Exploring Michigan's Beachtowns

Since the last ice age about 10,000 years ago pounding surf and incessant winds have created the largest freshwater dune system in the world along Lake Michigan's eastern shore. There the rising sands eventually blocked the original river mouths and created inland lakes. Then new channels broke through the sands to the big lake. When Southwest Michigan's early European settlers looked at the sheltered lakes and the channels, they imagined towns, safe harbors and commerce and Southwest Michigan's Historic Harbortowns were born.

Some of those early settlers blasted to widen and change the channels. Some hired crews with wheelbarrows. Sometimes the sand won. But before long there were harbors filled with sailing schooners, steamers, fishing boats and eventually freighters and pleasure craft. There were lighthouses, Coast Guard stations, fruit warehouses and docks. And many of them are still here, waiting for you to explore.

Our tour goes from south to north, but you can start your adventure anywhere. By land or by fresh-water sea, the distance from New Buffalo to Ludington is only 170 miles.

St. Joseph/Benton Harbor 
In 1679, where the St. Joseph River meets Lake Michigan, French explorer Robert de La Salle founded Fort Miami. He named the fort for the Indians with whom he planned to trade and a new commercial center was born. The commerce changed over the years, from furs to fish to fruit, to name a few, but the harbor remains.

You can see La Salles world at the Fort Miami Heritage Society's special exhibit Shared Waters: Natives and French on the Great Lakes. Jump ahead a couple of centuries, and you're at the 1849 Morton House, the home of St. Josephs foremost shipping magnate. Or lunch in Tisconrnia Park, where 600-foot freighters, the sails of pleasure boats, the North Pier Lights and the historic Lighthouse Supply Depot and Keepers Dwelling create a perfect Harbortown scene. For a guided St. Joseph maritime tour, call (269) 983-1191.

South Haven 
On July 17, 1812, the same day that the British captured Mackinac Island, they also captured Friends Good Will, luring it into the harbor by flying false colors. Detroit Saturday Night newspaper on June 21, 1913, presented a fictionalized account of this taking:
It was late in the afternoon when the sloop ... approached Mackinac Island ... The American colors lazily undulated from the flagstaff of the fort. A soldier in the uniform of the United States army was lounging on the dock. Otherwise the little hamlet might have been a deserted village ... Slowly Friends Good Will was rounded up to the dock and made fast. The soldier responded surlily [sic] to Mr. Williams [sic] greeting.... I want to see Mr. Douseman, said Williams. Lives over there, said the soldier, indicating one of the larger houses in the row. By this time the crew was scattered about the dock ... Their arms were on board the sloop ... Mr. Williams started towards the row of houses in quest of Douseman. He had covered perhaps half the distance across the beach when the door of the house opposite opened and a man in the uniform of a British officer stepped out, quickly followed by a detail of soldiers ... I am Capt. Roberts of the British service, now in command of yonder fort. ... I will arrange for the parole of yourself and crew as noncombatants, but your vessel will be held as a legitimate prize of war.
The Great Lakes historic replica tall ship, Friends Good Will, is moored at the Michigan Maritime Museum. Visitors may board the vessel and experience life as an early 19th century sailor. Passenger sails, sunset sails and overnight adventures are available.

In 1838 Oshea Wilder and his sons laid out a new village at the mouth of the Kalamazoo River. With ambitions to create a port rivaling Chicagos, they called it Singapore. Four years later, the misfortune of others kept its settlers alive when flour salvaged after the disastrous mutiny and shipwreck of the Milwaukie fed its residents during a blizzard that raged for 40 days. Today Michigan's most famous ghost town the lost port of Singaporelies buried beneath the shifting sand dunes of Lake Michigan.
Singapores neighbor, Saugatuck, survived. Its there you can board an authentic sternwheeler, the Star II and see the dunes that cover Singapore while you hear tales of Saugatuck lumbermen, Native Americans, shipwrecks and rugged settlers. You can also cross the Kalamazoo River, just as early settlers did, on board the last remaining hand-cranked Chain Ferry in the United States. Visit the Saugatuck-Douglas Historical Museum and Old School House. Finish your Saugatuck adventure with a land and water tour of Saugatuck and Douglas aboard a World War II amphibious vehicle with Harbor Duck Adventures.

Dutch settlers came to Holland, Michigan, in 1847. Whenever a supply ship arrived, they rowed a flatboat out to the ship, unloaded the supplies, rowed back to shore, transferred the goods over the dune to a second flatboat in Black Lake, and rowed that boat 6 miles to their Kolonie. It is no wonder that they spent the next 60 years attempting to create a channel from Black Lake to Lake Michigan. In 1852, Congress provided piers. They were destroyed by storms. In 1860 the settlers began digging a channel by hand. Wooden piers and lighthouse towers were repeatedly built and lost. Finally, in 1909, converging concrete piers created a lasting Holland Harbor.
Hollands Dutch heritage is pervasive even in Big Red, the Holland Harbor Lighthouse with its twin gables.The best place to sample the lives of those early Dutch settlers is the Holland Museum and its Settlers House.

Grand Haven 
In the late 17th century, while William Penn was establishing a colony on North Americas east coast, Native Americans and French fur traders were exchanging goods where the Grand River meets the Great Lake and forms a natural harbor. The Indians called the place Gabagouache (pronounced phonetically Gaba-go-Wa-chay), which described the widening of the river and the slowing of the current as the flow reached its destination Lake Michigan.

Today the place is called Grand Haven, and at William Ferrys Landing, its river the longest in Michigan is showcased in brass inlay representing 254 winding miles from Jackson to the lake. Visitors stroll the two-mile boardwalk along the river to the lighthouse and celebrate the Coast Guard Festival. They explore the areas tales of fur trading, lumbering, commercial fishing and shipbuilding in the Tri-Cities Historical Museums two restored historic buildings the railroad station and the Secadies Department Store.

The sugar sand dunes that surround the harbor formed by Muskegon Lake found an unusual use during World War II. They provided the perfect molding medium for heavy metal foundries producing some of the war materiel that made Michigan the Arsenal of Democracy.
The products of that era are part of Muskegon's amazing collection of historic vessels. Start with the USS Silversides, the most decorated WWII submarine still afloat. Its crankshaft was cast in Muskegon. You can also see the McLane, a WWII Coast Guard patrol boat, and the LST 393. Visible from the Mart Dock, the LST 393 is one of two surviving WWII Landing Ship Tanks. It took part in D-Day. For a pre-war experience, visit the Milwaukee Clipper, an early car ferry. Then try the newest chapter in Muskegon Maritime Heritage the Lake Express Car Ferry with daily service to Milwaukee.

Silver Lake/Hart 
The sand dunes west of Hart kept Silver Lake from ever becoming a harbor. Swift Lathers thought he could live on the dunes. He carried his lumber to the top of the dunes to build Lost Village, which could be covered by the shifting sands for days at a time and then re-emerge. A climb or even a drive on the Silver Lake Sand Dunes gives visitors a taste of what Swift must have experienced.
The dunes or an excursion flight on a Powerchutealso offer an incredible reminder of one of the most tragic days on the Great Lakes November 11, 1940. On that storm-tossed day, the Navadoc, the Anna C. Minch and the William B. Davoc all went down. You can still see the wreckage from the dunes.

In 1859, Charles Mears already had successful sawmills in Lincoln and Hamlin, but he wanted one in Pere Marquette, as Ludington was called until 1864. He found land on the north side of Pere Marquette Lake, but the channel to Lake Michigan was on the south side. So, he and a crew of 24 worked late into the night to close the existing channel. Fearing someone would try to reopen the channel, he posted a large man named Wilson to guard it. And, after an exhausting three days of work with shovels and wheelbarrows, the new north channel opened.

The north channel paid off handsomely for Mears and for Ludington. Improvements brought more lumber mills, larger schooners, steamers, railroads and car ferries. By 1930, Ludington boasted the largest car ferry fleet in the world. Lake Michigan Carferry still operates one of those ferries the SS Badger letting visitors experience the grand age of steamers as they cross the big lake to Manitowok, Wisconsin. On land, you can explore the world of Charles Mears at Historic White Pine Village, revel in the big lake from atop the Big Sable Point Lighthouse and explore the modern harbor, including the new Waterfront Sculpture Park.

For More Information Contact:
Grand Haven/Spring Lake CVB: (800) 303-4096
Hart/Silver Lake CC: (800) 870-9786
Holland Area CVB: (800) 506-1299
Ludington Area CVB: (231) 845-0324
Muskegon County CVB: (800) 250-WAVE
Saugatuck/Douglas CVB: (269) 857-1701
South Haven CVB: (269) 637-5252
Southwest Michigan Tourism Council (Saint Joseph): (269) 925-6301

The Heritage Museum and Cultural Center
601 Main Street
Saint Joseph, MI 49085
Phone: (269) 983-1191
The Priscilla U. Byrns Heritage Center provides a beautiful setting for a variety of functions, including weddings, seminars, and concerts. The Heritage Museum owns and is located within the Center, which provides an ideal setting for interpreting the history of the St. Joseph-Benton Harbor area. In addition to exhibits, the Society also presents various programs and lectures, as well as preserving the rich cultural heritage of the Fort Miami region and the twin cities area through their library, archival and artifact collections.
The Morton House Museum
501 Territorial Road
Benton Harbor, MI 49022
Phone: (269) 925-7011
This is a restored, preserved home of the Morton Family, four generations of whom lived here. The Mortons were founders Benton Harbor and instrumental in it's growth. Period rooms are shown by costumed docents.
Michigan Maritime Museum
260 Dyckman Avenue
South Haven, MI 49090
Toll Free: (800) 747-3810
Phone: (269) 637-8078
Experience the rich maritime heritage of the Great Lakes by visiting Michigan's most distinguished institution of maritime research, preservation and education. Step aboard an early 19th century replica tall ship and sail out into the great waters of Lake Michigan. Open all year, the Michigan Maritime Museum campus features several exhibits and self-guided tours along with the a Great Lakes historic replica tall ship, Friends Good Will, available for boarding and passenger sails and also check out the Great Lakes Research Library and the South Haven. South Pier Light.
Saugatuck - Douglas Historical Society Museum, Old School House
130 Center Street
Douglas, MI 49406
Phone: (269) 857-5751
The Saugatuck-Douglas Museum is one of Michigan's best-known and most-visited small town museums, annually drawing nearly 10,000 visitors to its exhibits and more than 40,000 visitors to its outdoor garden and harbor-front walkway. Visit the Old School House. Open Memorial day to Labor day. Admission is free.
Saugatuck Boat Cruises
716 Water Street
P.O. Box 654
Saugatuck, MI 49453
Phone: (269) 857-4261
Sit back and relax – listen to the water running off the paddlewheels as you gently glide down the Kalamazoo River. See Saugatuck from the water, a totally different view from what you see on land, and take in the majesty of Lake Michigan. Take one of our many daytime cruises, or go for a sunset cruise taking in the beauty of a sunset on Lake Michigan. Snack bars onboard serve cold pop, water, or if you prefer a beer, glass of wine or mixed drink and chips or candy to snack on. It’s fun for all ages – children see boats of every shape size, and you never know when we’ll see a fox, deer, or possibly a bald eagle. The Star II is U.S. Coast Guard certified and annually inspected, and has all its safety equipment onboard – 100% adult and child life jackets, ship-to-shore radios, cell phone, and radar equipped.
Harbor Duck Adventures
121 Griffith
Saugatuck, MI 49453
Phone: (269) 857-DUCK
Harbor Duck Adventures Company has transformed a WWII Army amphibious vessel into one big water taxi - 31 feet long, seating 28 people. Wind through downtown Saugatuck and across the bridge to Douglas, ride the Duck back to Saugatuck as it splashes into the waters of the Kalamazoo River and Saugatuck Harbor. Receive fun facts and snippets of history about both towns from one of four comedic captains as you enjoy the beautiful sights of the area.
Big Red Lighthouse
2215 Ottawa Beach Road
Holland State Park View
Holland, MI 49424
Phone: (616) 394-0000
For a great view of Big Red, visit Holland State Park, and walk along the boardwalk to the north pier (wheelchair accessible). You can also view Big Red from Mt. Pisgah, where the dune stair case takes you 157 feet above sea level. Holland State Park is at the west end of Ottawa Beach Road on the northside of Holland; Mt. Pisgah is just east, near Third Ave. This three-story building- topped with a gray-shingled roof and square tower is one of the most photographed lights in Michigan. The twin-gabled structure reflects the Dutch influence in the area. Twice a year, the Coast Guard inspects the facility and maintains the light. The light can be seen for 20 miles. The use of a fog signal had been discontinued. The original lens is on display in the Holland Museum. Over the years, "Big Red" has taken on a life of its own, popular with painters, photographers, beach-goers and boaters. There's nothing more relaxing than sitting in the shade of a tree, and watching the river empty into Lake Michigan, while the red sentinel stands guard across the channel.
Holland Museum
31 West 10th Street
Holland, MI 49423
Phone: (616) 796-3329
Enjoy Holland's heritage at three museum sites, the Holland Museum and two newly restored house museums; the Cappon House and Settlers House. Elegant 2nd floor galleries now house the museum's extensive Dutch Collection of Fine & Decorative Arts. On exhibit are fifty-six 17th to 20th century Dutch paintings and more than one hundred and seventy other cultural objects, from fine furniture, Delftware and silver to original Dutch costumes. Follow the story of our settlement in 1847 as it shows the development as a city of diverse people. All three sites are listed on the National Register of Historic places.
Tri-Cities Historical Museum
200 Washington Avenue
Grand Haven, MI 49417
Phone: (616) 842-0700
The Tri-Cities Historical Museum provides visitors an opportunity to look through the windows of time into the history of Northwest Ottawa County, including the communities of Grand Haven, Spring Lake and Ferrysburg. Located in two separate buildings both with historic connections to the area, the museum has grown and prospered since its beginnings back in 1959. Since 1972 it has occupied the former Grand Trunk Railroad Depot which was built in 1870. Fur trader Rix Robinson established his trading post in 1821 not far from the very spot on which the present museum rests. Offering exhibits for the entire family to enjoy. Exhibits which illustrate that throughout history - people, places and things have played key roles in bringing about the quality of life enjoyed in Northwest Ottawa County today which tell the stories of native Americans, early pioneers, lumberjacks and French voyageurs. Victorian period rooms, medicine, agriculture, lumbering, maritime, tourism and other exhibits portraying day-to-day life-styles can be enjoyed by people of all ages and interests. Open year around six days a week.
USS Silversides Submarine Museum
1346 Bluff St.
PO Box 1692
Muskegon, MI 49441
Phone: (231) 755-1230
Step back into time and tour a WWII submarine and a Prohibition-Era Coast Guard Cutter. These vessels are currently berthed in Muskegon, Michigan at the Great Lakes Naval Memorial and Museum. They are the USS SILVERSIDES SS-236 and the USCGC McLane W-146. The Great Lakes Naval Memorial and Museum is located on the south side of the channel wall near beautiful Lake Michigan, also features a maritime museum and gift shop. Become an official "Crew Member" for a night, ask about the overnight encampment program. Tours available all year.
SS Milwaukee Clipper
2098 Lakeshore Drive
Muskegon, MI 49441-1611
Phone: (231) 683-1590
The SS Milwaukee Clipper, also known as SS Clipper, formerly as the SS Juniata, is a retired passenger ship and automobile ferry that sailed under two configurations and traveled on all of the Great Lakes except Lake Ontario. The Clipper was built in 1904 and is the only US passenger steamship left on the Great Lakes and is designated as a U.S. National Historic Landmark. The "Queen of the Great Lakes,” as she was also known, is currently docked in Muskegon, undergoing restoration by volunteers of the SS Milwaukee Clipper Preservation, Inc. organization. The ship is open for tours on Saturdays and Sundays from 1-5 pm through Labor Day weekend. Visitors can now tour the pilothouse, some staterooms, crew quarters, dance floor, soda bowl and movie theater. A large collection of the original Art Deco furniture remains on board. There are also displays of memorabilia from both the Juniata and the Clipper, which include memory books, photographs, brochures, dishes and other items of interest. Welcome aboard!!
Lake Express High Speed Ferry
1918 Lakeshore Drive
Muskegon, MI 49441
Toll Free: (866) 914-1010
Lake Express, the first high speed auto/passenger ferry to operate on a route within the Continental United States crosses stunning Lake Michigan between Muskegon, Michigan and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Lake Express makes two round trips a day during the spring and fall months and during the summer season there will be an additional round trip added to the schedule. Each trip across Lake Michigan takes only 2 1/2 hours. Passengers have the choice of either Classic Seating or Premier Seating. The catamaran can carry 46 cars, 12 motorcycles, 20 bicycles and 250 people on each trip. The ride promises to be a comfortable one complete with food, beverages, business class cabin, modern restrooms and a smoke-free environment. Avoid Chicago traffic and take the shortcut that you wish would never end aboard the Lake Express high speed ferry.
Historic White Pine Village
1687 S. Lakeshore Drive
Ludington, MI 49431
Phone: (231) 843-4808
Visit Historic White Pine Village and rediscover small-town Michigan life in the late 1800s and beyond. The beauty, serenity, nostalgia of White Pine Village ensures an exciting, educational experience for the entire family. Visit any of the 29 buildings that are filled with thousands of artifacts that interpret their setting in history. Visit our maritime, lumbering, music museums, blacksmith shop, general store, school, old fashioned ice cream parlor, chapel, gift shop, trapper's cabin and more.
Big Sable Point Lighthouse
8800 w M116
Ludington State Park
Ludington, MI 49431
Phone: (231) 845-7417
Big Sable Point Lighthouse was the first station constructed in this area. The Ludington North Breakwater Light in downtown Ludington guides vessels through the channel connecting the harbor, Pere Marquette River, and Lake Michigan. You can walk along the beach or the road in the Ludington State Park to reach the lighthouse. Open 7 days a week 10am to 5pm from May 1st to October 25 2015. Admission is $5.00 for adults and $2.00 for children 12 and under.
Badger - Histoic Lake Michigan Carferry
701 Maritime Drive
P.O. Box 708
Ludington, MI 49431
Toll Free: (800) 841-4243
Phone: (231) 845-5555
Book your discounted trip today on the S.S. BADGER - A National Historic Landmark, visit www.ssbadger.com The SS Badger is the largest operating passenger steamship in the United States. The Badger provides a fun, reliable and affordable shortcut across beautiful Lake Michigan. The SS Badger provides a relaxing 4-hour, 60-mile cruise on a authentic steamship that takes passengers and their vehicles (including RVs, buses, cars and motorcycles) across Lake Michigan between Ludington, Michigan, and Manitowoc, Wisconsin. The ship features spacious outside decks for walking, reading or relaxing, as well as on-board amenities such as free movies, TV, entertainment, a toddler's room, a video arcade, free Badger Bingo, interactive games, a gift shop, two dining areas and private staterooms. Pets may be transported in the owner's vehicle or kept in a well-ventilated portable kennel on the car deck. Group travel discounts are available for groups over 10. With the excitement and romance of a sea voyage, plus uninterrupted time with family and friends - the journey is as much fun as the destination! Experience Amazing!...aboard the SS Badger. www.ssbadger.com