Harnessing the Power of the Huron

Barton Dam

Image from Postcard Collection

For over a century and a half, the Huron River has been used to generate power. The first constructions along the river were sawmills, and later flouring mills, woolen mills, and carding mills were built. The published history entitled Past and Present of Washtenaw County claimed in 1906 that "the Huron River is believed to be capable of furnishing more power than any other river in the state." This same publication predicted that "it is extremely probable that within a short period it will be used more than now for the development of electric power, which it is planned to develop by the building of immense dams."

Barton Dam

Barton Plant, Eastern Michigan Edison Co., Dec. 1, 1912
from Gardner Stewart Williams Papers

Engineer Gardner Stewart Williams shared this vision of power harnessed along the river's route. As a consultant for the Detroit Edison Company, he prepared a proposal for the development of the Huron River water powers. His research included a set of measured surveys. By 1910, Detroit Edison, with Williams acting as its agent, had acquired most of the prospective flowage rights necessary for the project. The Huron River development was not completed as planned, but six dams were built:

Dam Date Built
Barton 1912
Argo 1913
Geddes 1916
Superior 1919
French Landing 1925
Rawsonville (owned by Henry Ford) 1927
Blueprint of Barton Plant

Blueprint of Barton plant from Gardner Stewart
Williams Papers

The Bentley Historical Library holds a number of maps of Washtenaw County, and more generally of the state of Michigan. these are mostly modern maps of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Author Paul Peck, in his "Landsmen of Washtenaw County," notes that "the settlement of Washtenaw County was irregular." He tracks the pattern, observing that some of it was settled very early, anad parts of it were settled after some counties west of it were settled. He attributes this to the lakes and their adjoining swamps, which surveyors nearly refused to survey in the early nineteenth century. In 1822, Washtenaw County was established as a county, formed from land set off from Wayne County. From 1822 through 1839 various township boundaries within Washtenaw County were formed, changed, and changed again. As of 1839, the county had reached its modern formation of townships.