In 1836, when Saranac was settled, the upper Grand River Valley was a promising but undeveloped area. The soil was fertile; Lake Creek provided water power; and the river was navigable to Grand Rapids. The town grew slowly until 1857, when the coming of the Detroit and Milwaukee Railroad made Saranac a shipping center. Local products included such items as flour, lumber, hides, felloes, barrels, and staves. As the forest disappeared, manufacturing declined, and agriculture gradually became the dominant industry.