By Steve Ellis
St. Joseph was incorporated as a village in 1834 and became a city in 1891. The mouth of the St. Joseph River was an important location for early Great Lakes travel and commerce. Major shipping lines brought goods and passengers to and from Chicago on a daily basis.
In 1892, the Truscott Boat Manufacturing Co. moved to St. Joseph from Grand Rapids. In the early 20th century, the company was the largest employer in St. Joseph with 700 employees building 600 wooden boats per year. Unfortunately, the company went bankrupt in 1948.
In 1911, Louis, Emory, and Frederick Upton began a business that produced household washing machines. Today, Whirlpool Corporation is the largest manufacturer of major home appliances and maintains a large presence in the area.
The Silver Beach Amusement Park was opened in 1891 on land near the mouth of the river. The park later added many attractions, including concessions, games, pool, a boardwalk and rides. The first roller coaster was built in 1904 and was called the Chase Through the Clouds. Among the most popular attractions were the carousel and the Shadowland Ballroom, built in 1927. The park and buildings slowly declined and decayed and were closed in 1971.
Jackie and I spent a weekend in St. Joseph in late March and were pleasantly surprised to see the new Silver Beach Carousel and Shadowland Ballroom. The wonderful carousel includes 48 unique carousel figures, two chariots and 1,000 twinkling lights. The walls and display cases around the carousel are full of vintage Silver Beach memorabilia.
The old ballroom, now restored and known as Shadowland on Silver Beach, is used for all kinds of special events including wedding receptions.
Our room at the Boardwalk Hotel on the bluff overlooking Lake Michigan was great and included a buffet breakfast in the morning.
We enjoyed strolling through the downtown and found an eclectic mix of stores. A few favorites included the Chartreuse Art Gallery; a local arts co-op with lots of fun, colorful art; Purely Michigan, full of funky, vintage Michigan pictures, home decor, foods, clothing and local craft beers; and Days of Yore, a great antique store full of local memorabilia.
The Krasl Art Center is always worth a stop. Pieces from the Weight by Jonathon Brand included a full-size motorcycle made entirely from a 3D printer.
At St Joseph Today, located in a classic old high-ceiling bank building, we met Danielle. She mentioned that the May 21, BBQ, Blues and Bluegrass: A Taste of Michigan is one of the highlights of the summer, drawing over 7,000 people last year.
A walk out on the pier is fun and allows for a great view of the beach and colorful homes.
Our dinner at Tosi’s, tucked in an old beach neighborhood surrounded by Italian gardens and imported Roman statues, was wonderful. After coming indoors from a cool, windy day, our table near a fireplace was very warm and cozy. Spaghetti and meatballs with a salad and great bread made for the perfect dinner. I asked the waitress if Justin Verlander and Kate Upton had ever dined at Tosi’s and she said that they had, they were very nice and she was one of their servers.
If you have not been to St Joseph lately, you’re sure to enjoy this classic beach town only an hour from Kalamazoo.