Growth of Saline

Reprinted from: Saline Has a Past in Its Future, Saline Historic District Commission, 1976, reprinted October 1984.

Photo Doris Kays Kraushaar

The first plat of Saline Township, surveyed by Joseph Francis, identified the area as Township No. IV South, Range No. V East of Meridian, Michigan Territory. The "Meridian" of Michigan runs only a short distance west of Washtenaw, in Jackson County. This survey certified by the U.S. Surveyor General's Office on November 5, 1819, was to draw Risdon, Miller, Cross, Parsons and their soon-to-be-friends to the yet unsettled Michigan interior. It was here that the important Sauk Indian Trail drew closest to the legendary salt springs. This was an ideal place to settle, with the latent power of the Saline River, so important in taming the wilderness.

Although others purchased land to the west in the township several months before, both Friend Whitlock and Orange Risdon were two of the earliest. Whitlock obtained the northwest quarter and Risdon the northeast quarter of section I on August 11, 1824, for slightly over $200 each. Whitlock's land is the site of Barnegat (although his only connection today is the street bearing his name). Risdon's land became the location of the original village of Saline.

Orange Risdon's surveying talent was in demand, and he didn't settle his land immediately. In his absence, others came to the same area. However, they chose land to the south in Sections I and 12. Apparently, as the river flowed through these sections, it fell a sufficient distance to make an ideal site for a mill. The Parsons brothers who purchased their land in 1826, built a saw mill in 1827 and a grist mill soon thereafter. Others settling near the salt springs in those first few years, were also south of the eventual site of Saline.

Risdon returned in 1829 to build his home on a hill at the western edge of his property, along the Detroit and Chicago Road, he had surveyed. This was an ideal site for a city, where main north-south roads to Ann Arbor, Tecumseh and Monroe crossed his "military" road. In 1832 he surveyed and platted Saline to be six city blocks, three north and three south of "Chicago Street" (which is now Michigan Avenue). This was intersected by "Adrian Street" (now North and South Ann Arbor) and bounded on the west by the "original" Monroe Street. The plat was recorded in 1838.


Monroe street is the only element of Risdon's Original plan which has its location changed today - and it is a curious change. Risdon noted for this street a direction of N 39 degrees W, one of only two compass directions he indicated on his plat. North of Chicago Street the extension was called "Grand river road". These facts do not have much meaning unless one reviews an official state map prepared twelve years later under the direction of State Geologist Douglass Houghton. His map of the entire county shows Saline Township in detail and all roads in existence at that time. The roads in 1844 show a remarkable similarity to those which remain today, with a few notable exceptions, primarily around the Saline river. Either the roads in this area, shown on Houghton's map, were merely planned and later abandoned because of difficult terrain and/or swamps, or the roads existed and were later changed for the same reasons.

The original direction of Monroe Street is in perfect alignment with the Saline-Milan Road at the present southern city limits. The land this road would have followed is poor for construction and the route obviously has changed. 1856 and 1864 maps show Monroe Street re-aligned as it is now. To make the situation even more confusing, the name was "Tecumseh street" in 1874 and changed back to "Monroe Street" by 1915. Undoubtedly, this is the historic route of the plank road between Saline and Milan which passed through Mooreville.


Although certainly some development did occur in Whitlock's quarter to the west, significant growth was spurred by Schuyler Haywood's construction of his mill in 1845. The fall in the Saline River at this location was handselled and the result was quite an "industrial" area, with mills, an ashery, blacksmith, hardware store and tin shop. The residential area which developed just west became known as "Barnegat." The geographic boundary of Saline took a westward leap when Haywood's addition became the first formal addition to the city in 1848.


The next major impetus which affected Saline's growth came in 1870 with the arrival of the Detroit, Hillsdale and Indiana railroad. This spurred expansion of the city north Saline Township into Lodi Township. It was here that the railbed was laid and less than a year later Bennett's Addition of September 1871 was platted to trackside. Mills Addition filled in the western area between the original plat and Bennett's short time after, in December 1871. Curiously, these recorded additions left an area of the City not "added to Risdon's "original town". As no formal plat has been uncovered to date, presumably this area became part of Saline by the addition of individual lots.


The growth to the east took place at the same time as to the north. Saline had become an agricultural shipping center with the advent of the railroad. A.H. Risdon responded by platting his addition to the city in May 1870, along Chicago Street, to the east of the original town plat. It should be noted, that more than one-half of this addition was beyond Orange Risdon's northeast quarter of land, and was actually located in York Township. It is also of interest that the original plat did not extend all the way to Harris Street, the starting point for the 1870 addition. It was platted one lot short, and it is not known when this was corrected. Apparently, the next impetus to eastern growth was the arrival of the electric car "Maude" in 1899, which made travel to Ypsilanti and points east more convenient. As important as she was to 20th century travel in Saline, the city did not particularly extend its limits to greet her.

After the growth spurt of the 1870's caused by the railroad, it was not until sixty-six years later that new additions were platted. This was probably because of the short-lived influence of the railroad. Whatever economic problems this caused, it did have one benefit. The city did not grow, and therefore changed little. This has probably been the main contribution to Saline's present day, comfortable, small-town character.