at Bluffton
1908 - 1938

Buster Keaton
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Lake Michigan Park

now Pere Marquette Park
Muskegon, MI


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I'm always looking for more images to add to these pages.  Please contact me if you have something to share. 
Thanks!  Ron Pesch
Muskegon, around 1900.
Lake Michigan Park - The Center of Attraction 

Lake Michigan Park was a destination point located on the far western edge of the city, on the shore of Lake Michigan. Owned and operated by the Muskegon Traction and Lighting Company, the operators of the city's trolley service, it opened in 1890.  The first building on the site was a pavilion.  Due to its popularity, it was expanded in 1892. Trolleys 
Main Promenade at Lake Michigan Park Muskegon 
Over time, a number of additional structures were built.  A comfort pavilion, McGowens, offering a lunch counter and picnic area greeted passengers at the entrance to the park. A second pavilion located on the beach offered a bath house and decking to allow visitors to relax and enjoy the sights and sounds of the lake.
As the area's popularity grew over the years, a number of other features were added to the park. 
In 1898, a theater, seating over 600 patrons, was added onto the beach pavilion to compliment "the finest bathing beach on the Great Lakes."   It was a huge success, attracting top flight performers and large crowds to the area.  In 1903, a larger theater pavilion, designed to accommodate an audience of 1,200 on the upper level, was built.  A crowd of over 4,000 celebrated the opening in July.  The building featured a restaurant and bowling alley on the lower level.  Around 1905, a large Dancing Pavilion was built, followed by a figure-eight roller coaster and other amusements and rides in 1907.  In 1913, a 100-foot Ferris wheel was added.

Lying in the shadow of a huge sand dune known as Pigeon Hill, the insulated area, featuring cool summer breezes was advertised as both "the Coney Island of the West" and "the Riviera of the Midwest."  Summer cottages sprouted up in the surrounding Bluffton, Edgewater and Port Sherman areas.
A figure-eight roller coaster, a Ferris wheel,  the Roll-Away Rink skating rink, and a miniature passenger train were among the treats available to visitors at Muskegon's first amusement park.   
Lake Michigan Park is Muskegon's Coney Island.  Sundays and Holidays thousands go to the lake to eat lunch on the wooded groves behind the park proper. The bathing beach is one of the features of this park.  Amusements of all sorts are provided also for the crowds.  With the Dance Hall now opened, the prospects are that all crowds in the history of the park will be smashed this season when the park closes in September.  
Muskegon Chronicle - 1916 

This 3 1/2" jug is an example of a souvenir taken home during the park's heyday.    
This pineapple and fan ruby stained creamer, standing 4 and 3/4" high by 2" wide, is another prize from the Park.  

From a 1908 publication of the Muskegon Chamber of Commerce, highlighting "the advantages of spending the summer season of your vacation in and around Muskegon."

The city street cars run every ten minutes to Lake Michigan Park, fare 5 cents. On the way they pass along the edge of the bluff that overlooks Muskegon Lake, running for a distance of four miles in constant view of the water. Near the end of the journey the car leaves Muskegon Lake and plunges into the deep shade of the primeval woods, breaking cover again as the sparkling blue waters of Lake Michigan flash into view.

Lake Michigan Park is a natural forest skirting a broad, sandy beach. The majesty of the grand old oaks, murmuring together in the breeze, overshadows the dancing waves laughing in the sunlight and singing as they break upon the sand. As far as the eye can reach, the billows are rolling in and breaking in long lines of foam upon the beach. Out on the blue, the sails of ships and the smoke of steamers mark the path of commerce on Lake Michigan.

Lining the beach, and connected by the board walk, are a roller coaster, restaurants, dancing hall, ice cream parlors, candy and fruit stores, oriental bazaar, band stand, theatre, bath pavilion, bowling alleys, curio stores, and other amusement features. At night time, thousands of electric lights transform the Park into a fairyland.

In 1914, the theater pavilion was badly damaged by lake erosion, and the building was razed after World War I. Built around 1905, winter storms damaged the Dance Pavilion building, and it was removed in the spring of 1930.
  Photo from the Ray Carlson Collection
A beach town on the West Michigan Pike of the Dixie Highway, the water was always an attraction in Muskegon.  The largest city on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, the city numbered 34,000 residents in 1915.    
Beautiful Lake Michigan Park - Muskegon, MI
The changing tastes of Americans would alter the look of the beach area in the coming years. In 1919, Muskegon witnessed a street car riot, brought on by a fare increase.

Ultimately, ownership of the area transferred from Muskegon Lighting and Traction to the Pere Marquette Railroad.  In 1926, the first of two "Sunset Ovals" replaced the amusements at the beach.  A second was added the following year.
On August 3, 1927, the railroad granted ownership of the property to the City of Muskegon and construction began on a new breakwater. Jitney buses, which charged a lower fare for a more comfortable ride, and the growing affordability of the automobile ultimately brought an end to streetcar service in 1929. The lease on park buildings expired in early 1930, and the old wooden structures on the property were removed.  Soon after, a brick pavilion and bath house was added on the beach. The park was rechristened Pere Marquette Park.
  Clipping from the Jack Sander Collection
A view of the beach taken in the 1940s.   A camping area was added to Pere Marquette Park in 1937, and remained a popular attraction until 1951, when it was replaced with picnic grounds today known as Margaret Drake Elliott Park.  
In 1937, a camping area near the channel that connected Muskegon Lake to Lake Michigan was added to the park, and became a popular feature. In 1938, railroad tracks that had led to the beach were removed, and construction of a lakeshore cut-off was constructed, changing the route used by visitors to access Pere Marquette Park.  Playground equipment was added to the beach in the 1940s.

Camping at the beach ended in 1951, replaced by public picnic grounds.
The North Bath House 
The Sunset Inn at Pere Marquette Park. 

Jim Coscarelli's Concessions opened at the park in 1948 and remained a popular summer hot spot in the 1950's and 1960s. Born in Bargo Partenope, Italy, Coscarelli's contract with the city ended in 1971.
The Ovals played host to various music events and teen dances in the 1950s and 60s  In 1969, additional beachfront was purchased by the city.

Today, Pere Marquette is renown for its acres of open beachfront and stunning sunsets. The northern most end of 2.5 miles of city-owned waterfront, it remains an natural gem, open year-round for use by the public, free of charge.
Pere Marquette Park - 1955 
Slide at Pere Marquette Park 
Lifeguards still worked the stands at Pere Marquette during the 1960s and 1970s.  Cruising the Ovals to see and be seen was still the thing to do for high school and college kids during a hot summer night or an autumn eve after a football game.

Today, the beach remains a popular destination.  The acres of sugar sand and the open expanses entice visitors to one of the cleanest beaches in the United States.

The Channel at Pere Marquette

Channel Muskegon Lake to Lake Michigan 
Lying just to the north of the beach area is the harbor entrance, comprised of the Muskegon's light houses, the break wall and the channel  that connects Lake Michigan to Muskegon Lake.   Historically, it has served as the entry point for sailing vessels of all sizes - passenger, recreational and freight - as well as a stunning backdrop for memories of time spent at the lake.
The U.S. Naval Reserve Training Center, opened around 1948.  Today, the site is now home to the U.S.S. Silversides Museum.   
A 1905 image of the Pere Marquette Car Ferry. Operating from a slip in the Muskegon channel, the railroad abandoned operations of its ferry service in 1906.
The S.S. Alabama, a member of the Goodrich Lines, passes through the channel around 1920.
A Grand Trunk ferry heads toward the dock in Lakeside. The railroad began service out of Muskegon in 1933.
Originally named the Marine Star, the ship arrived in Muskegon in 1953 and was converted into a cruise ship and christened the S.S. Aquarama.  Working the Detroit to Cleveland route from 1957 to 1962, the ship was popular, but failed to earn a profit. She returned to Muskegon, and rested on the waterfront for 26 years before sold then scrapped in 2007. Perhaps the most well-known of Muskegon's cruise ships, the S.S. Milwaukee Clipper is a National Historic Landmark.   Tours of the restored ship are offered on weekends during the summer months.
Today, the Lake Express offers service between Muskegon and Milwaukee, crossing Lake Michigan in only
two and one half hours.
The original U.S. Life Boat Station, build on the north side of the channel in 1879.  Replaced by a new station in 1905, the building was abandoned until 1917 when it was moved across the channel and placed in Bluffton.
  Moved to 3300 Wilcox, the former Life Boat Station became Van Dusen's "Pleezing Food Store."  Today, it is a private residence. 
 The Channel, around 1909
A view showing both Life Saving stations from around 1915.
Build on the south side of the channel, the new Life Saving Station opened in 1905.  In 1915, the building was renamed the Coast Guard Station when the U.S. government merged the operations of the U.S Life Saving Service with the Revenue Cutter Service into one.
Muskegon Coast Guard Station 

The Lighthouses at Muskegon 

LIGHT HOUSE WORK - Considerable work has been done by the light house department during the summer. A light house has been completed at Eagle Harbor, and the two on the new cut at the St Clair Flats will soon be finished. Beacons have been erected at Grand Haven and Muskegon, and one at Michigan City will be completed in about three weeks. The most important work of the season is at Spectacle Reef. It is hoped that if no delays occur, the foundation will be built up to the surface of the water. The work has to be done within a coffer dam, protected by a breakwater, so that the preliminary operations have been tedious. It is intended to show a temporary light of  the fourth order on the breakwater there within ten days, which will be of great service to vessels.

Buffalo New York Daily Courier - June 10, 1871

Constructed in 1903, the South Pierhead lighthouse featured a fog signal at the end of a wooden pier, An elevated catwalk enabled the lighthouse keeper to maintain the navigation guides in all weather conditions.
Muskegon Lighthouse Coastguard Station
Winter - Lake Michigan Park - Muskegon, MI 
The Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy were awarded Muskegon's lighthouses in 2010 by the Federal Government and have taken on the task of upkeep and preservation.  Both are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Please visit their website at
Muskegon Coast Guard Lighthouse 
Muskegon's Pere Marquette Park 
Construction on the Breakwater at Pere Marquette was started in 1927. The breakwater lighthouse was erected in 1931 and work on the site was completed in 1933.
Muskegon Pere Marquette Lighthouse 
The channel, as it appears today, courtesy of William Reek Photography.
Special thanks to Mary Anderson, Sherry Coffman, Jamie Pesch and Bill Reek for their assistance in assembling
the information and images that appears on this page.