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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

Good Roads Movement

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.