Located on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan and at the mouth of the Black River is the lovely beach town of South Haven. The first inhabitants of South Haven were the Ottawa, Miami and Pottawattamie native Americans who called this place Ni-Ko-Nong or beautiful sunsets. Sailing ships and steamships have stopped here carrying raw materials, packaged goods and people for hundreds of years.
A Bit of History
In 1833 JR Monroe received a land grant from the federal government to establish a village at South Haven. The village did not come to pass at that time, but families came to settle along the banks of the Black River when the first sawmill was built. The sawmill allowed the lumber industry to grow, which in turn created large areas of open land as trees were cut, and that subsequently opened up space for the fruit growers.
The area became known for apples, peaches and blueberries. New industry sprung up to support the fruit growers and a beautiful tourist spot was born.
People came to visit the theater, casino, opera house and amusement park that were built. The lake and the beaches were also a huge draw for people wanting relaxation and fun. In the 1920’s and 30’s cars changed the area forever.
In 1941 the last passenger steamship sailed as more people began to travel by car. Major highways were built to connect South Haven to Chicago and Milwaukee. The amusement park was replaced by an auto camp.
The port was an important destination for ships carrying people and goods. In the 1860’s a head beacon was built at the end of the pier. Originally it was a thirty foot wooden structure connected to the shore by a seventy-five foot wooden walkway that provided safe passage for the light keeper over stormy seas. A shelter provided protection for the light keeper and storage for necessary items for the light itself. Eventually, through many renovations adjustments, the light became housed in a red steel tower and the bridge was changed to iron. It is still providing light to the port and the coast guard oversees it.
So You Want a Beach Vacation . . . .
Currently, South Haven, affectionately known as SoHa, has a permanent population of about four thousand citizens. But the community has a surprising number of events to participate in all year round. This is a great destination for anyone at any age seeking summer fun.
Starting in the spring you can go on nature walks or go bird watching. Summer is filled with swimming, boating, canoeing, kayaking or hiking. North Beach has concessions, volleyball and restrooms and only charges $5 for daily parking. The South Beach has the same features.
Packard Park has a beach on one side and a park with a playground, picnic tables, and restrooms on the other side. Van Buren State Park is four hundred acres with a mile long beach and sand dunes. The Black River Park has a public boat launch, is close to downtown and you can feed the ducks!
The Kal Haven Trail is a 34.5 mile bike trail that follows the Black River. Or, head to Kids Corner Park and let the kids go wild on the playground, snack in the picnic area and enjoy the views of the lake.
There are four municipal marinas with slips for seasonal or transient boaters. Showers, restrooms, laundry facilities, and picnic areas are available, plus the marina is walking distance to local shops and attractions. And there are many more outdoor parks and attractions. Too many to mention.