CRAWFORD COUNTY HISTORY
(extracted from a pamplet "Grayling Area Visitors Council")
In Crawford County only a mile separates the famous AuSable river flowing East to Lake Huron and the Manistee River , flowing West to Lake Michigan . Native Americans and the French traders of the 18th and 19th centuries found it an ideal location from which to ship furs and other goods.
Grayling's ties to the AuSable were particularly strong, and at one time the community was actually called "AuSable", as well as " Forest ", and "Crawford Station". When the lumbermen arrived in the 1860s to build their sawmills along the banks of the AuSable, the town became widely known as "Milltown", and the reference is often used to this day.
Michael Sloat Hartwick is accorded the honor of being known as the first settler in Grayling, or Jackson as it was known at that time to the Jackson, Lansing and Saginaw railroad company, which finished the grade to Otsego Lake just North of Crawford County in 1873. Hartwick built a log hotel on the West side of the tracks. The railroad platted out 40 acres where Grayling now stands, and gave it the name of "Crawford", which stuck until 1874. It was that year Ruben Babbit, Sr. took two or three of the fish he had caught in the AuSable to Daniel Fitzhue in Bay City. Fitzhue sent them on to Washington D.C. , where they were identified as grayling. In the Fall of 1874 residents of the town decided Grayling sounded better than Crawford, and voted to change the name of their community.
It was the Michigan lumber boom that put Grayling squarely on the map and stimulated the area's most dramatic growth period. Towering white pine forests, coupled with river access, made it the hub of logging activity. At the peak of the boom in the 1800's, the city's population was over 2,500 and the downtown bustled with hotels, saloons and stores.
As the railroads extended North, Grayling also became a major rail center, and at one point was the junction of the Michigan Central Manistee and Northwestern Railways.
By the 1920s the lumber industry had all but disappeared from Northern Michigan , creating a transition which Grayling managed to survive.
When the I-75 corridor was plotted directly through Grayling in the 1960s, a whole new world of potential emerged. The industrial community again had a direct transportation link to the major markets of the Midwest . The retail sector blossomed as a regional shopping center, and access to the area for vacationers and tourists was increased greatly.
Crawford County formerly Shawano County before its name change on the 8th of March 1843, attached to Mackinac, Cheboygan, Iosco, Antrim Kalkaska Counties prior to organization on the 22nd of March 1879.