West Michigan is full of rich, vibrant history, and many opportunities to get out and experience it. Experiencing history, rather than simply reading it out of a textbook, provides a far richer understanding of the people, places, and experiences of the area. We’ve collected some of our favorite ways for you to experience the varied history of the region, from living history parks to visiting the seat of Michigan’s only monarchy to tasting ice cream from a 120 year old company.
USS Silversides Submarine Museum
Tour a restored WWII Submarine, a Prohibition-Era Coast Guard Cutter and the Naval Museum at the USS Silversides Submarine Museum in Muskegon. This is a wonderful opportunity to experience what it was really like to sail a sub trolling the waters of the South Pacific 60-plus years ago. Named for a small fish of the same name, the Silversides once slid beneath the surface of some of the most dangerous waters in the world. You can walk the deck topside as well as the major internal compartments below deck. Keep an eye on their calendar for special lectures, classes and performances, too!
The Lakeshore Museum Center is a fun and fascinating museum which preserves and interprets through exhibits, education, and programs the natural and cultural history of Muskegon County. Take a 400 million year journey that explores the prehistoric plants and animals of Michigan’s past, or get pulled into the Science Center where everyone can learn about simple science through hands-on activities. Some of their permanent exhibits include, “Coming to the Lakes” featuring a life-sized mastodon, fur trader’s cabin and tools used during the lumbering era! The “Habitats Gallery” tells of native plants and animals.
Coopersville Historical Society Museum
Highlights of the Coopersville Area Historical Society Museum include extensive railroad and interurban train displays, a sawmill exhibit circled by a model railroad running through logging territory, an early schoolroom, household furnishings and business displays, among which is an extensive recreation of an early local drugstore. Also featured is the Del Shannon monument and exhibit which commemorate the life and career of Coopersville’s native son who gained international fame in the 1960’s as a recording artist and songwriter. A Lincoln log activity area, along with other exhibits, is popular with younger visitors. The Museum’s collections are enhanced by the quaint and nostalgic atmosphere of its two buildings.
The main museum building is a Michigan Historic Site and on the National Register of Historic Places. The charming brick structure was once a depot and substation for the area’s electric powered interurban rail line, the Grand Rapids, Grand Haven & Muskegon Railway, which ran from 1902-28. A rare passenger car from the railway, Car #8 – Merlin, sits beside the building where it once made many daily stops. The car is undergoing stages of restoration. Adjoining the former depot is the rustically designed Sawmill & Early Settlers Building which houses exhibits reminiscent of early settlement days.
Grand Traverse Lighthouse
Located at the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula near the village of Northport, the Grand Traverse Lighthouse is one of the oldest lighthouses on the Great Lakes, and guided ships through the northern entrance to the Manitou Passage for 150 years. Today it is a museum surrounded by a picturesque state park where visitors can envision the once-isolated life of lighthouse keepers and their families, with extensive exhibits and period furnishings from the 1920s and 1930s. Its popular “volunteer lighthouse keeper” program provides an opportunity to live in the lighthouse, carrying on routine maintenance and answering the questions of its frequent visitors.
Treat your family to nearly 100 years of history at Castle Farms of Charlevoix. Inspired by French castles, Castle Farms was built in 1918 as a model farm. Closed in 1927, the beautiful stone buildings fell into disrepair. In later years, the Castle served as an artist’s mecca, and also rock n’roll central, with performances by 100 different rock groups. A restoration begun in 2001 completed the Castle’s transformation. Tours include viewing displays of antique toys, castles, royalty items, and WWI museum. Train buffs and kids of all ages will love the indoor train displays. Open year round, Castle Farms is a spectacular piece of Michigan history to explore.
Started in 1895 as a farmers’ cooperative, the Holland-based Hudsonville Creamery & Ice Cream is the largest manufacturer of branded ice cream in Michigan. Nearly 90 years ago, in 1926, the company was located in Burnips—in north-central Allegan County. Four of the six original flavors remain in the company’s portfolio: vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and butter pecan (orange pineapple and Tootie Fruitie since been discontinued).
Today, this Midwest company has been producing its creamy, delicious ice cream – using many of its original flavors, while at the same time creating refreshing new recipes inspired by the Great Lakes. A recent partnership with Travel Michigan and the Pure Michigan brand has resulted in a plethora of flavors that give a nod to the agricultural industry here in the Great Lakes State. Current Limited Edition Flavors include Pumpkin Pie, Pure Michigan Salted Caramel Apple and Pure Michigan Winter Campfire. Year-round offerings such as Sleeping Bear Dunes Bear Hug, Mackinac Island Fudge, Grand Traverse Bay Cherry Fudge and Michigan Deer Traxx, among others.
Get your history fix with a visit to the below locations to experience a step back in time.
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, Grand Rapids
Gerber Guest House, Fremont
Harbor Springs Area Historical Society
Historic White Pine Village, Ludington
Historical Association of South Haven
Holland Museum, Holland
Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum, South Haven
Michigan Maritime Museum, South Haven
Michigan Flywheelers Museum, South Haven
Music House Museum, Acme
Point Betsie Lighthouse, Frankfort
Port of Ludington Maritime Museum, Ludington
Silver Beach Carousel, St. Joseph
USS LST 393, Muskegon