History | Bay City Bar History

Supported by the region’s lumber trade, Bay City has been home to drinking and socializing establishments that catered to the rough and tumble clientele of the times, the lumberjacks of the 1800s. Spurred by the strong need to unwind after working months on end chopping wood and traveling a majority of the year, thousands of lumberjacks descended to Bay City’s Water Street and surrounding blocks each May, fresh with healthy winter earnings and thirsty for action.


The corner of Third and Water Street was the epicenter of what was known as “Hell’s Half Mile” for its 37 saloons, 26 hotels, several liquor stores and other establishments all within a six block area. The neighborhood was known for prostitution, gambling, wild variety nightlife and moral corruption. 


To support these activities, several tunnels ran underground throughout the streets of Hell’s Half Mile, which could be entered from river level, making access, escape and corruption all the more accessible. Although much of Michigan was “dry” during the mid-1800s, saloons and other activities in Bay City flourished until the late 1870s when a change in law enforcement spurred the removal of illicit activity.


The historic tunnels and hideouts still remain under neath the city, requiring overly extensive preservation activity for modern-day use, however the stories live on in the town’s history and among the shops, restaurants and establishments that hold secrets of the past.



Lyndsay Edmonds