Frankenmuth & The Great Thumb Fire of 1881

Chart of the Burnt District of Michigan, The Great Thumb Fire of 1881.[1]
“Chart of the Burnt District of Michigan,” The Great Thumb Fire of 1881.[1]
134 years ago this month, the Great Thumb Fire swept through Michigan’s Thumb region. Hundreds perished in the fire. It destroyed over 3,000 buildings. The valuation of losses was over $2,000,000 in 1881 dollars.[2] The Great Thumb Fire of 1881 was the first major disaster response of the newly formed American Red Cross.[3]

The conflagration was centered mainly in the Thumb region counties of Huron, Sanilac, Tuscola, and Lapeer.[4] Largely forgotten to time, the fire extended as far west as Frankenmuth Township in Saginaw County. An article from The Saginaw Evening News provides the following details:

“The fires are spreading rapidly in the vicinity of Frankenmuth, and considerable damage has already been done. Three barns with their contents of hay and grain have been destroyed, and Martin Messner [Mossner] has lost 125 cords of wood and all his fences. Several houses are now in danger, and the fire is gaining.”[5]

Reference Notes:

[1] “Chart of the Burnt District of Michigan,” digital image, State of Michigan, ( : accessed 11 September 2015).

[2] William O. Bailey, Report on the Michigan Forest Fires of 1881 (Washington D.C.: Office of the Chief Signal Officer, 1882), 16; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 10 September 2015).

[3] “How Has Red Cross Fire Response Changed Over the Years?,” American Red Cross, News, 8 April 2015 ( : accessed 11 September 2015).

[4] Bailey, Report on the Michigan Forest Fires of 1881, 13-16.

[5] “Red Ruin: At Frankenmuth,” The Saginaw (Michigan) Evening News, 6 September 1881, p. 2, col. 3; digital images, GenealogyBank ( : accessed 10 September 2015).


More free local newspaper archives

A few weeks ago I posted an article on 3 free local newspaper archives. Here are several additions to that list for papers in the Saginaw Valley and the neighboring Thumb region. The public libraries in Michigan’s Thumb have been especially hard at work, recently adding digitized newspapers and other local history resources to their websites.

Saginaw Valley and Central Michigan:

Clare County Newspapers (various titles, 1896-1999)

Corunna Journal and Corunna News (1887-1913 and 1934-1949, respectively)

Isabella County Enterprise (1875-1906; scroll down, found on the same website as the Clare County Newspapers)

Michigan’s Thumb region:

The Huron Times and The Harbor Beach Times (various titles, 1862-2000)

The Marlette Index and The Marlette Leader (1880, and 1882-1956, respectively)

Minden City Herald and Sandusky Republican Tribune (1893-1942 and 1930-1985, respectively; several other titles of scattered dates are also available)

The Sanilac Jeffersonian (1876-1985)