Rent our charming farmhouse
A short history of South Haven
where to go when you're feeling hungry
a sampling of the downtown retail district
what to do, where to go
maps and driving directions

A Brief History of South Haven

The story of South Haven begins in 1833 with J.R. Monroe and a 65 acre land patent on the shore of Lake Michigan at the mouth of the Black River. By 1865, the city of South Haven was founded, and with it came a sawmill, a hotel, schools, homes and stores. That first hotel, The Forest House, although no longer a hotel nor in its original location, still stands today. In 1872 the first South Pier Lighthouse was built.

The timber of South Haven was shipped to Chicago and Fishermen on the South PierMilwaukee and the cleared forests were soon replaced by fruit orchards. The farming opportunities created an abundance of jobs and the city began to boom. By the 1900’s South Haven’s reputation as a resort town began to grow with the establishment of theaters, a casino, an opera house, an amusement park and many upscale resorts. Vacationers could take a steamboat from Chicago and spend their summers in style in South Haven. In 1903 the South Pier Lighthouse was replaced with the structure that still stands today.

In the 1920’s South Haven added foreign shipments and industry to stabilize the seasonal economy. These Citizen's National Bank, now the home of Clementine's Resturantshipments would last until the 1960’s. The era of passenger steamboats to and from South Haven ended on Labor Day 1941 when the last steamboat departed for Chicago. With the departure of the steamboats recreational boats began to grace the waters of Lake Michigan and the Black River in greater numbers. Through the 1950’s and 1960’s the city became a quaint blue-collar town supported by industry with a few remaining well-appointed resorts.

Van Buren State Park, MIIn 1965 Van Buren State Park was established just outside South Haven. The two major trails, the 14 mile Van Buren Trail and the 32 mile Kal-Haven Trail, both begin in South Haven. The Kal-Haven trail is the rail bed of a former rail line connecting South Haven and Kalamazoo, the only way to get to South Haven by land until 1930.

The 1969 Centennial Celebration began the annual Blueberry Festival and heralded in the city’s second birth as a getaway destination. The addition of a marina drew even more boaters.

The modern South Haven features such events as the National Blueberry Fest, Harbor Fest, South Haven Beach July 4th Arts Fair, Labor Day All Crafts Fair and the February Ice breaker. South Haven also has one of the finest Maritime Museums on the Great Lakes. The beautiful beaches continue to draw summer vacationers now as they have for more than a century. The area fruit orchards continue to bear the famous bounty of Michigan; cherries, peaches, and apples.

the 1903 South Pier light in the background still stands todayAll the history of South Haven has helped create the majestic experience everyone can feel when they spend a little time in this humble and yet bustling port town. Come visit South Haven and see where the past meets the present.