The Bridgman Advantage
Narrative compliments of The Bridgman/Lake Township Historical Society.
In the fall of 1856, George Bridgman (1813-1895) along with his partners Warren Howe and Charles F. Howe formed the Charlotte Lumber Company. A large steam powered sawmill was set up near the present intersection of Lake Street and Red Arrow Highway. A narrow-gauge railway was constructed, running from the mill to the lake with several branches into the timber. There was about seven miles of track and the rolling stock included the engine and approximately thirty-three cars. The area around the mill became known as Charlotteville in honor of Mr. Howe’s wife Charlotte. Fire was the fate for this mill in 1863. Two subsequent mills were erected on the same site, both succumbing to fire. When the last mill was destroyed in 1870, the Howes moved on to other pursuits.
George Bridgman decided to stay in the area. Having acquired several hundred acres of land, including most of present day Bridgman, he and other residents began growing fruit trees, grapes and berry plants. The market for produce was limited to what to could be sold locally. In 1869, Mr. Bridgman entered into an agreement with the Chicago Michigan and Lakeshore Railroad, granting the company right-of-way through his land. In return for that, along with a reliable supply of water, the railroad agreed to erect and maintain a depot. In 1871 the depot was erected and the railroad company assigned it the name “Bridgman”. The post office designation was also changed to Bridgman that same year.
The nursery business exploded in Bridgman. In 1888, Ozro Baldwin noticed that his raspberry plants had an unusually large amount of suckers. He ran a three line ad for the plants in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania “Farm Journal”. He received orders for all the plants. In the spring of 1889, several hundred folders were sent out quoting prices for strawberry and cane plants. The mail order nursery business would become a million-dollar industry in Bridgman. Many names can be associated with the nursery business; Baldwin, Weston, Whitten, Ackerman, Stahelin, Essig, Dass and Rokely. The Kreiger and Rambo families, who were not in the retail and mail order trade, operated successful wholesale nurseries that still exist in Bridgman.
Originally owned by Lake Township, the Lake Michigan shoreline in Bridgman became popular in the 20’s. Weko Beach, named for partners Henry Weber and Bruno Kolander who built a pavilion on the waterfront, became a destination for residents and visitors from all around, especially Chicago. The pavilion served homemade fish and chicken dinners, held dances and hosted concerts by a group of Chicago Symphony members. In 1945, Henry and Bruno dissolved their partnership and the pavilion (beach house as it was called by now) remained open to the public as a concession type venue. The City of Bridgman purchased the property from Lake Township in 1958. With the assistance of grant funds from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the City was able to do a much needed renovation at the beach house in 1989. The renovation, completed in 1991, retained little of the original structure, with the exception of the foundation and the wood flooring in the large room overlooking the lake. This once popular building continues to provide food, fun and sun for residents and visitors.