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150 Years Along Lake Michigan Has Brought Commerce, Tourism And "Beautiful Sunsets"

South Haven Pier at Lake Michigan - file photo by WMUK

South Haven is celebrating an anniversary. 150 years ago on May 10th, 1869 it was incorporated as a village. Tom Renner, a member of South Haven’s Sesquicentennial Planning Group says the first historical records of the area’s existence date back to 1787 “The Native Americans back then called this land, ‘Ni-No-Kong’ which meant beautiful sunsets.”

A 150th anniversary celebration is being held on Friday, May 10th at Stanley Johnston Park with free food, entertainment, activities for children and history. Renner says there are many connections between South Haven and Kalamazoo dating back to 1869. He says that year construction started on a railroad between two towns. Renner says that was important for supplying industry in Kalamazoo.

South Haven’s place along the shore of Lake Michigan has played a major role in its development. Renner says the town was known for shipbuilding. Steamer ships helped create the heyday of resorts for South Haven. In the early 1900’s it was called “the Catskills of the Midwest.”

Longer version of interview with Tom Renner in WMUK's WestSouthwest podcast

Shipping was important for South Haven and the surrounding area before roads were fully developed. Renner says paper mills in Kalamazoo relied on goods that came in and out of South Haven. He says fresh fruits from around Southwest Michigan were shipped out of South Haven’s port to Chicago, Milwaukee and other cities.

Three Medal of Honor recipients have called South Haven home. Sargent William H. Wilcox was awarded the Medal of Honor for gallantry during the Civil War. Duane Dewey was the first to receive the Medal of Honor from President Dwight Eisenhower for his actions in the Korean War. In 2017, James McCloughan, a medic during the Vietnam War, was awarded the Medal of Honor for saving other men while he was wounded himself during close combat. Renner says McCloughan has represented South Haven well, “bringing into focus the sacrifices of people for our country.”

Renner is a long-time South Haven resident who moved there with his wife when they were newlyweds in 1965. He served on the centennial celebration committee in 1969. Renner says South Haven has changed from an industrial waterfront to a popular tourist destination. He says now there are debates about affordable housing and jobs “all of the sort of things that communities not necessarily fortunate to be snugging Lake Michigan like we do are debating at this time.”

Gordon Evans became WMUK's Content Director in 2019 after more than 20 years as an anchor, host and reporter. A 1990 graduate of Michigan State, he began work at WMUK in 1996.
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