It all began in 1872 when George VanEtten and Henry Kaiser started a lumber settlement on the banks of the Pinconning River. (You may notice that two downtown streets are named after these men.) They chose this area due to the abundant choice of trees; white pine, fir, spruce, cedar, oak, maple, birch, and elm. There was also plenty of food to be had from the wild life, close fishing, and an abundance of potatoes. (The name Pinconning actually derives from the local Chippewa Native American word “O-pin-nic-con-ing,” meaning ‘potato place’ or ‘a place where wild potatoes grow.’) VanEtten and Kaiser created a sawmill, a company store, and Pinconning officially became a town – complete with a post office – in 1873.
In their early lumbering endeavors, VanEtten and Kaiser relied on the Pinconning River to move the logs, but during that same year, the railroad came to town. The Pinconning and Kaiserville Railroad* became Pinconning’s lifeline. It created a faster way to transport lumber south and increased productivity, which helped the town to prosper. The railroad was also the main way in and out of town due to a lack of real roads. (The first stone-paved road did not arrive until 1920!) As the years progressed deforestation occurred and the lumber industry started to flounder. It was during this time that cheese came to Pinconning.
Dairy farming became the next big adventure for Pinconning when in 1907 William Reid relocated to Pinconning and started Pinconning Creamery. (Kraft even opened a cheese plant in 1936 and ran until 1993.) Reid led the way for German immigrant Daniel Horn to move to Pinconning, from Wisconsin, with his vast knowledge of cheese making. In his cheese quest, Horn created a new type of cheese that could be stored at temperatures over forty degrees, needed at the time because of a lack of refrigeration. Cheese was typically stored in root cellars, which tended to be warmer than forty degrees. This new Colby became known throughout Michigan as Pinconning cheese, which is still around and more popular than ever!
*(The railroad changed hands many times over the next several years. The Pinconning and Kaiserville Railroad became the Glencoe, Pinconning, & Lake Shore Railroad, then the Pinconning Railroad, then the Saginaw Bay & Northwestern Railroad, until it was finally bought by the Michigan Central Company in 1883.)