The City of Muskegon has always been linked to the fresh waters that inspired its growth and have maintained its quality of life. Fur pelts, pine logs and piston rings have traveled these waters to market. A river meets the lake at a place that’s been know as the Lumber Queen of the world, the Port City and the Riviera of the Midwest; our own Muskegon.
The Hudson Bay Company found riches in the furs from our forests. The City of Chicago rebuilt itself with our timber after the great fire of 1871. During the lumbering era, Muskegon boasted more millionaires than any other town in America. Tank engines manufactured in Muskegon were used fighting wars and began to give Muskegon a reputation as a foundry town.
Now, Muskegon has even more to offer. Our beautiful beaches, scenic forests, bountiful fishing, outdoor life and culture are here to be enjoyed. Today, Muskegon is a progressive city and has shown we can appreciate our history and its significance while continuing our forward growth and movement in creating a new identity for ourselves.
The City of Muskegon’s resurgence is the result of meeting citizen and business needs. Proactive government approaches have led to the formation of strong neighborhood organizations and cooperative initiatives. This set the stage for the people of Muskegon to successfully pass a City income tax for improved police and fire services.
Intergovernmental cooperation has enabled Muskegon to host a Community Enterprise Zone. The initiative emphasizes family self-sufficiency, new business development and job training skills based on strong work ethics. Employment is at a 25 year high. New jobs and industrial aspirations are finding a place to grow in our industrial parks. The success of these has come from diligent preparation and planning.
The Muskegon Public School system is caught up in the same enthusiasm for improvement. Voters approved a 43 million dollar capital improvement bond issue to upgrade the buildings that have educated generations.
The Muskegon Housing Commission is revitalizing neighborhoods with an award winning, first time homeowner program for new construction. The City of Muskegon is also improving its downtown area and placing renewed emphasis on our waterfront. Shoreline Drive now beckons visitors to travel along the Muskegon lakefront and see what we’ve been doing.
The Muskegon Museum of Art and Hackley Library, given to the City by Charles Hackley, one of the millionaires of the Lumber era, retain their reputation for excellence. Charles Hackley’s historic home, restored by the Muskegon County Museum displays our rich heritage. The Frauenthal Center for the Performing Arts has become the theatrical jewel in Muskegon’s crown. Muskegon is home to West Michigan’s Cherry County Playhouse, which boasts professional performances. Our newly renovated sports arena with our own professional Hockey team, is part of the revitalized spirit in our community. Heritage Landing has become the shoreline’s recreational gem. This former industrial scrap yard was developed by Muskegon County and has infused the City of Muskegon with a new energy. For ten days and nights our lakeshore comes alive with our annual Summer Celebration. Heritage Landing has now become a community showplace. The City of Muskegon, with our commitment to meeting community needs through thoughtful planning and vision continues to improve the quality of life for those who live and work here.
HISTORY OF MUSKEGON COUNTY
The human occupation of the Muskegon area goes back seven or eight thousand years to the nomadic Paleo-Indian hunters who occupied this area following the retreat of the Wisconsonian glaciations. The Paleo-Indians were succeeded by several stages of woodland Indian development, the most notable of whom were the Hopewellian type cultures that occupied this area perhaps two thousand years ago. During historic times, the Muskegon area was inhabited by various bands of the Ottawa and Pottawatomi tribes. Perhaps the best remembered of the Indian inhabitants of this area was Ottawa Indian Chief, Pendalouan. A leading participant in the French inspired annihilation of the Fox Indians of Illinois in the 1730’s, he and his people lived in the vicinity of Muskegon during the 1730’s and 1740’s until induced by the French to move their settlement to the Traverse Bay area in 1742.
The name “Muskegon” is derived from the Ottawa Indian term ‘Masquigon’ meaning “marshy river or swamp.” The “Masquigon” river is identified on French maps dating from the late seventeenth century, suggesting French explorers had reached the western coast of Michigan by that time.
No one knows for certain when the first Frenchman visited the Muskegon area, but Father Jacques Marquette traveled northward through this area on his fateful trip to St. Ignace in 1675 and a party of French soldiers under La Salle’s lieutenant, Henry de Tonty, passed through this area in 1679.
If the French established any trading posts in this vicinity, their locations are not known. The earliest known resident of the county was Edward Fitzgerald, a fur trader and trapper who visited the Muskegon area in 1748 and who died here, reportedly being buried in the vicinity of White Lake. Sometime between 1790 and 1800, a French-Canadian trader named Joseph La Framboise established a trading post at the mouth of Duck Lake. Between 1810 and 1820, several French Canadian fur traders, including Lamar Andie, Jean Baptiste Recollect, and Pierre Constant had established posts around Muskegon Lake.
Settlement of Muskegon began in earnest in 1837 when Muskegon Township was organized as a subdivision of Ottawa County. One of the earliest settlers, Henry Pennoyer, was elected as the first township supervisor in 1838.
As a corporate entity, Muskegon County dates from 1859. Prior to that time, the southern three-quarters of the County were part of Ottawa County while the northern quarter belonged to Oceana County. At the time of the organization of the county in 1859, the county was divided into only six townships including Muskegon, Norton, Ravenna, White River, Dalton, and Oceana, with a total population of 3,947.
The era of settlement coincided with the beginning of the exploitation of the area’s extensive timber resources. The commencement of the lumber industry in 1837 inaugurated what some regard as the most romantic era in the history of the region.
The typical lumberman of that era was a young man in his twenties or thirties from New England, New York, or Pennsylvania who had enjoyed sufficient success in some previous occupation to build a small mill and to make a modest investment in Michigan timber lands. Local lumbermen such as Charles Mears, Martin Ryerson, Lyman Mason, Charles Hill, and George and John Ruddiman readily fit this stereotype. By the time the local lumber industry had reached its peak in the mid 1880’s, forty-seven sawmills surrounded Muskegon Lake, while another sixteen dotted the shores of White Lake to the north. Muskegon was then known as the “Lumber Queen of the Mid-West.”
Toward the end of the nineteenth century, the lumbering era was fading away. The local economy was severely depressed, the community disorganized, and the population restive and demoralized. Led by area industrialists, including Newcomb Mc Graft, Charles Hackley, and Thomas Hume, the community organized a program of economic development, which attracted several substantial businesses to the community. Before long, Muskegon was well on its way to becoming a diversified industrial center, having attracted such firms as Shaw-Walker, Brunswick, Campbell, Continental Motors, and the Central Paper Mill to this area. The Great Depression of the 1930’s undermined much of that economic developments, but the economy rebounded during World War II in response to Muskegon’s role as an “Arsenal of Democracy.” The 1950’s and 1960s witnessed a return to the economic doldrums. Factories cut back on production and laid off employees in unprecedented numbers. Many area businesses closed their doors permanently. The 1960’s and 1970’s were years of business consolidation when numerous locally owned banks and industrial establishments were sold to giant national and international corporations. Since the 1970’s the industrial community has continued to diversify in order to cope with an ever changing and troublesome economy.
Over the years, Muskegon has attracted a unique mix of residents, which has helped to shape the cultural and intellectual makeup of the community. The original settlers of the nineteenth century were typically native-born Americans from New England, New York and Pennsylvania. Immigrants from Canada, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Denmark quickly joined them. The industrial surge at the turn of the nineteenth century attracted large numbers of Southern Europeans to the area, while World War II witnessed the arrival of large numbers of Mexican-Americans, Southern blacks, and Appalachian whites. The melting pot diversity of Muskegon’s ethnic heritage is in keeping with the varied nature of the other elements of its recent past.
Daniel J. Yakes
Muskegon Community College and the Muskegon County Museum
Used with permission from the Muskegon County Clerk’s Office, with edits by the City of Muskegon.
Charles H. Hackley’s Contributions to Muskegon
A few days after Christmas in 1889, Mr. Charles H. Hackley thought about the lack of a public park in the City of Muskegon and decided to give one. In February, he started obtaining options on lots in the square bounded by Third and Fourth streets and Clay and Webster Avenues. His options did not include houses, which were to be retained by owners and moved to other locations.
The Hackley Public Library was under construction at that time at Third Street and Webster Avenue and the imposing three-story brick building of Central School stood opposite the planned new square. The school had been built in 1875. An exception was made in the case of the home owned by J.H. Landreth in which Mr. Hackley purchased and disposed of the house.
Five property owners were on Clay Avenue and Fourth on Webster with one man having 132 feet frontage on Fourth at Webster. Mr. John Torren had 132 feet frontage at Third Street and Webster and by August of 1890, all property owners except Mr. Torren had given options. There was a large residence at Third and Webster that had been built by C.D. Nelson, a prominent lumberman with a mill at Port Sherman. Mr. Nelson was a member of the Muskegon School Board for several years. The Nelson School was also named for him. Mr. Hackley who gave two notes for part of the price and asked the City to pay the balance finally paid for the former Nelson property. The house was later sold to St. Jean’s Church at Strong and Jefferson Street and was moved to the church property where it was used as rectory for the priests.
On Christmas Day, 1889, Mr. Hackley gave $15,000 to Phil Kearny Post No. 7, G.A.R., to provide for a memorial monument in honor of Soldiers and Sailors who fought in the Civil War of 1861-65 and Mr. Hackley named three leading citizens as trustees to administer the fund. On Feb. 15, 1890, a joint meeting of trustees and a special committee from city council was held and on motion of an alderman, Block 71 was designated as site for the monument. The first week of August 1890, the trustees received several designs for a monument and later in the month a contract was awarded for the monument that now stands in the center of Hackley Park.
On August 19, 1890, Mr. Hackley filed a deed to Block 71 with the City Recorder and sent a letter to the Mayor and council requesting that the place be named Hackley Park and that it be forever provided for and maintained for public use.
By November 1, 1890, all houses in Block 71 had been moved off except the old Nelson house and the residence of R.H. McCracken, who was having a new one built near Webster and Fourth street. The new home was not quite ready for occupancy, so moving the old one was delayed.
In August 1891, Mr. Hackley asked the City to vacate and close Webster between Third and Fourth streets because he desired to install a fountain there to be an addition to the park. Residents protested it would cut off direct connection with the east and west parts of the City and Mr. Hackley withdrew his request.
The library was dedicated on Oct. 15, 1890, and the Central school was destroyed by fire in December of 1890. With money advanced by Mr. Hackley, the new Hackley school was built on the site. It is now Community College. Foundations for the monument to be placed in the new park were completed on May 1, 1891, with ground graded and leveled. It was hoped that the monument could be dedicated on Memorial Day, 1891, but owing to many delays in work and material, the Soldiers Monument was not dedicated until Memorial Day in 1892.
The first formal observance of Memorial Day in Muskegon had been in 1880. The four statues of Lincoln, Grant, Sherman and Farragut were dedicated in 1900. Mr. Hackley also provided for electric lights to be placed at the sides of the monument in the center of the park.
The following is a list of Hackley Gifts:
Given To: Gift:
Hackley Public Library Building and partially endowing the library
Hackley Hospital Established the hospital
Hackley Hume Site
Muskegon County Museum The Home of Charles H. Hackley
Muskegon Museum of Art Built and endowed by Julia Hackley
Comerica Bank of Muskegon
(formerly Hackley Bank) Founded by Charles H. Hackley
The Hume Home for the Aged Funded by Hume with money willed him by
The City of Muskegon The Hackley Park and its art work and the Julia
Hackley Poor Fund
Muskegon School System Hackley School, Hackley Vocational School,
Hackley Playing field, President McKinley Memorial Statuary
1st Congregational Church Benefactor to the Church, Shared responsibility for
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Benefactor to the church, various parts to the church