From Trail To Highway: The Development of U.S. 12 in Saline, Michigan
By Kathy Holtz

U.S. 12 played an essential part in the settlement and growth of Saline. The highway was a transportation corridor well before white men arrived in this part of the Northwest Territory, or what is now known as southeast Michigan. Changes to U.S. 12 over time reflect the changes in Saline from before its settlement and through its growth to a city with suburban neighborhoods.

Several Indian tribes frequented southeast Michigan; among them were the Potawatomi, the Ojibwa or Chippewa, Ottawa (Odawa), Miami, Fox, and Mascouten. There were no firm boundaries for the natives; warfare and trade caused the tribes and thus their boundaries, to move about. Each tribe had its own type of housing and other structures, local customs, and means of survival, such as agriculture, fishing, or hunting. The abundant natural resources available in the Territory served them well. Some were nomadic; probably all of them traveled various routes to trade furs and other goods with the French (Martinez, 18).

The Indian natives and French traders used the Sauk Trail, which ran from Detroit to the Chicago River. Natives frequented the Saline area because of the legendary salt springs to the south of where the trail crossed the river. The name given to the river, the township, the village, and later, the city was selected because of these salt springs, which originated from a vein of salt reputed to run from Battle Creek to Detroit (Our Pride, 58).

After the War of 1812 the trail became a tactical route from Detroit to Fort Dearborn for moving troops and equipment to locations threatened by Natives, British, or French. In 1824, legislation for the laying out of this Military Road for $3,000 was proposed by Fr. Gabriel Richard, Michigan's delegate in Congress. When it passed, the commissioners named to conduct the survey hired Orange Risdon to do the work.

Orange Risdon surveyed the Military Road from 1824-1827 and was impressed with what he saw in the Saline area. In August of 1824, Risdon bought 120 acres in the NE quarter of Section 1 of what is now Saline Township, and continued his surveying. In 1829, he came back to settle, platted the village on part of his land, and named it Saline after the river and newly formed
Saline Township (Collins, 3).

Willis Dunbar says that
"..these roads were a far cry from their modern counterparts. It can hardly be said that they were "built" at all, as we think of highway building today. Surveyors selected the route, often following Indian trails, axemen cut away the brush and felled trees low enough along the path so wagons could pass over the stumps, and workmen constructed crude bridges over streams which could not easily be forded. Logs were laid crosswise of the road across bogs and swamps to prevent wagons and animals from miring. This was known as a "corduroy road." Other than this, little was done to provide a surface for the roads. They were notoriously bad. (Dunbar, 191. Used with permission.)

According to the late Bessie Carven Collins, local historian, corduroy roads were terribly rough. With the introduction of the sawmills, road composition was updated from half logs to massive planks, about 16 inches wide and 8 feet long, and 3 inches thick. They were privately financed but chartered by the state, so that a toll was charged for their use. Several tollhouses existed around Saline; one toll house was incorporated into the larger Ruckman family farmhouse on Macon Road (Proctor, 39).

As folks settled in the region, businesses sprang up along the Old Chicago Road, or the Chicago Turnpike. Among them were several hotels in Saline: the American House built in 1833, the Saline Exchange Hotel built in 1834 and the Halfway Inn, located about five miles west of Saline, and which had facilities to provide for travelers and horses. Other businesses began, such as gristmills, sawmills, hardware and general stores, harness shops, blacksmith shops, and liveries, among many.
West on Chicago Turnpike
Saline Exchange Hotel