When Bad Axe Almost Lost Its Name

Bad Axe Almost Lost Its Name

By 1900 most place names in the Thumb had reached a high degree of stability and permanence. The most notable change in Huron county place-name change occurred in 1898 when the Harbor of Refuge was completed in 1882, Sand Beach was changed to Harbor Beach.

The Name of Bad Axe Almost Changed

Bad Axe Mi Grain Co

Unsuccessful efforts to change the name of Bad Axe were made prior to 1900 and again in 1907 and again in 1909. A score of new names was suggested, including Hubbard, Axworthy, Huronia, Huron and Huron City. In 1907 the locally prominent orator William Lyon Phelps, a well-known professor of Yale University, supported the proposal to change the name.

Bad Axe Street in the early 1900s
Bad Axe Street in the early 1900s

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.”*

Bad Axe Rail Depot
Bad Axe Depot

Michigan Legislature Changes the Name, Sorta

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.

Bad Axe

How did Bad Axe, the only town in the world with this name, get its appellation? Local lore states that during the lumbering era George Martin left a ruined ax at the site of a well know Indian encampment. 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 ax embedded in a tree. They called the intersection Bad Axe Corners and indicated so on survey documents. In 1885 the village was incorporated and the name shortened to Bad Axe. In 1905 the city of Bad Axe was formed.


*Detroit, Free Press, May 25, 1907

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

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