Third Street in downtown Bay City was once part of Hell’s Half Mile, an area once home to dance halls, saloons, and brothels during the lumber boom in the mid-late 19th century.
Lumberjacks came with money in their pockets to enjoy the dark and thrilling nightlife along Water Street. “Men just off the river draw a deep breath, and plunge into the wildest reactionary dissipation,” wrote Steward Edward White in his 1907 book The Blazed Trail. “In droves, they invade the cities - wild, picturesque, lawless. And if rip-roaring, swashbuckling, drunken glory is what he is after, he gets it.”
Today, Third Street feeds different (and a bit more legal) addictions. St. Laurent Brothers, a candy store, sits on the corner of Water Street and Third, and the buildings that line the street now are colorful and inviting. An antique store, a bike shop, local gift shops and restaurants all hold space along the quaint downtown street.
It also has one striking feature, The Third Street Star Bridge.
A Bright Idea
Strings of light bulbs criss-cross above the street, creating a canopy of light that illuminates the block at night. Walking under the lights feels like magic, and that is just what the Star Bridge’s visionary, Avram Golden, was hoping to create.
Golden’s idea for The Third Street Star Bridge emerged when he was thinking about a light in his own life, his brother Ari. “I love the idea of light,” Golden says. “Light illuminates the darkness. Light is also a way to describe a special person. We all have people in our lives that have been a ‘light’ to us, and I wanted to find a way to embody that idea.”
To achieve his goal, Golden needed to find members of the community to be part of the project. First, the City of Bay City supported the idea as well as the owners of the buildings in which the lights were strung. Clements Electric choreographed the light pattern and performed the installation.
To help fund the project, people donated $100 to recognize a “light” in their life in the form of a light bulb on one of the strings. Peter Hardy of Bay City Yoga also made and donated four benches, along with helping in the naming of the Star Bridge. Kawkawlin Stone donated the stone for the sign, Adam Wernecke helped design and layout the plaques, and Die Stampco engraved the nameplates. Additionally, Liberty Stalkweather Smith, Chris Fisher, and Andrew Dodson sent The Third Street Star Bridge’s message out into the world.
Jennifer Acosta, a Bay City native and real estate developer in the Great Lakes Bay Area, has a special connection to the bridge. “My dad made a donation in the name of each of his grandkids...donating their names is a great way for them to grow up here with a stronger attachment to our hometown. The Star Bridge has brought an element of fun and a renewed sense of pride for residents and visitors alike.”
Steve Frye, the owner of St. Laurent Brothers, has been on the block for 34 years. He donated a light to his partner of 29 years, Keith Whitney, who passed away four years ago.
“There are a lot of really great people who have a light named for them,” Frye says, “and the Star Bridge has been a tremendous asset to the downtown. There are more people coming to the area to walk under the lights and take pictures, especially at night. One time in a blinding snowstorm in the middle of the day, a bride came out and had her picture taken under the bridge. We see lots of wedding parties and graduation photos happen there.”
Kim Woodruff drives the trolley for Sunrise Pedals. “The Star Bridge is the most requested stop for a group picture. Either they know about the street or they have seen photos under the lights. I try to get a great memory for them.”
Rick Windt at GT Homestead added, “It has become the photo stop for everybody. We see lots of foot traffic no matter the season.”
An Illuminating Future
Avram hopes to extend The Third Street Star Bridge’s magic across Michigan and across the country. “I’d love to see other cities pick up this idea and run with it,” he said. “It is a great project and a great way to connect people to their downtown.”
Starkly different from Third Street’s early days on Hell’s Half Mile, today’s Third Street in downtown Bay City has become a local favorite. From selfies to dance parties, the Third Street Star Bridge is a source of pride in the community and a beautiful way to recognize the light that is in all of us.