Not a native of Saginaw, William S. Linton became one of the greatest doers in the city’s history, and what he did proved for the community’s lasting good.
He became a member of the East Saginaw Common Council when he was only 27 and was its youngest member. He served four years and then was elected a member of the Michigan House of Representatives.
While serving in the legislature, Linton wrote a bill which led to consolidation of Saginaw City and East Saginaw in 1890. That same year, he was defeated as the Republican candidate for lieutenant-governor. Returning to local politics, he was elected mayor of Saginaw in 1892 and was the first Republican to hold that office. He also served as president of the Saginaw Board of Water Commissioners. In the fall of 1892, Linton was elected to Congress to serve the Eighth District. He served two terms. While in Congress, he worked with postal authorities in planning the lofty French chateau-style post office. Government architects who drew plans for a proposed structure designed a squatty one-story structure. Congressman Linton succeeded in having new plans drawn for the building patterned after French architecture and one which was to become nationally famous for its appealing grace.
While Linton was in Congress, he sent many barrels of black walnuts home to Saginaw. They came from George Washington’s Mt. Vernon estate. They were given to all citizens who would plant them in their yards. Linton’s gift is the reason there are so many black walnut trees in Saginaw. Beaten in his bid for a third term in Congress, Linton intended to go to Alaska but was persuaded to return to Saginaw. He was appointed postmaster of the east side post office in 1898 and served 16 years.
As president of the former Saginaw Board of Trade from 1905 to 1911, and again from 1913 to 1917, Linton pointed the way to many Saginaw civic improvements. Linton came to be known as the “Father of the City’s Park System,” and for good reason. It was through his efforts that Ezra Rust Park, largest piece of municipal parkland, became city property in 1905. Linton was a close friend of multi-millionaire Ezra Rust. Linton interested Rust in buying what then was known as the Middle Ground, now called Ojibway Island, and deeding it to the city for eventual park development. Linton’s foresight and Rust’s generosity combined for a real contribution to the city’s beauty. Linton was instrumental in seeing Rust Park developed and Hoyt Park improved. He and City Engineer Rolla Roberts transformed the latter from a sprawling, poorly-drained stretch of ill-smelling swampland into the magnificent natural amphitheater for athletic contests and civic events it is today. The land in South Saginaw, somewhat north of the business section in a 25-acre tract, is called Linton Park and was given to the city after having been purchased with funds from his father’s estate.
Linton and Rolla Roberts also collaborated on the Veterans Memorial Highway with Roberts contributing ideas and engineering know-how while Linton did the promoting. Linton owned a beautiful launch given to him by his good friend Ezra Rust. It was in that boat Linton took army engineers for a cruise down the Saginaw River in 1912. Linton hoped to persuade army engineers that the Saginaw River should be dredged into a deep-water channel. When the boat was far down the river, the engineers agreed that the dredging would be a good thing but there was a main drawback—no place to put the silt. They said it would cost the government too much to haul it to Saginaw Bay for disposal. So the canny Linton played his trump card: He suggested to throw the silt and dirt up along the east banks of the Saginaw River. Some day, he reasoned, there would be built a beautiful highway from Saginaw to Bay City. For years he and Roberts had envisioned such a highway. The group of army engineers thought their plan made sense and approved the idea by recommending the river dredging. This is how the foundation for what became the Veterans Memorial Parkway was laid.
Always a resolute pusher for better roads, Linton kept plumping for the river highway project between Saginaw and Bay City. He enlisted the help of the Saginaw Automobile Club and the highway development plan finally won out. Linton himself gave the whistle signal which started shovels scooping up the river bottom. That was on June 1, 1925. Regrettably, Linton didn’t live to see the highway completed, though he inspected it often during its construction.
William Seelye Linton was born February 4, 1856, in St. Clair, Michigan. He was a direct descendant of John Linton, who came to America with William Penn’s followers in 1692. William’s father, Aaron Linton, left St. Clair in 1859 and first located on Saginaw’s west side, then Saginaw City. He moved to the south side, then Salina, and sent for his family. Aaron Linton built one of the first four houses in South Saginaw.
William Linton attended Salina schools until 15, then went to work in a general store in Farwell. He worked at the store only a short time before he took over management of his father’s sawmill and lumber yard in Farwell. These later were destroyed by fire.
From 1875-77 Linton worked in the Saginaw Valley lumber woods in the winter and inspected and shipped lumber from sawmills along the Saginaw River in the summer. For a time after that, he worked in his father’s wholesale lumber yard and planing mill in South Saginaw. Linton was always attendant to business but was smart enough to realize his forte was politics, which proved a fortunate decision for Saginaw.
Linton and his wife, the former Ida Lowry, had three children.