Older and new traditions, centered around building long-term relationships and preserving our sanctuary, have been honored by Sylvan Beach shareholders for 125 years. What do you tell your friends about your favorite place in the world?
Sylvan Beach lands were originally a camp site of an indigenous Ottawa tribe led by Wabiwindego, whose name was later modified by the white man to Wabaningo. The Ottawa traveled to this land from their main settlement on the Grand River in the 1830w. This was a distant outpost existing before the channel. The Ottawa eventually relocated their main settlement to Manistee, but not until several decades after they left the White Lake area. Wabaningo lived from about 1770 to 1837. (For more information about Wabaningo, here’s an article written by Sylvan Beach’s own Bennet Hartz. Wabaningo: An Ottawa Leader and Legend – https://medium.com/@bennetthartz/whats-in-a-statue-e19f2176dfed)
In 1838, Charles Mears built a water-powered saw mill – the first – located at the Mill Pond on South Shore Drive in Whitehall. In the 1840s and 1850s, the peninsula between Lake Michigan and White Lake was a picnic spot for locals from the lumber camps of Montague and Whitehall.
By the 1890s, became the destination for “affluent city dwellers to spend their summers in quiet solitude with people who shared their attitudes and values,” according to Daniel Yates in his book Looking Aft. The Wabaningo Hotel was built high on the Lake Michigan bluff and welcomed Midwesterners who arrived by ship through the White Lake channel. The White River Light Station was built in 1875.
The first private cottages were built on the bluff in the very early 1890s; the beginnings of our community of family traditions. Sylvan Beach Resort Company was established in 1895. Many of the original cottages exist today, remaining in the same family with the same cottage furnishings since first built.
The original Wabaningo Club, with a stage, was built in 1906 to provide a location for larger social gatherings. And, 2 years later, the Jinks variety show was established. The introduction of automobiles and paved roads in the 1920s allowed for more to enjoy the summer breezes, wonderful sunsets and days of leisure with family and friends at Sylvan Beach.
There is so much to learn about our community’s history. We are fortunate to have historians who have documented so much of Sylvan Beach’s timeline, including the book Land Between the Lakes: A History of Sylvan Beach by Yates and Demos. All are wonderful, lazy summer reading. I doubt, however, you ever mention our history to your friends.
Instead, life-long friends that feel like family, endless options for entertainment and recreation all in the most beautiful of settings, and a community that lives life to the fullest together might be your answers. Here is to 2021, and another year of living life together in the place we hold in our hearts all year long!