Twenty thousand years ago the glaciers formed the Great Lakes, and with them, another “great” lake, White Lake.
A natural harbor lake along, the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, White Lake is approximately seven miles long, one mile across and flows into Lake Michigan through a deep water channel. Such an ideal waterfront location brought the first Native American tribes to the region, followed by fur trappers, traders and eventually settlers.
When the lumber era began in the mid 1800’s, the White Lake area enjoyed tremendous growth. In the lumbering heyday, thirteen mills operated along the White Lake shoreline. Boats loaded with lumber were shipped from White Lake to build other Lake Michigan communities.
The towns of Montague and Whitehall grew rapidly and reached population numbers similar to today. 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 the White Lake shoreline. However the Goodrich Steamship Line sailing with passengers from Chicago brought families to White Lake to “camp” and enjoys the natural beauty of West Michigan. And a new “industry” was born. Soon resorts were springing up along the lakes, beaches and millponds. The railroads were so popular with travelers who used the Pere Marquette Line to reach White Lake.
Through the early twentieth century, the shoreline resort area grew in popularity as thousands of Chicagoans spent summers at White Lake. Following the Second World War, industry made a comeback. The Tannery in Whitehall and the Foundry in Montague were the only industries remaining. Then, Misco opened a facility in 1946 and became Howmet, which is still the county’s largest employer. Hooker, Dupont, and Union Carbide all opened manufacturing facilities in the 1950’s. Currently the area includes 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 and the surrounding townships and counties, there is 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.
The resorts and recreational businesses continue to be recognized as vacation destinations. With golf courses, marinas, boat launches, lodging facilities and restaurants, the White Lake Area captures the imagination of the traveling public. Winter sports and recreational activities are becoming more popular and round out the regions appeal for year round visitors.
The White Lake area enjoys a reputation as 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, visit our local White Lake Area Historical Society website.