Historical Perspective 

The original residents of Iosco County were the Sauk Indians. These people were driven out of the area by a combination of the Chippewa, Ottawa, Menominee and Algonquin Indians. The Ottawa and Algonquin Indians were still in the area when European settlers arrived.

The first European to arrive in the area now known as Iosco County was an Englishman, named Henry, who escaped the Mackinac Massacre and was brought as a captive in 1764. The first explorers were French fur traders. One of these was Louis Chevalier, who landed at the mouth of the AuSable River sometime before 1800. He was to be the first European resident of the County.

Through the Treaty of Saginaw, signed by General Lewis Cass in 1819, all but 8,000 acres of Iosco were purchased from the Saginaw Band of the Chippewa Indian Tribe. The 8,000 acres, located near the mouth of the AuSable River, were kept by the tribe for hunting and fishing. Later this area was purchased for an annual stipend of $1,000-- the Indian settlement then moved north near the county line on Section 2, where it still remains.

The first settlement of European origin in the County began to develop in 1848 when two families settled near the mouth of the AuSable River. Here, fishermen were attracted to the abundant supply of trout and whitefish. Soon, sawmills began to emerge near the mouth of the river and along the shoreline of Tawas Bay. White pine, red pine and northern white cedar were amongst the first selected, and they were floated down the river to the mills. Oak, ash, maple, beech and tamarack trees were to follow by the same process.

The State of Michigan established the County in 1857. The original name was "Kanotin County." Kanotin means, "in path of the big wind," and was chosen following a devastating storm which caused Indians to avoid this area. Henry Schoolcraft later renamed the County "Iosco," which means "Water of Light".

Ottawas Bay was shortened to "Tawas Bay," and the City of Tawas City was platted there in 1855. A second, larger town was established in 1887 at a mill site that workers from Tawas City referred to as "Going East." This became the present City of East Tawas.

One of Iosco County's unique natural resources was discovered when, in 1840, gypsum was located in outcroppings on the Lake Huron shoreline. Quarries were opened in 1862 in Alabaster Township, south of Tawas Bay. In 1891, the Western Plaster Works was founded, and by 1902 that company had become the present United States Gypsum Co. In 1926, National Gypsum opened farther inland.

In 1877, the first salt wells in the County were drilled to depths of about 800-960 feet. The manufacture of salt from the high quality brine went hand-in hand with preexisting industries. Wood residues from the mills such as edgings, slabs and mis-cuts, were used as fuel to evaporate the water from the brine. The dried salt was then utilized as a preservative for the fish industry.

As with most northern Michigan counties, lumbering played a major role in the development of Iosco County. The lumbering industry commenced full-swing in the mid 1860's and ran until about 1911 when large portions of Northeast Michigan burned. Most significantly affected were Oscoda and AuSable Townships, which were completely destroyed. The Lake Huron and Southwestern Railroad was built in 1877 to haul lumber and later farm products. In 1894 it became the Detroit and Mackinac Railroad and is currently Lake State Railway Company.

Utilizing governmental statistics maintained through the 19th Century, the lumber industry reached its peak in 1890. The Iosco County population rose from 175 persons in 1860 to an extraordinary 15,244 in 1890. Unfortunately, the lumbering industry in losco County came to a practical end with the Oscoda-AuSable fire that destroyed the large Prescott Sawmill.

With the resulting reduction in employment opportunities, the population of losco County began a steady decline to 9,753 by 1910. By the early years of the Great Depression, in 1930, there were only 7,517 people residing within the County limits. By 2000, however, the population had risen to 27,339. Modern developments in electronic communication, as well as the implementation of a new highway infrastructure, are items which will bolster the trend towards a more populous Iosco County as it continues into the 21st Century.

The demise of the lumber industry made way for agriculture-- the heavily harvested forest areas in the county's interior provided open areas in which hay, potatoes, wheat, corn, peas and barley were grown. The settlement of Whittemore, located on Iosco County’s western side, provided the farming community with the goods and services it needed. Whittemore became a city in 1907.

Though Iosco County’s tremendous farming potential was initially overlooked in view of the lumbering industry, it has quickly paced itself relative to the farming counties of southern Michigan since that time. In 1879, the estimated agricultural income for losco County was only $32,548. The reported annual agricultural income adjusted in the 1984 Comprehensive Plan was $7 million. Agricultural incomes in 1994 exceeded $12,000,000.

Because of their size and diverse economies, Tawas City and East Tawas both became major stops on the railroad line. As a direct result, over 125 men were employed by railroad car shops alone. The mining and processing of gypsum became a rich part of the county's economy as early as 1861, with National Gypsum and U.S. Gypsum shipping to the world by train, ship and wagon. Michigan Gypsum also produced raw materials, distributed overland for cement manufacturing.

In 1912, Consumers Power Company began to utilize the AuSable River to produce hydroelectric power and constructed a series of dams, and now owns extensive tracts of land within the flood plain on both sides of the AuSable River. Through a licensing agreement with the Federal Government, this land is open to public recreational usage.

Recreation and tourism became important factors shortly after and concurrent with the end of timbering in the area. As early as 1903, land was developed in the mid-County regions near Sand, Round and Indian Lakes for game hunting purposes. Today, the Lake Huron shoreline and countless inland lakes are enjoyed by users of year-round homes, seasonal cottages, and tourist accommodations. Recreation and tourism are now major industries in losco County.

In 1925, a runway was built for what was to become Camp Skeel, a Federal wilderness facility. In 1942 Camp Skeel was renamed, "Oscoda Army Air Field," and served our nation during World War II. Made a part of the Strategic Air Command in 1948 as "Wurtsmith Air Force Base". The base was closed in 1992 and the property is now an advanced development feature including a college, a county airport capable of landing international traffic, a manufacturing center, and a quality residential environment.

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Revised: 05/18/2010 10:46 AM