Saginaw & Central Michigan Wanderings, Part 2

Saginaw & Midland County, Michigan (Map)

Winter 2014-15


walking up

The weather conditions hadn't magically improved overnight and in fact had continued their downward spiral. Yesterday's wet slop consisting of ice and snow had turned into a unrestrained snowstorm of weighty snow, helpfully settling on top of yesterday's ice layer.

There wasn't going to be any extra driving around, so it was a matter of leaving the motel and having breakfast snacks along the way. Thankfully Miller's Motel was not even 5 minutes from the old Saginaw Raceway, a.k.a. the fairgrounds stadium.

underneath showing old bones of stadium

As soon as we made our way inside, I was instantly overjoyed. As my eyes adjusted, the pillars were in view & I soon realized we were standing underneath the concrete ribs of the grandstands.

This was all because I lucked into seeing a website showing this old ball stadium & the fact that Nail was willing to wait until I was home for Christmas. Thankfulness of being here in Saginaw tacked itself onto the joy I was already feeling.

highest seats, showing wooden roof

I'd taken this building as a piece of an old stadium that hosted baseball and somehow still survived as a racetrack, but that's not exactly the case.

In the early 1900s the Saginaw Car Club owned this piece of property out in the farmlands surrounding the city. The car club would build a wooden grandstand here facing their oval track in 1908. In 1913, organizers of the county fair approached the group and rented the property for the next year to host the Saginaw County Fair. The wooden grandstand would be destroyed in the 1910s and rebuilt in 1920; then replaced by the current structure in 1941.

looking down on all of the snow and handrails

Various baseball leagues would put a team in Saginaw throughout the years, rarely lasting more than a year or two with each endeavour. I couldn't figure out if the Saginaw White Sox of the 1900 International League or the Saginaw Aces of the 1919-1925 Michigan-Ontario League played here at the county fairgrounds. None of these small statewide leagues list their stadiums, but once the Saginaw Athletics of the Michigan State League came in 1940, old programs show that they played here at the fairgrounds.

The stadiums of the Michigan State League aren't listed in any one place, so I had to search all of the teams in hopes of finding one of their home stadiums. I did this in order to evaluate whether the league was big enough to fill a grandstand of this size. Only finding out that Flint played at the still-standing Atwood Stadium, I noted that that is a stadium big enough that it could still host AA ball to this day. The Michigan State League seemed to draw good attendance.

showing the staircase up to the announcers booth

At the top of the grandstands I found a staircase from the top row, then across a walkway, over to an elevated announcer's booth about 50 feet off the ground.

I can't say I was comfortable walking across the walkway's steel grates up here.

front of the announcers booth with tiny, insufficient railing

The front of the announcer's booth. The insides were divided into 4 or 5 rooms with strewn papers and similar wood panelling.

at the base of the grandstand, looking at the really nice handrails

The Michigan State League would fold due to wartime shortages of people and expendable income. By 1948, as Saginaw was getting ready for another baseball club to move into town, the Saginaw Memorial Stadium0 was already under construction & the initial games were played at the local high school while the team waited for the stadium.

This property would go on to become much more important in the local history of Saginaw. By now, the county fair was well established and well attended, making claims that it was the "best attended county fair east of the Mississippi". At its peak, people entered the Saginaw County Fairgrounds 350 000 times during the 7-day fair.

Unfortunately, the attendance numbers plummeted as this area started to decline and it wasn't as popular to attend county fairs anymore. Only 6000 people attended the last county fair on these grounds in 2001, and now that the fair has moved out to nearby Chesaning, they'll still only get about 26000 people (and that's if the weather is nice).

0 - I can't find much of anything else about the Saginaw Memorial Stadium.
It's almost odd how little there is about it on the internet.

scoreboard exterior

The Saginaw Harness Raceway would open here in 1980. They would last until 2005, closing down after the debate whether to allow gambling on televised races resulted in Michigan deciding not to allow 'racinos'.

Since that time, some of the deteriorating sheds and ancillary buildings have been demolished; while the City of Saginaw and the Saginaw Housing Commission (who owns the property) decides on a next step. Some of these solutions have included selling off the land to private individuals, building low income housing or turning the area into a park. There has been no mention of reusing the grandstand.

scoreboard interior

Leaving black ovals where I crunched the white blanket atop weeds, I checked out the inside of the scoreboard since I'd never been inside one before.

Of all the places to find a little hobo encampment, it looked like someone may have been living inside here at some point. The funny and interesting lives of people in cities. You see a homeless man & a few in the know people would see the same homeless man and know that he lives in the scoreboard at the old harness raceway.

snowy railway rail around the oval

I'm not sure if everyone would think it was a wise decision to drive up to Saginaw in this weather, but it felt special to be exploring this raceway when you couldn't even see the surrounding houses and with everything close by coated in crystals of thick snow.

I'm aware that I complain about winter a lot, but I still enjoy instances like this. It's more so that I could do without 14 feet of snow never ending over 5½ months (i.e. not a Michigan winter).

far away view of the grandstand

As I walked back towards the grandstands, I tried to picture how this would have been laid out for baseball. Simply put a field in front of the grandstands with home plate as close to the central base? Or angle the diamond and the have the grandstands on the left or right?

I would assume they went with a baseball diamond directly in front? Sadly, I couldn't find any pictures of the time when this grandstand functioned as a baseball 'stadium'.

interior bar

We finished up by exploring the concession area underneath the grandstands. The lack of light down here and the dark corridors made me think about attending horse racing here and how grimy and depressing this place could have been near the end.

interior shot showing the city name in script

I'm sure there were lights, but when this place closed in its 25th year, I wonder how well it was doing and how bustling these areas were. There's only a few websites dedicated to this raceway & most of the articles have commenters pining for the old county fair instead of the racetrack.

curved wall about to leave

I know the fairground grandstands were only a baseball stadium for 2 years, but it still had the feel of an old stadium and I found this Saginaw visit - pretty much solely to see this place - as completely worthwhile.

entrance gate

The other historic building on the fairgrounds property is the former ticket booth and entrance gate. A part of me wishes we would have stopped for a closer look, but the deteriorating roads and lack of convenient parking kept us moving.

Nailhed adds here "LOL i just remembered the part where I had to do some hardcore downshifting, and then peel-out in reverse to avoid rear-ending the car in front of us because i was ogling that entrance gate."

While the grandstand's future doesn't look good, the entrance gate was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2015. A local historian by the name of Thomas Mudd, president of the local historic preservation society, was excited by this because it means access to preservation funds, where he hopes to purchase the gate and a piece of land here to create a memorial park to the old county fair.

Pictures on mLive show that the gate isn't in too rough of shape.

downtown, picture you want for a cover

We had a couple of other places in mind, but there were a surprising number of people outside and both of us were pretty tired and in need of coffee by this point. This meant that neither of us was being all that thorough.

The good thing about this was that I got to see more of Saginaw as we skidded and slipped through the streets. I didn't see this strip of old buildings during my other trip here, so I was happy to pass through today. There are some signs of Saginaw rebounding downtown & hopefully it can spread over to this area as well.

new county courthouse

Saginaw is the result of an amalgamation of two cities & today retains two areas that feel like downtowns. The main downtown would have been in East Saginaw, this being the area with the hockey arena and skyscrapers. For breakfast this morning we went over to Old Town (formerly Saginaw City), where a great county courthouse once stood, but today is replaced by a bland thing from 1972.

street scene showing that old hotel

We also passed the Schuch Hotel while in Old Town, the hotel from 1868 that may have been an option instead of Miller's Motel. Sadly it doesn't open until 4 o'clock, so we couldn't even see the original wood bar/restaurant portion.

walking up to the coffee shop

There was a little place that didn't look like our type of breakfast spot, but it was in an old building, the coffee slanger was friendly & the food fine enough. I was looking for a coney island or an old diner, but at least we got to eat in Old Town instead of at McDonald's or a Marathon gas station.

If you find yourself in the same situation, we comically happened to drive by Tony's Original as we left town. It looked exactly like the restaurant I was dreaming of in Old Town.

railway trestle bridge over the Tittabawassee

Even though I've made multiple references to the poor weather, we still went a short distance further upstate because of Nail's quest to see something ruinous in every county in Michigan.

Interestingly enough, even with the big city of Midland being in Midland County, this bridge was the best thing he could find to explore here. I don't know about his researching skills though, as I found an abandoned Farmer Jack's in about 5 seconds of Midland Googling.

This is the Smith's Crossing Bridge, so named because of the small settlement that existed here and changed its name to Mapleton. We had came from what exists as Mapleton today, where there was a concentration of houses along the road, along with a motel, auto body shop, church and a few other buildings that looked like they were something else before becoming private residences.

showing ornamental detail

The thing you first notice has to be the trident and arch portal bracing decorations on the top of this bridge. While Smith's Crossing Bridge isn't doing so well today, there's a bridge near Frankenmuth made by the same Joliet Bridge Company with well maintained portal decorations.

There is talk of turning this bridge into a pedestrian trail, but so far that only exists as talk. Now I'm not even close to a bridge aficionado, but I've never seen a bridge with decorative metalwork like this, so here's hoping that people in the future will be able to walk or bike through this decorative portal.

From here it was time to head home, happy with the snow for creating interesting pictures at the Saginaw Raceway and Smith's Crossing Bridge. We would be on the interstate and its safer surface soon enough, instead of the challenging mess on some of these backroads and Saginaw side streets.

The only other thing of note was getting Nailhed to stop at a random Taco Bell, so I could have one in Clio Michigan to show up Steven Twodamncute instead of yet another Windsor one.

And so ends another good Christmas trip with Nailhed into Michigan.


Go Back to the Main Page of this Website

< Older Update:
Saginaw & Central Michigan
Wanderings Part 1


Newer Update:
Last Xmas Day In Detroit - Mostly
Southwestern High

1 - Saginaw County Fair was 'alive and well' in 2003, The Argus-Press, Jan 4, 2004
2 - Ludington was once a member of the old Central League, Ludington Daily News, Jun 10, 1984
3 - Smiths Crossing Bridge -
4 - The Bridges of Midland County -
5 - Sayonara Saginaw! -
6 - Razing history at the old Saginaw County Fairgrounds and Saginaw Harness Raceway, mLive!, Apr 24, 2009
7 - Michigan Ontario League - Baseball
8 - Saginaw leaders to hear appeal to rename Veterans Memorial Park for Volunteer Coach - mLive!, Aug 11, 2008
9 - Fairgrounds Park/Saginaw Race Track - Digital Ballparks
10 - Saginaw historians look to preserve fairgrounds gateway to Saginaw's past - mLive!, Sept 2, 2010
11 - 1914 Saginaw County Fair Book - The Castle Museum
12 - Saginaw Baseball: Bears/Jack Rabbits (Central League, 1948-51) - Baseball Programs
13 - a Brief History of Minor League Baseball in Saginaw - PureSaginaw
14 - Legendary Locals of Saginaw Michigan, Roberta M. Morey, 2014

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