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, settlers were lured by Ludington’s virgin pine forest as a business opportunity. Lumber barons such as James Ludington were attracted to the region’s natural resources, with 14 mills operating on the banks of Pere Marquette Lake alone at the peak of the lumbering era.
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 in the opulence of a lumber baron home 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 working 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.
Below are more stops and ways to experience Ludington's history