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
West Michigan Pike Marker
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
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.
Schieble Toy and Novelty
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.
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”
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
"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
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.
1950s photograph of the Tri-Cities Service Gas Station in Ferrysburg, MI. 2014.19.176
Postcard showing yacht racing in Spring Lake, MI. 76.6.43
Michigan. Driving Through Grand Haven, 1930s
Donald James (D. J.) Angus (1887-1966)
16 mm film
This video contains no sound.
Courtesy of the Grand Valley State University Special Collections & University Archives
Angus was an electrician and amateur photographer who owned a house in Grand Haven. He filmed this short trip through Grand Haven in the 1930s. His route included Washington Street, Lake Avenue, and the Grand Haven State Park.
Rubber Coat Top Dressing
Western Auto Supply Company
Tin and printed paper
This solution was used to condition a car’s soft top. If the roof was neglected, it could be damaged and even leak when it rained. Modern soft-top convertibles still use conditioners to keep the roof waterproof and to prevent fading.
Vacuum Oil Company
Tin and printed paper
This early form of engine oil reduced the friction between engine parts in an automobile, preventing the engine from sparking or overheating.
Dutch Brand Rim Cement
Van Cleef Bros.
Manufactured by a Chicago-based company, this rim cement was used to attach tires to their rims.
Good Roads for Good Health
Two key men in the West Michigan Pike Association were Dr. William DeKleine and William H. Loutit, both of whom lived in Grand Haven. The first, William DeKleine, was a doctor who wanted good roads because he thought they would lead to better health for everyone. He also believed that better roads would improve health education, especially for people in rural areas. For him, pursuing good roads was a part of his responsibility as a doctor to promote public health in the region.
For his part, DeKleine was very active in advocating for good roads and especially the West Michigan Pike. He was the main scout for the first West Michigan Pike Tour in June of 1913. He laid out a route from St. Joseph to Mackinaw and inspected it in his Overland automobile. While he was joined by different drivers along the way, he was the only one to travel the entire route. He then led the West Michigan Pike Tour that July, with a group that traveled from St. Joseph to Petoskey.
83.41.44-Washington Street in downtown Grand Haven, 1909. Cars, horses, and bicycles all shared the unpaved road.
William H. Loutit
Enthusiast and Advocate
After DeKleine resigned in 1914 to focus on public health, the WMPA chose another Grand Haven resident, William H. Loutit to serve as the next president. Loutit was a local business owner of the Grand Haven Gas Light Works and served as the director of the Grand Haven State Bank for 30 years. He also served as mayor of Grand Haven from 1916-1920. He saw the West Michigan Pike as an opportunity to bring more visitors to the Tri-Cities who would spend money at hotels, shops, and restaurants.
As president, of the WMPA, Loutit was a vocal supporter of good road construction. In 1915, the Grand Rapids Press praised Loutit saying that no man was better suited for the position. By 1917, the West Michigan Pike saw enough traffic that Loutit argued that all future pike roads should be built with concrete or asphalt.
Photograph of William Loutit (left), William Hatton (center), and William Keller (right), in a car. 96.113.4.
Portrait of William H. Loutit. 73.49.3
and William "Concrete" Connelly
William "Concrete" Connelly earned his nickname for his advocacy for better road construction. A resident of Spring Lake, he attended meetings of the WMPA, served as the head of the Ottawa County Road Commission and was elected to the Michigan State Senate on the "Good Roads" platform. While in office he supported the formation of the Michigan State Highway Department and set aside $50 million for road building. Connelly participated in the 1915 West Michigan Pike Tour carrying a banner that read, "Get on the Pike." The West Michigan Pike changed over time as new roads were built. These changes were thanks in part to Connelly's state-funded highway.
The WMPA announced that the West Michigan Pike completed in 1922. Seven years later in 1929, the WMPA reformed. Their new goal was to turn the West Michigan Pike into a "super-highway."They elected William "Concrete" Connelly to be the new Vice President because of his knowledge of advanced paving techniques. He worked to improve the Pike by making it wider, straighter, and paved with concrete.
Photograph of Ottawa County officials. Connelly is in the front row, second from the left. 70.34.1
Windmill Gas Station in Holland, MI
Courtesy of Blaine and Kristi Jo Knoll
The Vandenberg Brothers Oil Company built this distinctive service station in 1926. It was located on the corner of 160th Avenue and 32nd Street, at the border between Ottawa and Allegan counties. The station was demolished in 2000.
C. A. Shaler Co.
A vulcanizer is a tool used to repair holes in tire tubes. To fix the tire, a person would fill the hole with rubber, then clamp on the vulcanizer and turn it on. The tool used heat to bind the new rubber to the rest of the tire.
Tire Rim Tool
This tool was used to change tires on split rim wheels. It was used to separate the locking rim from the wheel so that the tire could be removed.
Ford Motor Company
Metal and wood
Metal and wood
Tire Pressure Gauge
Maintaining the right air pressure in tires is very important for safe driving. Underinflated tires do not provide enough traction for accurate steering, and tires with too much air can burst. Using a tire pressure gauge like this one helps drivers make sure their tires are safe.
The 1922 Tour
A Victory Lap for the Pike
The last official tour of the West Michigan Pike took place in July 1922. It was unlike previous tours, which had campaigned for the creation of a route constructed entirely of good roads. Instead, this tour was a proud and celebration of a job well done: the West Michigan Pike was complete!
On the 19th of July, 1922, the tour arrived at Grand Haven, where a massive celebration took place. Grand Haven, as the former home of DeKleine and current home four Loutit and Connelly, had much to be proud of. These were the men who had pictured a future for West Michigan with smoothly paved roads and substantial tourism. They were also the men who worked to make this vision a reality. Proud citizens of the Tri-Cities decorated the town and celebrated the tour's arrival with music and dancing.
1922 photograph of Thomson's "Jackie" Band. This group played in the parade for the West Michigan Pike on July 19, 1922. 68.15.3
“Model T” Kerosene-Burning Side Lamp
Ford Motor Company
Metal and glass
The earliest Model Ts did not have storage batteries. The headlamps were powered directly by the engine, but this made them dim when the car was moving slowly. For this reason, Ford continued to use kerosene-burning side lamps to ensure that drivers, regardless of speed, would always have at least some light for driving.
Ford Motor Company
This coil, also known as a vibrator coil, was used as an ignition coil for Model-T cars from 1909 to 1927. This device created multiple spikes of high voltage and multiple sparks, as opposed to the precisely timed sparks of modern ignition coils.
Motorists Became Mechanics
Driving a car was an adventure in the 1910s and 1920s. Back then, cars were less sturdy and more difficult to control. Power steering, radios, and other things we take for granted today were not made for cars during this time. Another problem for drivers was the lack of garages and skillful mechanics. If a car broke down on a rural road, the driver might have many miles to the next repair shop and no way to get there. As a result, many people who drove cars for fun in the early 1900s had to have the tools and know-how to fix their own cars. One guide, the Official Automobile Blue Book (1920), told motorists to pack a long list of supplies including a tool kit, a tire repair kit, spare parts for almost every piece of the car, a first aid kit, and even chicken wire to aid them if they became stuck in the sand.
Interior of H.E. Potter's Garage. 69.27.3
H.E. Potter's Garage in Spring Lake, 1919. 69.27.2
Model T Windshield and Fan
Ford Motor Company
A dual-paned windshield like this one allowed the driver to tip one side down if it got too muddy to see through. It also came with a fan to help defrost the windshield.
Red Crown Gasoline
This gas pump supplied Casemier grocery delivery trucks kept at Washington and DeSpelder Streets.
Down the Road
Name Changes for the Pike
The West Michigan Pike has had many changes since it started in 1913. One of the first official names given to the route from the state of Michigan was M-11. When the Michigan State Highway Department created official state highways in 1913, it designated the routes with a name, M-11, and signs posted along the route. The route earned the nickname "Emma Levin" as a result of the way people tended to blur the works together when speaking. The next change to the route's name came in 1926 when the United States Numbered Highway System changed it to US-31. The US Numbered Highway System was designed to create an organized network of highways between states that had unique numbers to make travel directions easier to give and follow. Most recently, the West Michigan Pike was named a Pure Michigan Byway in 2016. This addition recognizes the historical importance of the route for the region and its culture.
This graphic shows the current design for US-31 signage.
The Pike Today
A Pure Michigan Byway
Today, the West Michigan Pike connects the Tri-Cities to visitors from up and down the coast of Lake Michigan and around the country. Some road markers for the pike are still visible along the route. As a Pure Michigan Byway, the West Michigan Pike is one of the 22 historic, scenic, and recreational byways in Michigan that include M-22 byway, Tahquamenon, and the US-12 Heritage Trail. Like the Old West Michigan Pike tour guides, the Pure Michigan Byway Driving Guide gives information on routes, lodging, and recommended attractions.
In the future, Ottawa County Officials hope to restore signs along the West Michigan Pike to create maps for the historic route. To support the Ottawa County project, the West Michigan Pike Historical Resurrection Project, please contact Ottawa County Planning and Performance Improvement Department at:
12220 Filmore St.
West Olive, MI 49460
Photograph of an orignal concrete West Michigan Pike marker placed along the route. 2014.19.739
The historic importance of the West Michigan Pike has been recognized through its designation as a Pure Michigan Byway.
Michigan State Highway Department
Courtesy of Blaine and Kristi Jo Knoll
The West Michigan Pike went through several changes over the years as the route was finalized. It became the M-11 (or “Emma Levin”) and finally
The Tri-Cities Historical Museum would like to thank the following lenders, donors, and advisors, without whom "The West Michigan Pike: Michigan City to Mackinaw" exhibition would not have been possible:
Blaine and Kristi Jo Knoll
Michigan Department of Transportation
Ottawa County Planning and Performance Improvement
Thomas R. Wilson
University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library
The Tri-Cities Historical Museum would also like to thank the Michigan council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Arts for their support of this exhibition.