J.R. Monroe, founder of South Haven, was granted a land patent from the U. S. government in1833 for 65 acres of land along Lake Michigan's shore. Soon after, he married Fanny Rawson at Schoolcraft, Michigan. The newlyweds history1traveled through the wilderness to South Haven by lumber wagon, where they planned to live in a log cabin that Monroe had previously built. The village which he had envisioned did not develop at this time, so the Monroes moved to Lawrence, Michigan.
It was not until the 1850's that permanent pioneer families started settling at this location. At that time the first saw mill was constructed on the bank of the Black River. A hamlet was soon established with the coming of the mill. The availability of lumber made it possible for a hotel, a school, homes, stores and many other buildings to be built.
During the next four decades South Haven grew rapidly. Many acres of choice virgin timber kept the lumbering industry going for more than 40 years. Much of the lumber which was shipped across Lake Michigan to Chicago and Milwaukee, was carried on schooners and steamers built in three major shipyards along the banks of Black River.
As the land was cleared by lumbermen, it was quickly put to use by fruit growers. The lucrative fruit industry brought progress to South Haven in many related ways. New factories and businesses were established, including a cooperage shop, basket factory, several canning factories, a cider mill, fruit exchange and chemical company.
The resort business had its beginning in the mid-1800's at the home of Mrs. H. M. Avery. It was to experience phenomenal growth and became South Haven's most colorful era. By the turn of the century, thousands of visitors were history2arriving by steamer and train to enjoy a memorable vacation. Lodging was available in magnificent hotels, farm resorts, family homes, or picturesque little cottages along the river. Entertainment was unlimited. Choices included pavilions, several theaters, a casino, an opera house, an amusement park with a roller coaster, and much more. Although the resort business was a tremendous boon to South Haven, its impact was felt for only a few months each summer. Industry was also mostly a seasonal occupation. To remedy the situation, the Board of Trade (later renamed the Chamber of Commerce) worked to improve conditions. They were instrumental in bringing several major industries to the city. These were Cable Nelson Piano, S.E. Overton, Casavant Organ, and Marshall Casting Companies.
As South Haven moved away from the horse and buggy age and into the 1920's, interesting changes took place. An auto camp, built by the Kiwanis Club, replaced the amusement park next to the bridge. A crowd of amazed spectators watched as the first airplane roared in and landed on a new airport at the corner of Center and Elkenburg. And in 1925, the first foreign ship, the Errington Dunford from England, entered port bringing a load of coating clay for mills in the Kalamazoo Valley. This was the beginning of a prosperous time in foreign shipping that was to extend to the mid-1960's.
A special event of the 1930's was the first annual Peach Festival. Professor Stanley Johnston, director of the South Haven Experiment Station, was already involved in peach breeding and blueberry culture that would eventually bring world prominence to South Haven. It was also during the 1930's that the Liberty Hyde Bailey home was presented to the city in memory of an earlier prominent horticulturist.
The 1940's marked the end of more than 70 years of passenger steamer service to South Haven. It was also the beginning of a growing interest in pleasure yachts that would later spark dramatic changes in the harbor scene.
During the 1950's and 1960's industrial development moved swiftly ahead. Acquisition of history3land for an Industrial Park brought several new factories to the city. In contrast to this progress, the resort business was markedly declining. As some of the old resorts became eyesores, however, new modern motels and campsites became available.
The few surviving resorts kept pace with the times, offering deluxe accommodations, gourmet food and quality entertainment. The 1969 South Haven residents paused to reflect on 100 years of their rich and fascinating history. The greatest spectacular the city had ever known, "The Centennial Celebration and Blueberry Festival" took place. Welcome mats were rolled out so all could enjoy the fun and festivities. Highlights included the publishing of the Centennial Edition by the South Haven Daily Tribune, renaming Oakland Park to Stanley Johnson Memorial Park, and the dedicating of the city's new 64-slip marina.
For more information about South Haven, contact the Historical Association of South Haven.