When Bad Axe Almost Lost Its Name

The Time When 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 occurred in 1898 when the Harbor of Refuge was completed in 1882; Sand Beach was changed to Harbor Beach. At this same time, Bad Axe Mi. Almost lost a unique and treasured name.

The Name of Bad Axe Michigan Almost Changed

Bad Axe Mi Grain Co

Unsuccessful efforts to change the name of Bad Axe were made before 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 Yale University professor, 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 town’s name. 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 Ypsilanti.”*

Bad Axe Rail Depot - Bad Axe Mi.
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 city’s voters. No election to ratify the name change was ever held because the Common Council of the city took the position that it was definitely known how the vote would result. 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 Michigan

How did Bad Axe Mi., 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.

FAQs About Bad Axe’s Name

Why did Bad Axe almost change its name?

Legislative efforts were made to change the name, but they never came to fruition.

What were the alternative names suggested?

Names like Huron, Huronia, and Axworthy were considered.

Is Bad Axe the only town with this name?

Yes, it’s the only town in the world with the name Bad Axe.

Modern-Day Bad Axe: How the Name Affects the Town Today

Let’s fast-forward to today. Bad Axe, Michigan, isn’t just a town with a unique name; it’s a brand, an identity. The name has become a point of local pride and a conversation starter for anyone who hears it for the first time. You can’t help but ask, “Bad Axe? Really?” And that’s precisely the point.

Local businesses have capitalized on the name, incorporating “Bad Axe” into their branding and merchandise. From “Bad Axe Coffee Co.” to “Bad Axe Outdoor Gear,” the name is a marketing goldmine. It’s not just a name; it’s a statement, a declaration of uniqueness in a world full of Springfields and Newports.

But it’s not all about commerce. The name has historical weight, and that’s something the community respects. Annual events, local museums, and even school curriculums incorporate the rich history of how Bad Axe kept its name against the odds. It’s a story told to every generation, a lesson in preserving identity amidst external pressures.

So, the next time you find yourself driving through Michigan and see the sign for Bad Axe, know that you’re not just entering a town. You’re stepping into a story, a living testament to a community’s will to maintain its unique identity in the face of change.


*Detroit, Free Press, May 25, 1907

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

Bad Axe Weather

Current weather maps and short term forecast for Bad Axe.

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  • In 1963 Caseville was trying to emerge as a tourist destination. One place to rest and relax was the tiny Palmer Motel across from the county park.
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Michael Hardy

Mike Hardy is the owner of Thumbwind Publications LLC. It started in 2009 as a fun-loving site covering Michigan's Upper Thumb. Since then, he has authored a vast range of content and established a loyal base of 60,000 visitors per month.

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5 thoughts on “The Time When Bad Axe Almost Lost Its Name

  1. “A score of new names WAS (?) suggested, including Hubbard, Axworthy, Huronia, Huron and Huron City.” …Very cool photos and an interesting article. Sorry, but the grammar police caught the writer’s mistake. The writer seems to have only graduated the sixth grade.

    1. Hi Lori….we passed your observation to Boris Magillicutty. Boris teaches 7th grade English. We passed with an A+. He said to be careful with edits that will put it into passive voice. Cheers!

  2. Great article, Mr. Hardy. I really enjoyed it. My dad grew up in Bad Axe and I always wondered what the town’s origin story was and now I’ll be able to share it with the rest of the McBrides. Love your newsletter too, btw. It helps keep me connected to my home state and area out here in Oregon.

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