Ludington celebrates a milestone anniversary

There are many reasons to visit Ludington, once a booming lumbering town and now a popular tourist destination along Lake Michigan.

This Mason County community boasts expansive beaches at city and nearby state parks, a vibrant downtown with breweries, restaurants, shopping, a farmers’ market, and cultural amenities that belie Ludington’s small size (just 8,000 people live here). 

The SS Badger returns to port from Wisconsin. Photo credit: Bryan Levy PhotographyLudington is also the Michigan port of the SS Badger, a historic passenger-and-car ferry, busy in the summer months. The Badger sails to Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Watching the ship return in the evening is a favorite pastime for residents and visitors.

And this year, Ludington is celebrating its sesquicentennial, paying homage to its past – with an eye on the future – with a host of activities that kicked off Wednesday, March 22, the exact day of its founding in 1873.

“This will be an exciting year of celebration as we commemorate Ludington’s sesquicentennial,” says Ludington Mayor Mark Barnett. “We have a full schedule of events designed for everyone to enjoy, whether you love Ludington as a resident or a visitor. We encourage you to learn more about our history and how it has created who we are today as a city.”

The city has made its history accessible to residents and visitors alike. Ludington boasts the Port of Ludington Maritime Museum, the Mason County Research Center, which offers historic-themed tours, and Historic White Pine Village, just outside of the city. The village is the third largest historic village in Michigan, behind only Greenfield Village in Dearborn and Crossroads Village, near Flint.

The must-see Port of Ludington Maritime Museum. Photo credit: Pure Ludington“You really get a feel for what life was like in Mason County in the 1800s when the area was being settled,” Rebecca Berringer, executive director of the Mason County Historical Society, says about Historic White Pine Village.

The village is home to some 30 historic exhibit buildings, including the county's original courthouse, built in 1849.

"We have amazing cultural assets," Berringer adds. "The Port of Ludington Maritime Museum has wonderful exhibits, including an interactive car ferry simulator. The museum really shows people how important our maritime history is and who we are as a community.”

What’s happening: Ludington is celebrating its 150th anniversary. Activities and events are planned throughout the year to honor the city’s rich history and bright future. The schedule of activities and events includes historic walking tours, concerts, historical presentations, and a birthday street party with fireworks. Festivities officially kicked off Wednesday, March 22, the official anniversary date Ludington was incorporated as a city 150 years ago, with an evening event at Emmanuel Lutheran Church. 

The Big Sable Point Lighthouse near Ludington. Photo credit: ToddandBradReed.comLudington’s founding: Ludington became a city in 1873. Settlers were drawn by the surrounding virgin pine forest and its prime location at the mouth of the Pere Marquette River, where it empties into Lake Michigan. At the peak of the lumbering era, 14 mills were operating on the banks of Pere Marquette Lake. Initially known as Pere Marquette, the settlement was renamed Ludington in 1873, honoring James Ludington, who platted the land and helped develop the areas with his logging operations. 

Before the founding: The area had been the home of Ottawa Indians for centuries and was visited by French missionary Father Jacques Marquette in the mid-1600s. 

After lumbering: The city’s proximity to water continued to shape development even after lumbering ended. In 1914, Ludington’s “million-dollar harbor” was dedicated, serving the salt, sand, and chemical industries. Commercial fishing and shipping helped establish Ludington as a major Great Lakes port. 

“When the lumbering industry dried up, we had two lumber barons who stayed in the area – Justin Stearns and Antoine Cartier, they’re known as the ‘angels of Ludington.’  They stayed here and started other industries. What they left behind allows us to be who we are today, which you will see at many of our events,” Berringer says.

They were not only instrumental in keeping Ludington vibrant (many former lumber towns became ghost towns), but they also left behind assets peoples still enjoy, including Stearns Park, the city’s largest beach with 2,500 feet of shoreline, Ludington State Park, a 5,300-acre recreation area just north of the city, and Cartier Park, located within city limits.

“So much of our natural resources have created this beautiful tourism industry because two gentlemen invested in the area and created businesses to bring people to this location,” she adds.

Did you know: The man Ludington was named after -- James Ludington, a Wisconsin businessman -- never lived in Ludington.

Among the anniversary events: 

Ludington’s Lumbering Heritage, 6:30 p.m. April 20, Mason County Research Center. Presented by Ludington historian and author Mike Nagle. Behind-the-scenes tours of the research center, which opened last fall, will be offered.

Love Ludington Weekend, June 9-11, kicks off that Friday with a downtown street party, with live music, kids’ games, food vendors, and fireworks. Other activities include historic home walking tours and Ludington Lakestride Races.

Maritime Heritage Day, Aug. 12, Port of Ludington Maritime Museum. Historical presentations and walking tours of the Maritime Heritage Trail are on tap; more details to come.

Sesquicentennial Ball, Oct. 7, Stearns Hotel. A fund-raiser for the Mason County Historical Society, the event features a sit-down dinner, music and dancing. 

For more information, including a full list of anniversary events, visit
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