Did you know that Michigan named a city Zilwaukee in an attempt to trick settlers into thinking it was a major city?

Zilwaukee is a tiny city in Saginaw County with less than 1,600 residents.  Originally established in 1854, Zilwaukee was spelled Zilwaukie.  It didn't become "Zilwaukee" until the late 1800's.  So, why Zilwaukee?  Would you believe the name was intended to confuse people?

Daniel and Solomon Johnson, brothers from New York, created a sawmill on the Saginaw River.  They were trying to find ways to attract more settlers to their area.  Since Milwaukee, Wisconsin was a boom town at the time, they decided to go with Zilwaukie (Zilwaukee) to fool people into coming to their town.  Sounds crazy, right?  This crazy idea is likely responsible for creating the lumber boom in the state of Michigan according to the History of Zilwaukee on web.archive.org,

A number of families subsequently located in Zilwaukie. The settlement began to flourish due to the lumber boom that occurred throughout the State of Michigan in the mid to late 1800’s.

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Wouldn't Nilwaukee have worked better though?  The word "nil" means zero or nonexistent.  So, I guess they made the correct choice.  At its peak, Zilwaukee had nearly 2,000 residents in 1890.  The population has experienced dramatic drops and increases over the years yet has very close to the same amount of residents today as the small Michigan city had in the 1800s.

Vintage Photos of Plainwell: 1800s-1940s


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