1890s Bad Axe

Bad Axe Almost Lost Its Name


By 1900 place names in the Thumb had reached a high degree of stability and permanence. Unsuccessful efforts to change the name of Bad Axe were made prior to 1900 and again in 1907 and in 1909.

A score of new names were suggested, including Hubbard, Axworthy, Huronia, Huron and Huron City. In 1907 William Lyon Phelps, a well-known professor of Yale University, supported the proposal to change the name. The Detroit Free Press defended the name, saying in an editorial, “Publicity is being given to a movement at Bad Axe to change the name of the town. Euphony is desirable … in geographical nomenclature, but characteristic, distinctive qualities are also desirable. With our Wayne’s and our Newport’s and Marshalls … we can’t spare our Bad Axe just yet from the Michigan map … If an effort to substitute something commonplace and hackneyed and stale for Bad Axe should be successful, who knows but some might want to change the name of Kalamazoo or of Ypsilanti.”*

In 1909 the state legislature changed the name of Bad Axe to Huron subject to a referendum of the voters of the city. No election to ratify the change in name was ever held because the Common Council of the city took the position that it was definitely known how the vote would result, and this being true, an election costing about one hundred dollars would be a needless expense. As far as the writer knows, the only place that changed its name after 1900 was Poverty Nook, which was renamed Hemans in 1914 for the Michigan historian, Lawton T. Hemans.

How did Bad Axe, the only town in the world with this name, get its appellation? In the spring of 1861 George Willis Pack and Rudolph Papst were laying out a road from Bay City to Sand Beach. At a place where a road ran north and south they found a broken, rusty axe embedded in a tree. They called the intersection Bad Axe Corners, which was later shortened to Bad Axe.

*Detroit, Free Press, May 25, 1907.

Excerpt from A HISTORY OF MICHIGAN’S THUMB by Gerard Schultz 1964. P 70


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