Many of West Michigan’s towns, cities, and counties have their own rich history. While you’re traveling throughout West Michigan, take the time to learn more about the area you’re staying in or visiting.
Historic Areas in Southern West Michigan
Long known as “the art coast of Michigan,” the Saugatuck community traces its creative roots back 100 years to the day when The Art Institute of Chicago established its Ox-Bow School in the area. Today, dozens of working painters, sculptors, ceramicists, and other artists call it home, enriching the community with an open-minded outlook and an appreciation of art that spills over into the galleries around town.
As the capital of the state, the Greater Lansing area is filled to the brim with history. One of the big attractions in downtown Lansing is the Michigan History Center which houses the Michigan Historical Museum, the State Archives, and the Library of Michigan. In the historical museum, visitors can find three floors of Michigan History, strolling through eras beginning in the prehistoric times and finishing up in the Motown days in Detroit.
With 19th century architecture showcased in the town, you’ll find hundreds of year’s worth of history in Coldwater. To put everything in one place, check out their historic walking tours with over 20 stops. One must-see location is Tibbits Opera House, the second oldest operating theatre in Michigan. Built in 1882, Tibbits serves as the arts and cultural center of Branch County and the surrounding area.
Battle Creek’s cereal history exhibit is a great place to learn about Cereal City USA. Located across the street from the Battle Creek Welcome Center, the exhibit has pieces from Post and Kellogg, including old advertisements, collector plates, memorabilia, and much more.
Find and create your own history in Southwest Michigan. The area is home to many antique markets. Visit towns like Baroda, where you’ll find buildings filled with an assortment of antiques, including a parts department for do-it-yourselfers. You’ll even find vintage and antique garments, hats, purses, and shoes from the late 1800s through 1970.
Historic Areas in Central West Michigan
Rich in history, Lake County has a historical society that has gathered historical items from all over the area. This includes the Marlboro Cement Plant, Idlewild, and nearby logging towns. They also put on a free program once a month about the notable citizens of Lake County and the area’s upbringing.
The best history in Mecosta County can be easily found in a few notable areas. The local historical museum shows how the area has changed, with most of its inventory donated from locals. Two more unique spots are the Old Jail in Big Rapids and the Jim Crow Museum located within Ferris State University.
The Muskegon area has thousands of years of history for you to discover. The Lakeshore Museum Center is preserving and interpreting the history of Muskegon through exhibits, education, and programs. Located in nearby Whitehall, the Lakeshore Museum Center’s Michigan’s Heritage Park has over 10,000 years of history that you can walk through. Jumping forward quite a ways, the USS Silversides Submarine Museum takes you inside a restored WWII submarine and a Prohibition-Era Coast Guard Cutter. Self-guided tours let you experience what it was really like to sail a sub trolling the waters of the South Pacific 60-plus years ago.
The Mt. Pleasant area was established in 1831, and since then, they’ve developed a rich Native American history and culture. The Treaty of 1855 relocated the Native American Ojibwa (Saginaw Chippewa Tribe) from Saginaw, Swan Creek, and Black River to land in Isabella County. Today, Mt. Pleasant is home to the popular Soaring Eagle Casino, Ziibiwing Cultural Center, and many other American Indian cultural aspects. With celebrations like the Annual Saginaw Chippewa Pow Wow, the area continues to celebrate the rich history and culture of the American Indian.
If Ludington was your favorite vacation spot in the late 1970s, it’s time to come back. On the same property as Ludington’s first Holiday Inn is the new Holiday Inn Express & Suites, featuring much of the original infrastructure and offered amenities. As advertised in the Ludington Daily News in 1975, stay in one of 116 beautiful, tastefully decorated, carpeted rooms featuring a color TV, in-room telephones, and individually controlled heat or air conditioning. Today, each room has the modern conveniences of a microwave, mini fridge, coffee maker, and, of course, free WiFi.
Historic Areas in Northern West Michigan
Unique history and architecture can be found throughout Charlevoix. The Mushroom Houses, designed by Earl Young, have received high praise and recognition for their natural beauty and amazing characteristics. Self-taught builder Earl Young began building houses in 1919 and continued his work until the 1970s. Young created over two dozen homes, buildings, and structures using natural materials. Earl Young’s houses feature wide, wavy eaves, exposed rafter tails, and a horizontal emphasis in design. These buildings are creatively known as Gnome Homes, Mushroom Houses, or Hobbit Houses.
Located throughout Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island, all four of the Mackinac State Historic Parks’ sites have their own history. A visit to any of these four locations, Colonial Michilimackinac, Fort Mackinac, Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park, and Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, are sure to be a hit for any family looking to learn about the history of northern Michigan on their next trip.