Biography of Ezra Rust

Ezra Rust, born in Vermont in 1832, significantly impacted Saginaw’s development. His family moved to Michigan when he was young, and he spent his early years working in logging and steam boating before returning to run a sawmill. Through consistent saving, he built his fortune by investing in timber lands, eventually forming successful partnerships in lumbering and salt manufacturing. He was also involved in iron-ore in Minnesota. Married to Emma B. Mather, they had two daughters who died in infancy; Emma passed away in 1913. Ezra remarried and adopted a daughter in 1913-1914. Known for his generosity and community improvement efforts, he created Ezra Rust Park, a testament to his commitment to society’s wellbeing. His character, marked by geniality and courtliness, left a lasting legacy in Michigan.

No name has been more prominent in the history of Saginaw than that of Ezra Rust, who has done so much for the betterment of the city and the upliftment of his fellow men. He was born at Wells, Rutland County, Vermont, September 27, 1832, and came from a sturdy New England family of English ancestry.

In 1837 the family removed to Michigan and settled at Newport (now Marine City), on the St. Clair River, where Ezra spent his boyhood on his father’s farm and attended the district school as opportunity offered. At the age of fourteen, he began working in his brother’s sawmill at Newport, and spent the seasons of 1846-47-48 in “jacking logs”, which consisted of raising logs by steam power from the river boom to the sawing table in the mill.

In 1849, he left the mill and began a six years’ career of steamboating as the second engineer of the steamer Pacific of E. B. Ward’s line of lake steamers. The following year, he was advanced to the position of chief engineer of the same vessel, which then plied between Chicago, Milwaukee, and New Buffalo, Michigan, in connection with the Michigan Central Railroad, just completed across the State from Detroit. At this early day, Chicago was a struggling town of twenty thousand inhabitants, while Milwaukee, its rival in trade, exceeded this population by about one thousand. During the season of 1854, he became the chief engineer of the steamer E. K. Collins of the same line, which plied between Cleveland and Sault Ste. Marie. On October 8th of that year, this ill-fated steamer was burned at the mouth of Detroit River, which catastrophe ended his steamboating experience.

Early in the spring of 1855, Mr. Rust returned to his former occupation in Newport and entered into a contract with his brothers to run their sawmill at the price of one dollar and a half per thousand feet. This work he continued until the fall of 1858, at which time they abandoned the business for want of stock. Ezra then went to Cuba as the engineer of a large sugar plantation, where he remained about nine months and then returned to Michigan.

As early as 1850, the Rust Brothers had acquired valuable timber lands on the Tittabawassee River and its tributaries, as well as on the Grand and Muskegon Rivers, and in that year, Ezra, while working on the steamboat, began sending his wages to them for investment in lands. Thus, little by little, by strict economy, temperate habits, and the exercise of excellent judgment, he laid the foundation of his fortunes. To these sterling qualities, he added the highest integrity and forged his way to a commanding position of trust and honor in the financial and commercial worlds of Michigan.

The timber resources of the St. Clair River having failed, the brothers began lumbering on the Pine River in Gratiot County, a tributary of the Tittabawassee, and operated a sawmill at Salina. Ezra Rust followed them to the valley in 1859 and formed a partnership with James Hay, under the name of Rust and Hay, which continued until the death of Mr. Hay, November 25, 1881. This firm conducted a successful lumbering business, and when the salt interest in the valley began to expand, about 1862, they erected salt works at South Saginaw.

In 1865, the firm of Rust, Eaton & Company was formed, with Mr. Rust as the managing partner, which also carried on a large logging and sawmill business at Zilwaukee, later engaging extensively in the manufacture of salt, and conducting a profitable business until its dissolution in 1898. In 1885, Mr. Rust formed a partnership with C. E. Wheeler in the purchase and sale of timber lands in Michigan and other states, also on the Pacific coast, which continued until Mr. Wheeler’s death in 1907. By the purchase of large tracts of timber land in Minnesota, he also became interested in the iron-ore deposits of the Mesaba Range.

Early in 1871, the firm of Rust & Hay, in connection with Butman & Rust, bought of James Watson and M. W. O’Brien the old mill at the foot of Seventeenth Street in Bay City. This mill they remodeled and operated under the name of Hay, Butman & Company until 1885.

Mr. Rust was married November 25, 1856, to Miss Emma B. Mather, of St. Clair, who was born in Detroit, Michigan, April 12, 1839. Two daughters were born to them, but neither lived beyond infancy. Mrs. Rust died on May 9, 1913. A woman of strong personality, stately and attractive appearance, she always maintained a commanding position in the religious and social life of Saginaw. Proverbial for hospitality, generous and sympathetic by nature, she used her gifts of mind and heart to promote the well-being of the community.

In May 1913, Mr. Rust adopted Maxine R. Sturtz, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. C. C. Sturtz, of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and on April 28, 1914, married Estelle Sturtz, of Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Throughout his active and useful life, Mr. Rust has lost none of his confidence in human nature, and his broad sympathies constantly find expression in acts of beneficence, though quietly performed without ostentation. In years to come, the wisdom of his public benefactions will be more clearly manifested, and the benefits realized therefrom even more appreciated, than they are today. In no way is his desire for the betterment of the community more clearly exemplified than in his creation and improvement of Ezra Rust Park, his greatest gift to the city. Although much of the public playground remains to be improved according to the approved plans, this park, situated as it is in the heart of the city, is an enduring monument to Mr. Rust, far more substantial and representative of the man than chiseled stone or labored epitaph ever could be.

The plan of transforming the desert waste of the “middle ground” into a city park, to be to all the people a joy forever, had its inception in the mind of William S. Linton, whose civic patriotism knows no limitations. Through his earnest solicitation, while president of the Board of Trade, Mr. Rust was induced to contribute the funds for the purchase of the ground; and to the persistent energy and wise management of Mr. Linton is due the remarkable results achieved.

Combining a large, commanding figure, a full, kindly face from which radiates friendliness and good will, with a certain stateliness of manner modified by native grace, Mr. Rust is a man to attract attention in any group of his fellowmen. An atmosphere of warmth, light, geniality, and sunny humor surrounds him, possessing him with great personal charm. He is a man of extensive reading and large information, and, having a keen and retentive memory, is a fine conversationalist and a ready and polished speaker, strong, forceful, and persuasive in manner and speech. Geniality and courtliness are his most prominent attributes of character, and on all occasions, he is a gentleman of tact, courtesy, and dignity.


Mills, James Cooke, History of Saginaw County, Michigan; historical, commercial, biographical, Saginaw, Michigan : Seemann & Peters, 1918.

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