After Jacob Smith built his cabin on the north side of the Flint River around 1820, John and Polly Todd opened a tavern on the south side, in what soon grew to be the first portion of Flint's central business district. Commercial growth centered on the south side because the land deeded to Smith and his heirs in the Treaty of Saginaw in 1819 remained unsaleable due to title problems. Thus, sawmills, gristmills, and handsome wood-frame buildings sprang up to house new commercial and retail activities. By the time the carriage era began in 1880, however, this first generation of buildings was replaced with two- and three-story brick Italianate commercial buildings. Some of these remain, but they have been modernized beyond recognition. Fortunately, several noncommercial remnants from the two early eras still stand. To the north of the Flint River, buildings from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries reflect construction undertaken only after the title issues with the Smith land had been cleared up.
Today Flint's downtown presents an early-twentieth-century streetscape. While marred by recent low-quality rehabilitation efforts and urban blight that have left almost no retail commercial facade intact, a heritage made possible by the wealth generated through the automobile industry is still reflected in its banks, theaters, fraternal halls, and governmental buildings.