Saturday, June 30, 2012

Sault Ste. Marie

Once I figured out how to spell the name of this city I then became curious as to how it got its name.  The oldest town in the state, Sault Ste. Marie, was established in 1668 by fathers Jacques Marquette and Claude Dablon in 1668. They named the town in honor of the Virgin Mary. The French word "sault" means rapids or waterfalls. The town lies along the St.Marys River whose rapids proved to be a natural barrier to vessel navigation. The river is the only water connection between Lake Superior and the other Great Lakes.  It falls 21-feet from the level of Lake Superior to the level of the lower lakes. The early settlers soon found it a difficult process to portage around the falls. The first locks for the river, on the U.S. side of the river, were built in 1853.  This became known as the St.Marys Falls Ship Canal, or the Soo.  We were fortunate that on the day we were in Sault Ste.Marie the buildings and grounds of the locks were opened to the public, a day designated as "Engineer's Day".   The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were available to answer any questions regarding the locks.  We also were able to walk close to a couple of the locks, unfortunately no large ships were coming through at the time we were there.  I will speak more regarding the ship canal in my next posting.  We took a boat tour of the town's harbor in the afternoon.
 From the locks we walked down Water Street to tour the historic part of the town.  Irish fur trader John Johnston and his Ojibwe wife, Oshahguscodaywayquay, established their home and business in Sault Ste. Marie in 1793.  Unfortunately Johnson was sympathetic to the British and assisted them in taking  Fort Mackinac in 1812.   In retaliation the Americans torched his home in 1815.  He rebuilt the home and added an addition in 1823.  The addition is the only part of the home which has survived and is the oldest building in Sault Ste. Marie.
Johnston's eldest daughter married Henry Schoolcraft, noted for his early studies of Native American cultures as well as for his 1832 expedition for the origin of the Mississippi River.  His wife shared with him her knowledge of Ojibwe legends ( probably obtained from her mom) and Schoolcraft passed them on to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Those stories were in part a source for Longfellow's epic poem  The Song of Hiawatha.  Schoolcraft's house, which later became an Indian Agency Office, is also still on Water Street. It was built in 1826.  After the Indian agency moved out the federal style building, with two symmetrical wings on it, became the home of Charles Harvey who built the first locks at the Sault. 

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