How the Highway Changed the Tri-Cities

The West Michigan Pike was more than just a highway. The people who worked to make the Pike a reality were motivated by ideas and hopes of how this road could benefit West Michigan. They saw the West Michigan Pike as a way to make roads safer for people traveling by bicycle or by car. They hoped it would encourage tourists from all over the country to enjoy the beauty of Lake Michigan's east coast. They were right.

This Exhibit, "The West Michigan Pike: Michigan City to Mackinaw." tells the story of the highway from 1913 to the present. It explains what the Good Roads" movement was and how it led to the development of the Pike. The highway made many changes along the coast that continue to benefit Grand Haven, Spring Lake and Ferrysburg today.

Photograph c. 1915 of Washington Avenue in Grand Haven, MI, looking toward Dewey Hill. 73.42.3

Photograph c. 1915 of Washington Avenue in Grand Haven, MI, looking toward Dewey Hill. 73.42.3


West Michigan Pike Marker

Maker Unknown

c. 1916

Concrete, steel

Courtesy of the Ottawa County Department of Planning and Performance Improvement

Concrete markers like this one let motorists know they were going the right way. Some of these markers are still in their original place along the WMP including one on the corner of Fulton and 7th St in 

Grand Haven. 




The invention of safer bicycles, cycling becomes a popular sport and leisure activity for all ages in the United States and Europe.


Cyclists in the United States, especially in rural areas, begin advocating for better roads.


The Michigan chapter of the Leauge of American Wheelmen is founded to promote building good roads.


Companies in the US begin producing gasoline-powered cars. Because fo the time and labor it took to build cars, only wealthy Americans could afford to buy them.


Horatio S. Earle, Chief Counsl of the Michigan Division of the Leauge of American Wheelmen is elected to the Michigan State Senate running on a good roads platform.


The State of Michigan Passes the "State Reward Law" which gave Michigan counties $250-$1,000 for every mile of road constructed. 


The Ford Motor company begins production of the Model T car. Ford's use of the assembly line allows workers to build more cars in less time, making cars affordable to middle class families. 


Good Road enthusiats have the idea to form the West Michigan Pike Lake Shore Highway Association (late the WMPA) to build a scenic highway up the coast of West Michigan. As more Americans buy cars, good roads become more of a priority.


In January the first meeting of the Association is held. Grand Haven resident, Dr. William DeKleine is elected president of the association.


Michigan passes the Trunk Line Act which established the planned routes of four state trunkline highways totaling 3,000 miles. The WMPA publishes the first annual Tourist Guide of the West Michigan Pike. The guide includes maps, mileage, and information on road conditions, hotels, and landmarks along the route. 


The first promotional pike tour of the West Michigan Pike is held in the summer. Travelers drive from St. Joseph, making stops in Muskegon, and Manistee, ending in Traverse City


The Third Annual tour of the Pike takes place with the route now stretching from Michigan City to Mackinaw City. Grand Gaven resident, William Loutit takes over as President of the WMPA after Dr. DeKleine resigns. 


As more travelers use the pike the conditions of the road deteriorate. To fix the problem, Loutit makes a plea for the Pike to be paved with concrete instead of gravel.


The Annual West Michigan Pike tour is canceled because of the United State's involvement in World War I.


The route of the West Michigan Pike is considered complete, paved, and without detours. The fifth and final Tourist Guide of the West Michigan Pike is published. A "Pike Tour De Luxe" celebrates the work of the WMPA with parades and festivities. 


The United States Numbered Highway System changes the official name of the West Michigan from M-11 to US-31 to work towards creating a consistent system of road names throughout the country.


The WMPA is reinstated to make repairs and widen the roads that had been worn down after years of traffic. Spring Lake resident, William "Concrete" Connelly is elected Vice President of the WMPA.


The old west Michigan Pike is named "Pure Michigan Byway" in recognition of its contribution to Michigan's history.

Toy Car

Schieble Toy and Novelty

c. 1920s 

Pressed tin


Children traveling the West Michigan Pike with their families may have seen a car that looked like this toy based on a 1920s coupe. Having toy cars to play with instilled a love of travel in young children and helped create the idea of the family road trip. 

Sandy Streets

and the "Good Roads Movement"

The "Good Roads" movement started in the late 1870's in the Unites States. It has a simple, yet important goal: make roads safer and more realiable for bicycles and later, cars. Outside of cities most roads were made of dirt or loose gravel. While they worked for people walking or driving a wagon with horses, they were not as safe for bicycles. Cyclists came together to form a group, the Leaugue of American Wheelmen, that urged states and countries to make better roads. 

After cars became popular, motorists joined the League. They also had reason to want better roads. In Michigan, many rural roads were sandy making it difficult to steer safely. When it rained the roads were even more treacherous, as cars sometimes became stuck in the mud. The League suggested that roads should be made of compact gravel in more stable, two-layer design called macadam, that would shed water and make a sturdy surface for cars and bicycles. 


83.41.44-Washington Street in downtown Grand Haven, 1909. Cars, horses, and bicycles all shared the unpaved road.


A cyclist and a horse on an unpaved road in Ferrysburg, MI in 1880. 70.14.3


High Wheel Bicycle or “Penny-Farthing”

c. 1880s



Early bicycles like this “penny-farthing” motivated people in the late 19th century to advocate for improved roads. The large difference in size between the front and rear wheels, combined with the slim tires, made it difficult to ride a bike safely on dirt roads.

Gaining Traction

Michigan's Road Policies Change

Several important changes had to take place in Michigan before the West Michigan Pike could become a reality. The Michigan constitution had to be amended in 1905 for the state to be able to pay for road upgrades. After the amendment passed, the state to be able to pay for road upgrades. After the amendment passed the state created the Michigan State Highway Department and rewards system for roads built to state standards. This mean that when a country built a road that was the right width and made with the right materials, the state gave them between $250 - $1,000 per mile. At first, counties worked slowly on their roads. 

When the Michigan State Trunk Line Highways Act was passed in 1913, work progressed at a faster pace. The Act set up a state highway system and doubled the rewards for counties fixing the roads under their control. The actions of the Michigan State Highways Department from 1905-1913 helped make the West Michigan Pike possible.


Horatio "Good Roads" Earle, the father of the Good Roads Movement in Michigan. Earle was the first State Highway Commisioner for Michigan. Image courtesy of the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Driving Progress

The West Michigan Pike Association

Car Buffs and Michigan Country road officials joined together in 1912 to create the West Michigan Lake Shore Highway Association (WMLSHA). This group thought a highway on the west coast of Michigan would be good for tourism. A paved highway would also help farmers move their goods to cities and ports. Better roads would also lead to improve public health education and access to doctors. 

The Tri-Cities area played an important role in the WMLSHA from the beginning. The group's first president, a man from Muskegon, was only able to serve for five months before he resigned. In his place, the Association chose Grand Haven resident Dr. William Dekleine. At this time, the group also changed its name to the West Michigan Pike Association (WMPA). The next president after DeKleine was William H. Loutit, also from Grand Haven. The representation of several Tri-Cities residents in WMPA likely led to the Pike's route through all three cities. 


Early twentieth century postcard showing the West Michigan Pike route on what is now M 104/ Savidge Street. 99.77.4.

Touring the Pike

Lake Shore All the Way!

To broadcast their goals for good roads and the West Michigan Pike the WMPA set up an annual tour along the route and published a guide describing the route, attractions, mileage, and road conditions. The group planned stops in many of the cities on the route. These stops allowed Pikers to give speeches focused on how the West Michigan Pike and the Good Roads Movement would improve the lives of the audience. 

Drivers started in Chicago and made their way up the coast; in 1913 they only made it to Petoskey, but in 1915 they finally reached Mackinaw City. Each year after the tour had come up the route, counties worked to upgrade their roads. Dr. DeKleine was the main scout for the West Michigan Pike in 1913, but he had help testing roads from drivers up and down the coast. While the Association pushed for counties and the state to upgrade roads, they needed to find the best roads in the meantime. 


Peerless Frost Shields

Peerless Novelty Company

c. 1920s

Iron, glass, cardboard



The Peerless Novelty Company, based in Grand Haven, MI, patented this frost shield in 1931. Prior to the 1930s, cars did not have a system in place for defrosting windshields. 

Foot Warmer

c. 1910s

Metal, tapestry carpet 



Early cars had minimal equipment compared to today’s vehicles. For example, cars manufactured in the first half of the 20th century did not have heating systems built in. Instead, people put hot coals in portable foot warmers like this one. 


c. 1910s

Metal, glass, leather



Cars made before 1915 did not have windshields installed as standard equipment. Goggles therefore became a necessity for people driving on dusty dirt roads.

Tourism History

From Mineral Springs to Resorts

Holiday trips to Michigan's west coast started because of health tourism. In the Tri-Cities, this started in the 1870s after Willard C. Sheldon discovered mineral springs in Grand Haven. Some people thought that the water in these springs would cure illnesses, so tourists went to the area to be treated with mineral spring baths. During this period, many people also believed that the clean breezes coming off the lake would speed up the healing process.  

These visitors needed places to stay, so local businessmen started building hotels and resorts. Once the stories about the beauty of the area spread throughout the Midwest, people started to travel to Michigan for reasons other than their health. Some tourists came for the scenic views. Others came for activities like golfing, boating, fishing, and camping. The West Michigan Pike made these resorts more accessible to tourists who chose to travel by car rather than train or boat. 


Aerial photograph of W.C. Sheldon's Magnetic Mineral Springs at the northwest corner of Washington and Third Street, circa 1871. 65.36.3

1914 photograph of guests at a house party. 97.1.129

Grand Haven

"Capital City" of the Pike

The City of Grand Haven was considered the capital of the West Michigan Pike. Its place between Holland and Muskegon made it an ideal stop between the two larger cities. Grand Haven was notable for its businesses, like shipping, fishing, and manufacturing, and its attractions, like parks and hotels. The port of Grand Haven connected the city with other cities across the lake, like Chicago and Milwaukee. It was also home to the Coast Guard on Lake Michigan. 

People came to Grand Haven to enjoy the scenery and visit sites like the Highland Park neighborhood. The West Michigan Pike even helped make the Grand Haven State Park a reality! When the state saw ho many tourists were coming up the coast to the Pike and visiting Grand Haven, it worked with the city to create the Grand Haven State Park. This park was one of the first 23 state parks created in the first two years of of the state park program. 


Postcard showing the parking oval at the Grand Haven State Park in the 1920's. 65.27.155


Early 20th century photograph of cars waiting to be shipped from the Robbins Dock in Grand Haven, located at the end of Washington Street 77.77.1

Resort Towns

Spring Lake and Ferrysburg

Even though Spring Lake and Ferrysburg were much smaller than Grand Haven, they were also mentioned in the Pike guides as exciting places to visit. In the early 1900s, the Village of Spring Lake had many resorts on the shores of the village's inland lake, also named Spring Lake. The lake's geography includes several bayous and small peninsulas where the views are beautiful and the fishing is exciting. At the time, the resorts and boating on the lake made Spring Lake a desirable place to vacation.

Another highlight for drivers on the Pike was the Spring Lake County Club. It was one of 21 golf courses listed in the 1922 guide for the West Michigan Pike. The route through Ferrysburg took drivers down Pine Street and past several of the successful businesses of the time included the Johnston Boiler Company and the Verplank Coal and Dock comapny.