Monday, June 30, 2014

The Oldest Settlement in the Midwest

By Naomi Rawlings

Whether it was settled 100 years ago or 1000, every town has its own, unique history. But in the United States, only a handful of towns can claim to be 350 years old. Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan (pronounced soo saint marie) is one of those places. Settled only 40 years after the arrival of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock, it became an important fur-trading settlement.

Why trade fur at Sault Ste. Marie, of all places? Because Sault Ste. Marie is located at the rapids of the Saint Mary's River, effectively connecting Lake Superior to Lake Huron. The rapids fall 21 feet from Lake Superior to the lower Lake Huron and necessitate a portage to cross. This afforded a natural gathering place for Native Americans to trade furs collected along the shores of Lake Superior, and the rapids also provided an abundance of fish.

The Native Americans established a village there possibly as long as 2,000 years ago. The first Europeans traveled to Sault Ste. Marie in 1668. This was Father Jaques Marquette, a Jesuit priest who would go on to become the first explorer of the upper Mississippi River and its tributaries. Father Marquette had heard of the Native American village went there to found a Catholic mission.

Sault Ste. Marie grew in prominence as more and more trappers and fur traders flooded the northern Great Lakes. Sitting right on the border between Canada and the United States, it was often fought over between French and British trappers until the area was finally ceded to the United States in the early 1800s.

Shipping remained an important part of the local economy as natural resources were harvested from the wilds of Lake Superior and shipped to more populated areas. In 1855, the first lock in America was built so that ships no longer needed to portage the rapids.

Today, the city of Sault Ste. Marie still exists. There are four locks, operated by the Army Corps of Engineers, and they are the busiest locks in the world, transferring more freight each year than the Panama and Suez Canals combined.

Have any of you ever heard of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan before? Are you surprised to learn that this little northern city has been around for 350 years? Were you aware that the locks connecting Lake Superior and Lake Huron are the busiest in the world?
A mother of two young boys, Naomi Rawlings spends her days picking up, cleaning, playing and, of course, writing. Her husband pastors a small church in Michigan’s rugged Upper Peninsula, where her family shares its ten wooded acres with black bears, wolves, coyotes, deer and bald eagles. Naomi and her family live only three miles from Lake Superior, where the scenery is beautiful and they average 200 inches of snow per winter. She is looking forward to the release of her fourth novel, Falling for the Enemy, in January 2015. For more information about Naomi, please visit her website at


  1. Yes, I have heard of Sault Ste. Marie and even knew how to pronounce the name, but I didn't know it was so old or the port was the busiest in the world. Interesting! Do you know what the word "Sault" means?

    1. Scholars believe the "Sault" means "jump". The full name would be something like "The Rapids (Jump) of the Saint Mary's." And it wouldn't be the busiest port in in the world, just the busiest locks. And there aren't a whole lot of locks around.

  2. Great post, Naomi. I knew about Sault Ste. Marie, and had even driven through there, but the fact that they outdo the Panama and Suez canals in freight floored me. Thanks!

  3. Thank you for your great post. I had never heard of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.

  4. I thoroughly enjoyed your blog post today, Naomi. A lifelong resident of Michigan, I've been to Sault Ste. Marie numerous times in my life, and am familiar with its history. Those of us who are "Michigan" people are proud of our state and all it has to offer. There's no other state in the country that has such diversity as Michigan, the only state in the country with two complete peninsulas.

  5. Fascinating post, Naomi. I remember a bit about Sault Ste. Marie from elementary school, but I didn't know it was only a handful of towns can claim to be 350 years old.

  6. I've visited Sault Saint Marie and plan to revist it and many of the town and lighthouses around the Great Lakes Region. Thanks for your interesting post about the longevity of this town. sharon wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

  7. Hi Naomi
    I just discovered your site and it sounds like your books might be what I like so I will look forward to reading some of them. I enjoyed your post. Thanks