Michigan History

“The Crooked Paw Paw”


As early as 1833, Paw Paw’s inhabitants tried to use the Paw Paw River for not only hydropower, but also for transportation. Before the construction of the Michigan Central Railroad, people used flat boats on the Paw Paw River to transport goods all the way to Lake Michigan. Although at one point settlers believed steamboats could be used on parts of the Paw Paw River, even the flat boat transportation system was not very profitable, mostly due to the shallowness of the river in some parts. Although all together un-navigable, the hopes to utilize the Paw Paw River led the territorial government in 1833 to authorize the construction of roads to connect the fork of the river to local counties. The Paw Paw River therefore played a large role in the construction of main roads in Paw Paw and helped the town become more accessible to its neighbors.

In 1848, even after a botched flat boat expedition along the Paw Paw River, Michigan legislature passed a measure allowing ten thousand acres of land along the river to be allocated for the improvement of the river. The plans never came to fruition, and the Paw Paw River remained nothing more than a mill river. Another reason flat boating never became a prosperous institution along the Paw Paw River was because the shallow waters were infested with mosquitoes, becoming another obstacle for navigators to deal with during their travels.

Although the dreams of using the Paw Paw River for transportation never became a reality, the river still played a very important role in the development of Paw Paw. The first mill, village, trading post, and winery in Paw Paw were all founded along the Paw Paw River. Without the river, Paw Paw’s first settlers and entrepreneurs might have chosen to settle elsewhere in Lake Michigan.