Michigan’s Stagecoaches, 1822-1927: Detroit, Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, Lansing, and More
Watching old westerns on TV, one might be led to believe that stagecoaches only ran in the Wild West. No way. Michigan had numerous stagecoach trails going back and forth across the state.
It’s noted that 1822 could be the first year that stagecoaches ran in Michigan, the last one being as late as 1927!
In the 1830s, an influx of people arrived in Michigan, settling, and creating more and more new towns and villages. Railroads were here, but not as plentiful as they would later become, thanks to the lumber and mining operations. So what do you turn to? The stagecoach!
You’ve seen the westerns where the travelers in the coach were being jostled around, thanks to the bumps and humps…that was the same way it happened here. Even though stagecoach travel was popular, it was still slow, thanks to road and trail conditions. What could possibly ease the burden of rough travel for these weary stagecoach passengers? The stagecoach stop.
Along these trails, various inns, saloon, hotels, taverns, general stores, and watering holes popped up as an oasis for travelers who needed a break from riding. Sometimes stagecoach companies would intentionally look for established trails that already had taverns and inns so they could run their coaches by and make stops. Even though they were popular, the service and accommodations were not always great. Willis F. Dunbar notes in the book "Michigan: A History of the Wolverine State," that "accommodations were crude and often inadequate, but food was abundant and friendliness the rule."
According to My Bay City, Christian Clemens, the man who founded the town of Mount Clemens, is cited for implementing the first stagecoach trail, from Detroit to Mount Clemens, beginning in 1822.
Then the floodgates opened.
In 1826 the stagecoach lines began their boom. Soon there were stagecoach lines from Detroit-Toledo, Detroit-Ann Arbor, Detroit-Pontiac, Detroit-Niles, Detroit-Chicago, Detroit-Lansing, not to mention various lines to and from Grand Rapids.
And by the way, those western stagecoach holdups just didn’t happen in the old west or in western-themed amusement parks…they really happened, and in Michigan. The last stage holdup in Michigan was in 1889, conducted by one Reimund Holzhey in the Upper Peninsula.
Holzhey held up a stage in Gogebic County, robbing two bankers from a $5 bill, $10 gold piece, gold watch, and pocketbook. He ended up shooting one in the mouth and the other in the stomach. The man with the stomach wound died. Holzhey split and was picked up six months later by Pinkerton detectives in the town of Republic. Holzhey received two life sentences. He was paroled in 1952 and killed himself at the age of 86.
As railroads became the preferred mode of travel, stagecoaches were squeezed out. From approximately 40 different Michigan stagecoach lines listed in 1897, four remained by the time they all ceased operations in 1927.
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