Twenty thousand years ago, the glaciers formed the five Great Lakes we all know and love. But another “great lake” was also created — White Lake.
Located along the eastern shoreline of Lake Michigan, White Lake is a natural harbor lake. It is approximately seven miles long and one mile across and flows directly into Lake Michigan through a deep water channel.
Such an ideal waterfront location initially brought the first Native American tribes to the region. Later, they were followed by fur trappers, traders, and eventually settlers.
When the lumber era began in the mid-1800s, the White Lake area enjoyed tremendous growth. In fact, at one time, there were thirteen mills operating along the shoreline. Boats piled high with lumber from the area were shipped all along the coast to build other Lake Michigan communities.
It was at this time that the towns of Montague and Whitehall grew rapidly, ultimately reaching populations similar to today. But by the end of the nineteenth century, the vast tracks of white pine were gone, and White Lakers looked to the coming industrial era and fruit farming to survive.
Industry developed slowly in the twin cities along White Lake, but one form of commerce quickly took the forefront.
A wave of transportation from Chicago — via a Lake Michigan ship fleet called Goodrich Steamship Line and the Pere Marquette railroad line — were bringing families and other passengers from the city to camp and enjoy the natural beauty of our beach town. As a result, resorts were springing up all along the lakes, beaches, and millponds of our area. Soon, a new industry was born: Tourism.
Throughout the early twentieth century, the shoreline resort area continued to grow in popularity as thousands of Chicagoans spent their summers at White Lake. Finally, following the Second World War, industry made a comeback.
At this time, the tannery in Whitehall and the foundry in Montague were the two major companies going strong. Then, in 1946, Misco opened a facility in the area. Misco was soon to become Howmet (which is today, still the county’s largest employer in White Lake). Soon after in the 1950s, Hooker, Dupont, and Union Carbide all opened manufacturing facilities as well.
Currently, White Lake is still home to a wide variety of smaller manufacturing and light industrial businesses. Producing everything from weathervanes to plastic plant tags, both the Whitehall and Montague Industrial Parks are booming.
With the addition of service-oriented businesses serving the White Lake area as well as the surrounding townships and counties, today, White Lake enjoys a balance of employers that is the envy of larger communities. Retail areas offer White Lakers a wide variety of products and services and enjoy moderate growth each year.
Additionally, White Lake continues to be recognized as a top vacation destination. Numerous resorts and recreational businesses are thriving, and golf courses, marinas, boat launches, lodging facilities, and restaurants all capture the imaginations of the traveling public. Spring, summer, and fall weather is pleasant and welcoming, and winter sports and recreational activities are becoming increasingly popular to round out the region’s appeal for year-round visitors.
More than ever, the White Lake area enjoys the reputation of being a relaxing vacation destination. Montague and Whitehall and the surrounding townships are experiencing planned and reasonable growth. Increasing cooperation among governmental agencies and the business community creates a region that is “Proud of the past and confident of the future.”
For more information about the history of the White Lake area, please visit the White Lake Area Historical Society website.