History & Culture


What makes the South Haven area so historical and nautical? It’s all about our heritage and the South Haven culture! Known as the land of "Beautiful Sunsets" or "Ni-Ko-Nong" by the first residents of the region, the Native Americans of various Algonquin tribes found that South Haven's beauty and rich natural resources supported a rewarding lifestyle.

While a few early settlers made the region home in the 1830s, it wasn't until 1850 that the first permanent family established a homestead in South Haven. Sixteen years later, George Hannas founded a sawmill, setting off a construction boom of stores, hotels, saloons and churches. By 1869, South Haven was officially a town!

The city prospered from a thriving lumber industry for several decades and its location along Lake Michigan permitted timber shipments to cross the Great Lakes, supplying wood products to growing urban areas. As land was cleared, fruit was planted and the region flourished from horticulture and agriculture.

Great Lakes ships also brought tourists eager to escape the summer heat of Chicago and other large Midwest cities. During the first half of the 20th Century, the thriving tourism industry provided the impetus to South Haven being dubbed 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. It was a period characterized by luxury hotels and gourmet cuisine, nightly concerts, big band performances and elegant fashions.

Commercial shipping continued and it was not unusual to see foreign ships in port in the 1940s and '50s bringing in clay and paper pulp. The Michigan Maritime Museum continues to maintain a presence in South Haven, serving as home base for the Friends Good Will, a replica tall ship that offers sailors-to-be excursions on Lake Michigan and serves as a floating classroom for the area's students.

As vehicles were modernized, trucks began to move the area's freight. Rail reached into the area. Today, the community continues to serve as a hub of commerce, recreation and agriculture.

The Historical Association of South Haven brings history to life through exhibits, demonstrations, interactive lectures and Vintage Base Ball games. It continues to preserve the area's history through written and oral presentations, as well as photographic collections.

Bailey MuseumThe Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum in South Haven having celebrated its 150th anniversary of the birth of its namesake has been welcoming visitors for over 70 years. The museum which also preserves the history of South Haven is open to tours of the Bailey home, museum library, gardens, wildflower trail and the carriage barn.

We invite you to visit South Haven and discover a compelling historic legacy and enjoy a fascinating look into the world of yesteryear.