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History of the Escanaba Area 

The history of Escanaba is a long and winding one, like the river the city is named for.

It was the great wide river of flat rocks (limestone) that drew people. The river merges into Little Bay de Noc creating a watery haven for fish and wildlife. Early native peoples made use of this spectacular fishery. They found good hunting grounds on shore.

The first permanent white settlement in this area dates back to 1830. A fur trader named Louis A. Roberts and his family came to live by the river. Virgin white pine, bird’s eye maple and birch forests called to a young, growing nation. People came. Axes rang. Sawmills were built.

A surveyor named Eli P. Royce came to the place called “Sand Point” by the big river in 1862. He began to lay out a town. Mr. Royce named the town with the word the Native Americans called the river “Escanawba,” meaning flat rock. The City of Escanaba was organized in 1863 spelled with a “W”.

Over the years the spelling was changed to Escanaba. Some of the Native American translations (or the white people’s interpretation of them) have changed to include Escanaba meaning “the land of the red buck”, although whitetail deer were not very abundant here prior to the cutting of the virgin forest.

The City of Escanaba grew strong and proud. The area became famous for lumbering, hardwood flooring, commercial fishing, paper making, and the shipping of iron ore.

Today the river still flows peacefully into the bay calling to future generations.

If you have any questions, please contact the Library at 906-789-7323 or via e-mail at