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The focus of this category is on the cities and villages of Michigan, whether incorporated or unincorporated. Strictly speaking, Michigan doesn't have towns.

The area that was to become Michigan was inhabited for thousands of years before the Europeans arrived in the area, and many of Michigan's early cities were built on what had originally been the home of the Ojibwe, the Ottawa, or the Potawatomi people.

Michigan is unusual in that western expansion by European or European-American settlers passed the area by, for the most part. The French came in the early 1600s, establishing some missions, trading posts, and small forts along the major waterways, but they did not substantially populate the region. The first permanent European settlement was at Sault Ste. Marie, which was founded by Jacques Marquette, a French missionary, in 1668. However, Native Americans had lived there for more than 12,000 years before the French came, as it was along a crossroads of fishing and trading amongst tribes in the Great Lakes region. In 1701, the French established a fort and settlement that would later become known as Detroit, in the southeastern part of the Lower Peninsula.

The British later established some forts but, in the early 1830s, the entire European population of Michigan was confined to twenty-five of the state's current eighty-three counties, all in the southern part of the Lower Peninsula.

Western expansion of the United States largely bypassed Michigan, as pioneers moved on into Wisconsin and Iowa, where the land was more fertile and the growing seasons were longer. They bypassed the Upper Peninsula for the same reasons.

When Michigan became a state in 1837, more than 98% of the state's European-American population lived in the southern counties of the Lower Peninsula, and the state's entire population was counted as 7,649. The only incorporated city in the new state was Detroit, and there were only fifteen incorporated villages: Monroe, Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor, Niles, Adrian, Pontiac, St. Joseph, Tecumseh, Centreville, Constantine, White Pigeon, New Buffalo, Marshall, Mount Clemens, and Coldwater.

Although Michigan had a great deal to offer, early pioneers and homesteaders were largely farmers, and there were more fertile lands available in Wisconsin, Iowas, and the Dakotas.

In the 1840s, mining brought European-Americans to other parts of the state. Although there were some minor gold discoveries, Michigan's mining was mostly for copper and iron ore. This brought prospectors into the Copper Country of the Upper Peninsula, which led the nation in copper production from 1847 to 1887. Mining also brought a large number of immigrants from Finland, Ireland, Germany, Italy, and other parts of Europe. Wherever they worked, they established settlements, some of which grew into villages and cities.

The construction of the locks and canal at Sault Ste. Marie made the Upper Peninsula's iron ore and copper even more accessible to its markets.

The timber industry brought further migration to the area, largely for white pine. Loggers, sawyers, rivermen, and investors came from other parts of the United States, as well as from Canada, Sweden, Scandinavia, and Ireland, the Swedes being particularly well represented.

The availability of Michigan lumber brought railroad expansion, as well, and the railroads established stops along their routes, many of which grew into towns and villages.

The location of settlements in Michigan was brought about by a number of factors. Several sprung up along the Chicago Road and the Territorial Road, with several rising up around taverns that were developed along these highways, in places where a stream could be easily crossed, or at river crossings. Others grew up around early trading posts and forts and, in most cases the settlements remained even after the forts were closed. Mill or mining sites often spurred the establishment of a settlement, housing employees. Some of these early villages did not long survive the closure of the mill or of the mining operations, while others remained, although suffering a sharp decrease in population.

Other sites were the result of land promoters, who would often create opportunities, such as grain mills or lumber mills, in order to attract settlers and to earn a profit from their investments. A common characteristic of a townsite was the presence of a waterway, particularly one that could be harnessed to supply power for milling operations.

Names were derived from a variety of sources. Many of them were Indian names, while others were named for nearby geographical features, such as rivers, streams, falls, lakes, or mountains. Those established along a rail line were often named for a railroad official, while others took their names from an early founder, or adopted the name of a founder's hometown. Still others were named for presidents or other notable people.

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