S.S. Badger Photo: Bryan Levy Photography
Ludington is not only one of Michigan’s favorite beach towns, it’s also a city with a rich history – and in 2023, it celebrates its sesquicentennial. Here’s a look at Ludington through the lens of history, and some unique ways to experience it today.
In the mid-1800s, lumber barons such as James Ludington were lured by Ludington’s virgin pine forest as a business opportunity. At the peak of Ludington’s lumbering era, 14 sawmills dotted Pere Marquette Lake, creating a booming town by the late 1800s.
How to Experience Today
Get a taste of Ludington’s once heavily forested region with a visit to Ludington State Park, a 5,300-acre oasis of hardwood forest with 25 miles of trails. Or go deep in the woods at Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area in the Huron-Manistee National Forest, offering 10 miles of trails. To learn more about Ludington’s lumber era, visit Historic White Pine Village (Michigan’s third largest living history village) with a working sawmill, former lumber camp bunkhouses, and the Abe Nelson Lumbering Museum. Spend the night at the historic, neoclassical Cartier Mansion built in 1905 by lumber baron Warren Cartier. Or stay at Stearns Hotel, built in 1903 by lumber baron Justus Stearns as Ludington’s first major hotel.
Settlers who came to Ludington were not only lured by lumbering potential but its prime location at the mouth of the Pere Marquette River where it empties into Lake Michigan – ideal for shipping lumber to Chicago and Milwaukee. After the lumber era passed, the harbor with deep channel later served the salt, sand and chemical industries and established Ludington as a major Great Lakes port.
How to Experience Today
Learn about Ludington’s vibrant harbor and its related industries at the Port of Ludington Maritime Museum in the restored 1934 U.S. Coast Guard Station. This interactive museum provides exhibits featuring artifacts, photographs and voices of those who shaped the region. Or climb one of Ludington’s two historic lighthouses – the 1924 Ludington North Breakwater Light in Stearns Park reachable via a half-mile breakwall and the 1867 Big Sable Point Light at the end of a two-mile walk in Ludington State Park. One of Ludington’s most iconic maritime sites is the S.S. Badger. A National Historic Landmark and celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2023, this is the last coal-fired steamship in the United States, crossing Lake Michigan to Manitowoc, Wisc., daily in season. Even if you don’t arrive via the Badger, watch it come into and out of port.
Other Ways to Experience Ludington’s History
Below are more stops to learn more about Ludington.
Mason County Cultural Trails – Six self-guided driving tours provide an interactive way to experience the region’s heritage. Scan a QR code at each stop to hear about each destination.
Mason County Research Center – This downtown welcome center, ticket office and gift shop for the Mason County Historical Society’s two museums also houses the society’s research library and archives, along with a Ludington Mariners Exhibit, Mason County Sports Hall of Fame, Legacy Hall, artwork, rotating artifact exhibit, and Heritage Vault in the former bank vault displaying more artifacts.
150th Anniversary Events – Ludington is celebrating its sesquicentennial with events throughout 2023. The marquee event is the Love Ludington Weekend June 9-11 featuring a downtown street party, historic home and B&B walking tours, and anniversary celebrations for two other icons – House of Flavors at 75 years and the S.S. Badger at 70 years. Other events include a Sesquicentennial Concert with the Scottville Clown Band June 14, Maritime Heritage Day Aug. 12, Cemetery Walk Aug. 26 and Sesquicentennial Ball Oct. 7. Details about these events and more are at ludington150.com.