Biography of William Seelye Linton

A pivotal figure in Saginaw’s history, William Seelye Linton, born in 1856, has been integral to the city’s progress throughout the last fifty years. With ancestral ties to William Penn’s followers, Linton’s life has been a tapestry of industry and civic leadership. Starting as a clerk and quickly ascending to manage his father’s lumber and salt businesses, he has been involved in Saginaw’s development since childhood. His political career includes serving as a state representative, ushering in important legislation and as mayor of Saginaw. Linton’s contributions range from park creations to urban improvements, earning him widespread recognition, including accolades from President Theodore Roosevelt. His dedication has reshaped Saginaw from a lumber town into a prosperous manufacturing city, ensuring his legacy will endure for generations.

To write the annals of Saginaw entirely for the past half-century and especially during the last three decades would be impossible without including therein the subject of this article.

No other man during this period of great progress has been more active in civic life or more earnest and successful in promoting what is greatest and best in the Saginaw of today, and better yet, the result of his work must permanently be the pride of the city for many generations to come.

William Seelye Linton was born in Michigan on February 4, 1856, on the banks of the charming St. Clair River, in the pretty village bearing its name. He is a direct descendant of John Linton, an upright conscientious man, with an interesting and remarkable history, who with his wife (Rebecca Relf) came to America with William Penn’s followers in 1692.

To show the unusual activity, work, and achievement of a busy career, the following is briefly presented as being certain incidents in the life of William S. Linton, and about some of which, did space permit, a volume might be written. His father, Aaron Linton, (see portrait page 502) a man of sterling character and great moral worth, located first at Saginaw, West Side, and later at the South Side, building one of the first four houses in that part of the city where a street and park bear his name. He was followed here by his wife (Sarah McDonald) accompanied by their two sons, William S. and Charles E., who arrived on the steamer Forest Queen, May 10, 1859. For considerably more than fifty years, therefore, with only a few short absences elsewhere, the subject of this sketch has been a loyal and enthusiastic Saginawian.

He, as a child, was at the city’s very beginning and has seen the primitive Indian, the wild deer, and the black bear roam grounds where are today wide streets or pleasing home yards, and has witnessed flocks containing millions of the now extinct wild pigeons, in all their beautiful sheen, swiftly flying over the area that has become a great and prosperous municipality.

Here he was educated in the public schools; at the age of fifteen years — 1871 — he commenced clerking in a general store at Farwell and soon after became manager of his father’s sawmill and lumber yard at the same place. For a time he was a member of a firm dealing in lumber at Jonesville, Hillsdale County, Michigan, and afterward engaged as a bookkeeper with prominent lumbermen in Saginaw; for two years prior to 1877 was occupied in the timber business during winters in the lumber woods and in summer inspected and shipped lumber from sawmills along the Saginaw River. When twenty-one years of age he became superintendent of a large lumbering industry at Wells, Bay County, (now Alger, Arenac County), Michigan, and was for two terms a member of the Bay County Board of Supervisors.

On April 9, 1878, he was married to Ida M. Lowry, daughter of William H. Lowry, a veteran of the Civil War, with a most meritorious record in the Ninth Michigan Infantry, from 1861 to 1865, he retiring therefrom at the war’s close with the rank of first lieutenant. Mrs. Linton has also been active in good work, she having been the organizer and first regent of Saginaw Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, and twice president of the Woman’s Hospital Association. Two sons and a daughter have been born to them — Raymond A., Laurence L., and Elsie S. The two former are graduates of the Michigan College of Mines and the latter of the University of Michigan.

In 1879 Mr. Linton engaged in the lumber and salt business; in 1883 was elected a member of the East Saginaw Common Council, serving two terms, at the end of which he was elected representative to the Michigan Legislature of 1887-88, two of his bills becoming important laws. One of them led up to the consolidation of all the Saginaws into one city and the other established building and loan associations in Michigan. For three years he was president of the People’s Building and Loan Association of Saginaw County, the strongest financially and in membership at this time of any in the State; and during 1891 was president of the Michigan State League of Building and Loan Associations. For several years he has been commodore of the Saginaw Boat Club, and also president of the Tahquamenon Club, the best-known hunting organization in the State, with a lodge near Lake Superior. This latter club is active in promoting the conservation of wildlife, and through its membership was largely responsible for the law limiting hunters to one deer instead of two as formerly.

In 1890, he was the candidate for lieutenant-governor on the Republican State ticket; during 1890 and 1891 was twice unanimously elected chief executive officer of the Knights of the Maccabees, a fraternal society with a larger membership than any other in Michigan; and has been a supreme officer of the Independent Order of Foresters. In the Masonic order he has held very prominent position, amongst them being worshipful master of his lodge; an officer in the Michigan Grand Lodge, F. & A. M., and illustrious potentate of Elf Khurafeh Temple, A. A. O. N. S. He has been president of the Saginaw Water Board; was for two years (1892-1894) the first Republican mayor of the consolidated City of Saginaw; and was elected to the Fifty-third and re-elected by a largely increased majority to the Fifty-fourth Congress, serving during Grover Cleveland’s second term as president, and at a time when Thomas B. Reed was speaker of the House of Representatives.

While in Congress, co-operating with United States Supervising Architect Aiken at Washington, he caused the unique and handsome plans for the Government Building ordered at Saginaw, to be executed and adopted, resulting in the fine architectural structure in which, at this writing, is located the Post Office and other Federal offices.

He was postmaster of Saginaw for sixteen consecutive years (1898-1914) and was three times president of the Michigan State Association of Postmasters. During this period he traveled in Europe, Asia, and Africa, bearing authority from Postmaster General Henry C. Payne to gather information for his department relative to the postal service of the different countries. In the State primaries of 1914 Mr. Linton received over thirty thousand votes for governor of Michigan, carrying amongst others Saginaw County by a large majority. He has for nine years been president of the Auditorium Board of Trustees, having so served since the construction of this fine city building. He was the first mayor to preside at the present City Hall, the first postmaster to occupy the Federal Building and the first Board of Trade president to occupy the board’s present fine quarters in the Hotel Bancroft block. In this latter position he and his associates have been connected with and carried to a finish some of the best civic institutions that will always remain and are the city’s pride today.

They have transformed dilapidated property, jungle and tangle, bog and mire, into useful fine scenic parks, places of recreation and enjoyment for all. Most prominent amongst them is the large centrally located Ezra Rust Park, named for Mr. Rust, its donor, a prince amongst men and one whose generous liberality and foresight will be recognized and appreciated by a grateful city for ages to come. For his activity and work connected in securing this park in its ample and fine area, Mr. Rust caused the pretty lake therein to be designated “Lake Linton,” (see Mr. Rust’s biography for reference hereto). The major portion of Hoyt Park was changed by Mr. Linton’s efforts and recommendations and reclaimed from a stagnant and abominable cesspool to a great playground and magnificent natural amphitheater where many thousands may witness important celebrations, spirited contests, and entrancing playfests on the green. During Mr. Linton’s time as president of the Board of Trade has also come to the city, Federal Park, which was instituted and planted by him, Jeffers Park and Fountain, given to Saginaw by his friend, Mr. John Jeffers; the city dock; Battery place; the connection of city streets by macadamizing with the main county roads; the State Street Bridge leading to the fertile farms beyond; the Natatorium provided by Mr. E. C. Mershon; the Auditorium made possible by the gifts of W. R. Burt and T. E. Dorr; the Armory Building and the dredging of a deep-water channel through our entire city connected with the Great Lakes.

During this time the Merchants and Manufacturers Association with which he is actively connected was organized, with over two hundred thousand dollars subscribed, making possible great industrial advancement, and bringing to Saginaw many leading industries, employing much labor and adding greatly to the city’s prosperity.

During this remarkable period, too, with Mr. Linton as the executive head of the Board, an enormous amount of planting throughout the city of ornamental trees, shrubs, vines, and flowering plants has been accomplished, all growing much finer each year, so that, helped greatly by all these uplifting influences, Saginaw has been rapidly and substantially developed from a once retrograding lumber town to one of the most beautiful home and prosperous manufacturing cities in the entire United States. At Saginaw’s semi-centennial anniversary (1907), celebrating fifty years of progress, Mr. Linton was unanimously and properly chosen the general chairman of the entire magnificent affair, participated in as it was by governors, United States senators and the military forces of the State, receiving recognition even from the President of the United States in a telegram sent Chairman Linton by President Theodore Roosevelt, warmly congratulating Saginaw and her people on the great and substantial civic advancements accomplished.

To the above narrated lines of work has Mr. Linton’s life been devoted with wonderful success, and to him and his associates are due appreciation and kind remembrance on the part of those who are to enjoy life in Saginaw even for centuries to come.


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

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