Zilwaukee, Michigan Was A Town Made To Troll Settlers
In 1848, brothers Daniel and Solomon Johnson moved from New York to Saginaw Valley, Michigan, and set up a sawmill. The lumber industry had the potential to make them rich, but they were missing one key component: workers. Convincing strangers to move to the middle of nowhere to work at an unproven mill could be challenging, but the brothers had a scheme ready.
They were going to use the same tactics as a bootleg handbag vendor.
The Johnson brothers named the area that their new sawmill sat on Zilwaukee (originally spelled “Zilwaukie”). If that sounds similar to the far-more-famous city of Milwaukee, an established town already experiencing an economic boom, well, it should.
The story goes that Zilwaukee was given its name in an attempt to trick settlers into moving in under the pretense that they were going to work in Milwaukee. Imagine purchasing an Adidas hoodie only to get home and realizing you bought an Abibas hoodie. Now imagine that instead of a small purchase like that, you made a similar mistake in where you chose to live.
Whether or not people moved to Zilwaukee because of the misleading name is unknown, but people did move to Zilwaukee. The lumber industry in Michigan thrived in the final decades of the 19th century, driving workers to areas like Zilwaukee. In time, Zilwaukee formally became a township, and in 1890, their population was nearly 2,000 strong. It never became as prosperous as the city whose name it allegedly stole, but for a bootleg, Zilwaukee did fairly well for itself.
Today, Zilwaukee is still a town with an estimated population of just over 1,500. The town is known for being the home of the Zilwaukee Bridge, a large concrete bridge that crosses the Saginaw River. The bridge is considered so locally important Zilwaukee previously had a festival called “Bridgefest” in its honor.
For those who want to experience more than a depressingly dull-looking bridge-themed extravaganza, let Zilwaukee be a lesson to always read carefully when making decisions. You never know when some scheming brothers from New York might be trying to trick you.
Top Image: Ken Lund/Flickr