The history of South Haven is one that has revolved around community and industrial growth. From its very beginnings of settlement in the 1830’s, sawmills emerged and provided a means for the construction of buildings. As the town began to shape with a post office, schoolhouse, hotel, and homes by the 1850’s, the development of the fruit industry was underway. Peaches, apples, pears, and much more were cultivated and sold, as Michigan’s fruit belt began to develop. This new industry brought more opportunities for wealth and expansion of the town. By the turn of the century, South Haven was becoming a well-known resort town, with its sandy beaches and proximity to Chicago. While the summers were busy, manufacturing companies kept the city prosperous year-round. All these progressions have brought the city of South Haven where it is today; a historic town alive with annual u-pick blueberry farms, summertime visitors, and long-term residents who appreciate the charm and hard work that has shaped South Haven, as we look to the future while recognizing the accomplishments of the past.
Before the arrival of white settlers, several Native American Indian tribes inhabited the area; the Ottawa, Miami and Potawatomi. They reportedly named the area “Ni-No-Kong” or “beautiful sunsets.”
Judge J.R. Monroe envisions the creation of South Haven. He is granted a land patent from the U.S. government for 65 acres of land along the Lake Michigan shore. Monroe and his family arrived by lumber wagon and built a log cabin. The Monroe family later relocated to nearby Lawrence.
The Village of South Haven is platted. The first one-room schoolhouse is constructed at the corner of Indiana Avenue and Superior Street. The first post office is constructed.
World-famous botanist Liberty Hyde Bailey Jr. is born in a frame house that is now a museum on Bailey Avenue. In 1984 the museum was designated as a National Historic Site.
South Haven officially becomes a village by local action on May 10. The village was incorporated and re-incorporated in 1871 due to legal technicalities. James David Corrothers is born. He moved to South Haven at the age of 2, where he remained during his school years. He became a recognized literary figure in the 1890’s and was considered a leading African American literary figure by the time of his death in 1917.
The railroad reaches South Haven from Kalamazoo (now the Kal-Haven trail). The first train engine is named “Goliah” or “Goliath”. The first commercial bank, First National Bank of South Haven, opens. A lighthouse is constructed on the South Pier entrance to the Black River.
1890 and 1891
Fires in consecutive years destroyed many buildings in the central business district. In 1890, eleven buildings on the Northeast corner of Phoenix and Center Street burned. Firefighting equipment consisted of two Babcock fire extinguishers and buckets. The following year, twenty-two buildings on the corner of Broadway and Phoenix burned.
Steamers bring an estimated 160,000 passengers across Lake Michigan this summer. Round trip cost 50 cents. South Haven has become known as the “Catskills of the Midwest” marking the Jewish Resort Era, a time when the Midwest’s Jewish Community made South Haven its choice vacation spot.
Stanley Johnston becomes superintendent of Michigan State College’s (now, University) South Haven Experiment Station until 1968. His major contributions included eight varieties of yellow-fleshed peaches, named: Halehaven, Kalhaven, Redhaven, Fairhaven, Sunhaven, Richhaven, Glohaven and Cresthaven.
The growth of the nation’s highway system to accommodate automobiles, combined with the upcoming Great Depression, contributes to the demise of South Haven’s big resort trade. U.S. 31 (now Blue Star Memorial Highway) opened between South Haven and Benton Harbor, a part of the West Michigan Pike, now designated as a Pure Michigan Byway.
South Haven celebrates its centennial in conjunction with the National Blueberry Festival during the week of the Fourth of July. The community’s first celebration of the blueberry occurred in 1963, replacing the previous peach festivals.
With the change from commercial fishing to recreational fishing on Lake Michigan gaining momentum, the state Department of Natural Resources plants 100,000 Coho Salmon in the Black River. A year later an additional 20,000 Lake Trout and 50,000 Chinook Salmon are planted.
Friends Good Will, a working reproduction of a historic merchant square-rigged topsail sloop (1811-1813) is launched by the Michigan Maritime Museum.
Ownership of the lighthouse is transferred from the United States of America to the Historical Association of South Haven.
South Haven celebrates its sesquicentennial.
Many thanks to the Historical Association of South Haven for the amazing photos!
South Haven/Van Buren County Convention and Visitors Bureau