Bay Port Fish Company Records

Identifier: GLMS-0019

Collection Overview


The papers and records of the Bay Port Fish Company and its subsidiaries, the Saginaw Bay Fish Company and the Lake Huron Fish Company provide sources of information concerning the fishing industry on the Great Lakes during the first half of the twentieth century. The collection is documents the activities and problems of commercial fishermen from the late Depression years (from 1936) through the 1960s, including the decline of commercial fishing in Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron in American waters. The collection includes correspondence, reports, legal documents, and financial records.


  • 1883-1970
  • Majority of material found within 1932-1970


26 Cubic Feet (56 legal manuscripts boxes and 28 volumes)


Scope and Contents

The Bay Port Fish Company collection spans the years of 1894 to 1970 with the bulk of the material falling within the correspondence and financial document record groups. The collection consists of correspondence, individual files, annual corporation reports, an appraisal, land contracts, deeds and abstracts, ledgers, journals, balance sheets, time books and payroll sheets, income tax returns, and financial records. It is unfortunate that there is no major correspondence prior to 1936 to complement the financial records dating from 1900. The entire collection has research value for studies of Great Lakes Fishing during the first half of the twentieth century because it spans two world wars, the Depression, and later documents the decline of commercial fishing on Lake Huron and in Saginaw Bay after World War II.

The correspondence includes files from the Bay Port Fish Company, 1932 to 1970, and it's two major subsidiaries, the Saginaw Bay Fish Company, 1933 to 1951, and the Lake Huron Fish Company, 1933 to 1944. The volume of the Bay Port Fish Company's correspondence is approximately twenty times greater than the volume of the two subsidiaries. Most of the correspondence is related to general business activities such as communication with equipment suppliers, fish wholesalers, and transportation companies. The correspondence of the 1930s indicate more problems of debt collection than in late years, and the company was involved in bankruptcy suits to collect some of the debts. Business review letters sent to the company's officers over the years provide a narrative of the company's business health and its steady decline afeter World War II. The Bay Port Fish Company also corresponded with Congressmen and government agencies concerning legislation and regulation affecting commercial fishing on Lake Huron. It may have bee the result of diminishing business activity and increased telephone communication that the volume of correspondence gradually diminishes after the late 1950's.

The collection contains few reports, but the Michigan Annual Corporation Report, 1910 to 1954, and a 1920 appraisal provide historical information concerning the Bay Port Fish Company. The annual reports contain information concerning the basic organization of th company covering a forty-four year period with such information as names of board members, company officers, and the amount of stock issued. Although the 1920 property appraisal covers only one year in the company's history, its detail is quite impressive. All of the company's properties are listed, described, and evaluated including land, equipment, fishing boats, buildings, and building contents.

Although the financial records are not complete for any one series, a combined use of ledgers, journals, balance sheets, and tax returns provide a good picture of the financial fluctuations, growth, and decline of the Bay Port Fish Company and its subsidiaries. The ledgers and journals for the Bay Port Fish Company include the period 1903 to 1923 (Ledger Volume A, 1905 to 1908 is missing), but these records are supplemented by monthly balance sheets and year-end closing statements, January 1919 through June 1949. The financial history of the company can be determined further through the use of federal income tax returns, 1949 to 1966, and the Business Activities Tax-Annual Returns, 1953 to 1967. Similar comparisons can be made with the financial records of the Lake Huron Fish Company with combined records covering the period 1923 to 1954, and the Saginaw Bay Fish Company records covering the period 1918 to 1949, Another subsidiary company enters the picture with the ledgers, journals, and the trial balances of the Port Austin Fish Company including the years 1921 to 1928. Records for this company were not found in any other record group in the collection.

The financial records also include a nearly complete set of time books and payroll sheets including the years 1900 to 1970. They provide basic data with employees names, ours worked, and amounts paid. These records would be helpful in labor history research during the first half of the twentieth century. The time books cover the period 1900 to 1948, the payroll sheets date from March 31, 1920, to October 1970. The payroll sheets after 1950 provide less information than the previous years. Time books for March 1933 to June 1934, and 1935 are missing. There also three time books from the Heisterman Island Fish Company, December 1903 to August 1915. Papers for this subsidiary company were not found in any other record group in the collection.

Company History

The Bay Port Fish Company is located on the south shore of Saginaw Bay in Lake Huron. Saginaw Bay was one of the most productive fishing areas on the Great Lakes, and the Bay Port Fish Company prospered along with the others to become one of the largest commercial fisheries in Michigan. The operations of the company included producing, buying, packing, salting, dressing, and selling fresh fish. During the company's most successful years, 1920 to 1940, it was primarily a supplier to wholesalers in the Midwest and Eastern markets with a large share if its catch going to dealers in New York City. As the quality and quantity of fishing declined within Saginaw Bay due to pollution, the parasitic sea lamprey, and increasing regulation by the Department of Natural Resources, the fortunes of the company likewise declined. The company survived the difficult years after World War II and continues to operate today producing and dressing fresh fish for retail and wholesale markets.

The Bay Port Fish Company was incorporated in the state of Michigan on August 2, 1905. Little is known about the company's history before this time. It is known that the company was established by William J. Orr, a grain dealer who also marketed salted herring. He was joined by William H. Wallace and other prominent Saginaw business men who became the major stockholders in 1905. Wallace was involved with at least three other companies: the Sebewaing Sugar Company of Sebewaing, Michigan (established in 1901, it became the Michigan Sugar Company in 1906), the Wallace Stone Company of Bay Port, and Bay Port State Bank. George B. Morely was a director and officer of the second National Bank and Trust Company in Saginaw, and Thomas Harvey's primary enterprise was the U.S. Graphite Company of Saginaw.

In August 1915 the Bay Port Fish Company was reorganized and reincorporated. The company increased its capital stock from $15,000 to $50,000 (5,000 shares at ten dollars each) and purchased the W. J. Orr Fish company and the Ballard Fish Company, both also of Bay Port. In November 1915 the company increased its stock another $30,000 to purchase Little Charity Island from the indebted Beutel Fisheries Company through the People's Savings and Commercial Bank of Bay City, Michigan. After W. J. Orr sold out, the Wallaces, Thomas Harvey, and George B. Morely held the majority of stock in the company.

The company expanded from 1905 through the 1920s and established several branches. The earliest seems to have been the Heisterman Island Fish Company which was discontinued in August 1915. The company's first major branch was the Saginaw Bay Fish Company, Caseville, Michigan. It was incorporated on 16 March 1910. In 1910 W. J. Orr was the principle stockholder in the Caseville branch, but after 1915 the Wallace family acquired the majority stock. The second major branch was the Lake Huron Fish Company of East Tawas, Michigan, located on the shore of Saginaw Bay. This branch was in operation prior to its incorporation on 11 February 1928. Minor branches, or fishing camps, included Point Lookout, Point Charity Fish Company, and Point Austin, Michigan. By 1940 the Bay Port Fish Company maintained only the branches at Caseville and East Tawas.

The Bay Port Fish Company's wealthy stockholders acquired shore land and Little Charity Island because of riparian rights to fishing within a mile of the shores. These rights were declared illegal in the early 1920s, and the company's land holdings became unessential to the operations of their fisheries. Later land purchases were made as real estate investments. Papers in the collection reveal that the Bay Port Fish Company owned land at Oak Point, Sand Point, Point Lookout, and Little Charity Island. These properties were subdivided and sold through the years until 1949. When the fisheries in Saginaw Bay became less profitable and the rising value of the lake shore land made the company's real estate sales more profitable, the major stockholders decided to sell the fishing business but retain ownership of the land. On July 1 1949, Otto Schmidt, Henry Englehard, and Melvin Dutcher purchased the three fishing companies for $40,000, and the real estate, was deeded to the former stockholders.

The rise of the company through the 1920s and 1930s was followed by a gradual decline after 1940. The decline is indicated by the decreasing number of boats operated over the years: twenty-four in 1927, twenty-one in 1941, fifteen in 1944, six in 1946, four in 1959, three in 1967, and two in 1976. In 1949 the Bay Port Fish Company sold the Saginaw Fish Company. Operations declined even further, and the Lake Huron Fish Company was liquidated in 1954. During this period, and in the 1960's and 1970's, the company gradually developed their retail market and concentrated less on wholesale buyers.

The Bay Port Fish Company remained a three-man partnership until 10 February 1967 when Otto Schmidt sold his interest in the company to the two other owners. His 1,800 shares were not reissued. On 2 April 1973 Melvin Dutcher also sold his interest in the company, leaving Henry Englehard the sole owner. Dutcher's 1,000 shares were not reissued. Henry Englehard manage the Bay Port Fish Company from the early 1950's until 1978 when he sold the business to Forrest Williams, Tod Williams, and Dennis Root.

The company currently operates and purchases fish from independents in the Bay Port area. The company supplies fish to retail and wholesale buyers with about even distribution to each. Their catches today consist primarily of perch, catfish, and a variety of rough fish.

Conditions Governing Access

No known access restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Researchers using this collection assume full responsibility for conforming to the laws of libel, privacy, and copyright, and are responsible for securing permissions necessary for publication or reproduction.

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Bay Port Fish Company papers were donated to the center for Archival Collections on 18 September 1980. The papers were received from the Bay Port Fish Company through the cooperative efforts of Forrest Williams, of the company and Dr. Richard Wright, Director of the CAC.

Guide to the Bay Port Fish Company Records
Backstage Library Works, Mark Sprang
March 2022
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