Mr. AC Morton was the first known European to arrive at the future village site; he built a home in 1855. A.J. Dexter believed he had purchased the land before Morton’s arrival, so he got a bit peeved when Mr. Morton’s surveyor, a man named Markle, showed up to plat the village of Saratoga; Dexter killed the surveyor for trespassing. This didn’t create a positive vibe for the new village, so Saratoga was abandoned and the buildings were moved across the ice to neighboring Warrentown. Charles Tyler bought the site in 1856 for $1,700 in back taxes and rebranded the site as Bay City, naming it for the natural bay that was the site’s most distinctive feature. Early 20th century businesses included the predictable saloon, a confectionary, a billiard hall, a grain dealer, and a meat market.
Bay City was once home to a major commercial fishing operation. Around 1910, a school of Scandinavian fishermen relocated from Sevastopol (Minnesota) to Bay City, because it was cheaper to get a fishing license in Wisconsin. Bay City also had a rail station, so the fishermen had access to transportation that could ship their catch across the US. The fish were typically packed in barrels with ice, but local hero Capp Tyler invented a box (the Tyler Box) that proved to be a more efficient packing method. He opened a box making factory in Bay City and supplied fishermen along the eastern shore of Lake Pepin. Early on, most of the commercial fishermen ran small operations, but over time larger companies pushed out or swallowed the smaller ones. Changing tastes in the eating habits of Americans reduced demand for Lake Pepin fish after World War II; the last major fishing operation in Bay City closed in 1952. Bay City today has little industry; most residents commute to jobs in other places.