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How To Experience History in Ludington - the Best Historic Small Town 

Did you hear the news? Ludington was named Best Historic Small Town” by USA TODAY 10Best Readers’ Choice 2024! The only city from Michigan on the list of 20 nominated small towns (fewer than 25,000 people) selected by an expert panel, Ludington landed the top spot among popular destinations like Carmel-by-the-Sea, California and Breckenridge, Colorado.

Want to experience Ludington’s historic town for yourself? Check out all the places to explore Ludington’s history today. 

Historic Attractions

  • Historic White Pine Village The third largest living history village in Michigan, this community of 30 historic buildings depicts the history of Mason County through artifacts and archives that bring to life the times of those who settled in Mason County.
  • Lakeview Cemetery – Owned and operated by the city of Ludington and situated just south of Cartier Park, this cemetery is home to many people responsible for the rise and success of Ludington.
  • Lighthouses – Ludington is home to two historic lighthouses – the 1924 Ludington North Breakwater Light in Stearns Park reachable via a half-mile breakwall (and celebrating its centennial in 2024 with events and other commemorations); and the circa-1867 Big Sable Point Light at the end of a two-mile walk in Ludington State Park, At 112 feet tall, it’s the second tallest on Lake Michigan’s eastern shore and one of the oldest continuously working in the state. Just south of Ludington is Little Sable Point Light in Mears, turning 150 years old in 2024!
  • Ludington State Park This 5,300-acre park not only offers 25 miles of trails, seven miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, four campgrounds and Hamlin Lake, it also is home to the iconic Big Sable Point Lighthouse, the Lake Michigan Beach House built in 1935 by the Camp Ludington Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) members using Mason County lumber and repurposed bricks from Ludington’s old Morton Salt factory, and three stone trail shelters also built by the CCC.
  • Mason County Cultural Trails Six self-guided driving tours provide an interactive experience to experience the region’s heritage and culture. Visitors can scan a QR code at each stop to hear about each destination along the trail. Themes include Agriculture, Barn Quilt, Lumber Heritage, Maritime, Music Heritage and Sculpture. 
  • Port of Ludington Maritime Museum – Located in the restored 1934 U.S. Coast Guard Station, this interactive museum provides exhibits about Ludington’s maritime heritage, sharing the past with artifacts, photographs and voices of those who shaped the region. 
  • S.S. Badger – A National Historic Landmark, this is the last working coal-fired steamship in the United States, crossing Lake Michigan to Manitowoc, Wisc., daily in season. Sailing its 71st season in 2024, the 410-foot Badger holds 600 passengers and 180 vehicles. 
  • Mason County Research Center Opened in 2022, this welcome center, ticket office and gift shop for the Mason County Historical Society’s museums (Historic White Pine Village, Port of Ludington Maritime Museum) also houses a research library and archives plus Ludington Mariners Exhibit, Mason County Sports Hall of Fame, Legacy Hall, mural about the county’s 15 townships, rotating artwork, and a rotating “Artifact from the Archives” exhibit. And the Heritage Vault in the former bank vault displays more precious artifacts. 
  • East Ludington Avenue Historic District – A neighborhood of 65 historic buildings dating to 1872 in a five-block area of Ludington Avenue are on the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district, including homes of a number of prominent figures in Ludington history. These homes, including Cartier Mansion, Lamplighter B&B and Ludington House, reflect Ludington’s 150-year evolution from lumber boomtown to industrial center to tourist destination.
  • Father Marquette CrossThis historic site managed by the Pere Marquette Memorial Association is south of Ludington on Buttersville Peninsula overlooking Pere Marquette Lake, commemorating French missionary Father Jacques Marquette’s death in 1675 in Ludington. Fr. Marquette first visited Ludington in the mid-1600s.

Historic Accommodations 

Want to stay the night in a place that is steeped in history? Ludington’s got you covered.

  • Cartier Mansion – Built in 1905 by lumber baron Warren Cartier and his wife, Catherine, this three-story neoclassical estate is on Ludington’s main boulevard blocks from downtown. Guests can experience luxury rooms while exploring the mansion’s many rooms with original woodwork of numerous wood types, original fixtures, and period antiques. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the home has had several owners, all of whom have taken great care to preserve this classic structure.
  • Lamplighter B&B – This 1894 Queen Anne Victorian was a residence for a number of prominent people over the years, including Dr. George Crosby who built the house and Charles E. Cartier who served as city mayor 1908-1909 and a state senator in 1910. The house changed hands (and styles) over the years and housed a variety of businesses including the Secretary of State, a dentist office, beauty parlor and real estate office before becoming a bed & breakfast in 1990 under various owners. Current owners Dan and Jen Hinderer have renovated most of  the five rooms with private bathrooms, offering luxurious touches while hearkening to its history.
  • Ludington House Bed & Breakfast – Built in 1878, this Queen Anne-style house was the home of Antoine Cartier, a direct descendant of Jacques Cartier, a French navigator known as the first European to find and map Canada. This two-and-a-half-story house features a highly-ornamented two-story porch, a complex roofline, projecting gabled bays, a gabled dormer and other decorative features.
  • Stearns Hotel – Built in 1903 by lumber baron Justus Stearns as Ludington’s first major hotel, Stearns Hotel has been greeting guests for over a century on the lakeshore and is the only historic hotel left in Ludington. While updated substantially since then, Stearns retains many historic elements of its early twentieth-century heritage. Its grand ballroom is timelessly romantic and continues to host beautifully decorated weddings, holiday parties and celebrations as a time-honored tradition in Ludington. 
  • Hobby Crest Resort – This 1938-era cottage resort on Hamlin Lake was completely renovated in 2017 to include modern amenities and fresh decor, featuring nine fully equipped cottages each with a unique design.