Confident, Rural-Oriented, Industrial Pioneers
So why did they leave? They were self-confident, rural-oriented, industrious pioneer types, who were astute enough to learn about the potential opportunities in other parts of the world, be it South Africa, Australia, or the United States. In addition to Riga, there was the much closer booming port of Bentspils (Windau). Windau was rapidly attracting Jews of nearby towns and specifies Sasmaken.
Why, like so many Courlanders, did they first go to Bay City, Michigan? The Bay City area of Michigan was a replica of the Courland. Michigan pine became known as “Green Gold,” and a huge lumber boom exploded, just as in the case of Riga, Only it was far away greater. Like Riga, Bay City was a port on the Saginaw River and its tributaries fanned far out to the great forests of Michigan as well as to Saginaw Bay with its access to Lake Huron. There were plenty of waterways to store logs and continuously feed the saw mills.
In 1865, Henry Sage built the world’s largest sawmill at Bay City, which according to the New York Tribune in 1877, was the world’s highest producer- 200,000 feet of lumber each day and 40,000,000 each season. Just as in the case of Riga, there was a general boom involving the need for a wide range of other products, and Bay City became a Jewish peddlar’s mecca, including many Courlanders who then settled in towns they serviced, establishing stores, and similar to the Himelhochs, became one of the first Jewish residents.
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