Muskegon, Michigan: “Timber!”

The area that would become Muskegon, Michigan has been occupied by native people for approximately 8,000 years. The word “Muskegon” comes from an Ottawa Indian term “masquigon,” which means a “marshy river or swamp.”  French explorers mapped the area as long ago as the late-17th century.  Muskegon County was home to a thriving lumber business, due to the enormous amount of timber in the area.  After Chicago’s historic 1871 fire, lumber from Muskegon County was used to rebuild the city.

Muskegon Township was officially recognized in 1837 and incorporated a little over 20 years later in 1859. The exploitation of the area’s bountiful lumber began almost immediately following its initial settlement. During the height of the area’s timber trade, Muskegon County was home to more millionaires than anywhere else in the country. The average lumberman was an east-coast native who had earned enough money to purchase a land deed and build a small mill.  Due to the extraordinary amount of timber resources available, even a small mill was capable of turning a tremendous profit.

Toward the end of the 19th century, the lumber trade began dying off and the local economy suffered. However, the arrival to the area of several large companies, including Campbell, Continental Motors and Central Paper Mill, helped to diversify and spur the local economy.  The Second World War put the area to work, as an “Arsenal of Democracy.” Its increasingly dormant lumber industry sprung to life with unrivaled vigor, reaching historic output levels, in the name of advancing the war effort.

After the end of WWII, the local economy experienced a major depression, as industries either left the area or greatly diminished their output.  The 1950s and ’60s, in particular, hit the local economy hard.  Many local businesses and banks were shuttered or replaced by national or international conglomerates.  Since the 1970s, the area has continued to diversify its economy.

These days, Muskegon is known more for its beauty and cultural festivals than for its timber. The Pere Marquette Beach is one of the largest free public beaches on Lake Michigan. It is a certified clean beach by both the National Healthy Beaches Campaign and the Clean Beaches Council. Of over 100 beaches on the two lists, Pere Marquette Beach is one of less than 10 that was featured in both lists.

As well, Muskegon is home to several cultural and musical festivals. St. Paddy’s Day brings the Muskegon Irish Music Festival, Art in the Park takes place on July 3-4th, and August brings with it the Unity Christian Music Festival.

Though Muskegon was known in the 19th century for its bountiful timber and the industries associated with it, the city has become a scenic destination and home to several music festivals.  With 26 miles of beautiful beaches and lakes bordering the city on two sides, Muskegon is a great place to relax.


“Muskegon Michigan harbor entrance” by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, photographer not specified or unknown – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Digital Visual LibraryImage pageImage description pageDigital Visual Library home page. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –

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