest assembly? 

“There are nine chapters in the book and 128 pages. Arcadia Publishing has rules to follow when working with them. An image with text could have no more than 70 words. To meet these requirements most text was very condensed. In the chapter of Artists, Writers and Musicians there could only be a sampling in each category. Stewart and Brian responded quickly when I requested information and pictures from them.  But Arcadia is developing a new series called, "Legendary Locals." There are so many other people who should be included in this work, among them will surely be McCray & Wagner.” 

One of the more amazing and disturbing sections of Roberta's new book consists of visual images of the many glorious buildings that once existed in the city, yet were devastated by fires or natural disasters; let alone the man-made clearings made by bulldozers.   

What are her feelings about architectural preservation within the city? Does she feel that city leaders could or should have done more to protect and retain these marvels, or is Saginaw really no different than many other similar-sized cities in this regard? 

“I do believe in preserving those structures that can be saved,” reflects Roberta. “I belong to the Preservation Society that Tom Mudd heads. Thank goodness we have people like Tom. We have lost so many beautiful buildings, but what's done is done. It's too late to lay the blame on groups or individuals. Saginaw is not the only community that has made mistakes. Look at what happened recently to the Parker House in Saginaw Township.  Unfortunately it takes a good deal of money to preserve or restore structures before they get to the point of no return. Thankfully we have the pictures and history of most of them.” 

With her own strong knowledge of Saginaw's history, who would Roberta rank as the three most important individuals that truly shaped and defined the strengths of Saginaw because of their vision and commitment? 

“Early people that come to mind are James Cooke Mills who wrote the two volume History of Saginaw County, which is an invaluable source; The Goodridge Brothers, whose photos gave us views of early Saginaw; and Jesse Hoyt whose donations gave us a park and a library which we can appreciate these many years later.” 

From the hours of research Roberta invested into this project, what does she feel are the most underrated or misunderstood qualities or attributes about Saginaw that the general public is not aware of? 

“The fact that so many people are working hard to make Saginaw a better place to live is not appreciated by enough people,” she states.  “After the end of the lumber era, we had leaders who were willing to look for other avenues for success in the community. They were positive, not negative thinkers.” 

And when she looks at the city's strongest boom periods of prosperity in terms of population, the economy, and creativity, how would Roberta break them down?  Did they share any common characteristics? 

“The boom periods of course were the lumber days and the automobile manufacturing hey-day. Unfortunately during both periods people thought prosperity would last forever. Although we always have nay-sayers, Saginaw has too many people who are not willing to give up on their city.” 

Finally, what was the most challenging component involved with pulling this book together? 

“There were a lot of challenges involved in working on this book. First, Arcadia does not allow scanning pictures that have been sent by e-mail and printed on ink jet printers. This was a big hindrance, because some of the people I contacted had to send me a real photograph, which I could scan and return.” 

    

“In my collection I had some pictures that were good samples of Saginaw history, but were not sharp images, so I could not use them, which also presented a problem.” 

      

“The biggest thing was that I could only write 70 words about each image. Often there was so much more that should have been included. There were some people that I wanted to write about, but had no image, for example, the Stengleins who invented Spic & Span. I used an advertising matchbook that I happened to have.” 

“But the best thing about working on this book was dealing with the people or families featured. I learned so much from Alex Gorashko and his experiences as a prisoner of war in Germany. Mary Sue Barry shared the scrapbooks she put together about her dad and his years as a prisoner after the Bataan Death March. I knew Ray Barry as a neighbor and I was aware that he was legally blind because of the diet in the prison camp in the Philippines, and the reason why he didn't like rice.” 

“I reacquainted with others, such as Dr. David SilverNorma Anderson and Stewart Francke, and there were some that I wish I had known better, such as Fred Case.” 

      Saginaw by Roberta Morey: Images of America series is priced at $21.99 and available at area bookstores, independent retailers, and online through Arcadia Publishing at 888-313-2665 or www.arcadiapublishing.com 

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