Orchard Beach State Park

Orchard Beach State Park circa 1920s. (Courtesy Photo/Manistee County Historical Museum)

By STEVE HAROLD

Manistee County Historical Museum

Several years ago, the museum’s weekly page contained an article describing the “Model Farm” of George A. Hart on the Lake Michigan shore north of Manistee.

Around the turn of the century the farm was sold to the Manistee, Filer City and Eastlake Railway for use as a park. With regular service by the firm’s streetcars, the beautiful grounds became very popular with Manistee citizens.

As the streetcar line ceased operation for lack of traffic following World War I, the community severely felt the loss of the park. At this point the Board of Commerce stepped in to purchase the park from the defunct railway and sought an economical way to further its use as a public recreation area. In the 1920 annual report of the Board of Commerce, Secretary J.C. Beukema recommended: “Orchard Beach is an undisposed problem. For a generation it has been Manistee’s greatest playground. Nothing can replace it. As a community recreation center it is without a peer in Michigan. There is nothing which the Manisteean who leaves home misses so much as Orchard Beach. Orchard Beach should be a public park. The Board of Commerce should help make that possible.”

Finally on March 23, 1921, it was announced that Orchard Beach had been transferred to the state as the “Keystone of the System of State Parks.” The Board of Commerce had given the land as a free gift to the state and received $7,000 for the “buildings, playground equipment, chairs, tables, and other paraphernalia.” The News Advocate reflected the general rejoicing of the entire community at the preservation of the park and speculated as to its future:

“The tennis courts will undoubtedly be rehabilitated, a baseball diamond put in, wells, comfort stations, bathhouses and other features installed. A permanent caretaker will be put in charge. The state will put in campers’ stoves and install all facilities for campers. It proposes to advertise the park widely among tourists.”

For its part, the state announced that a caretaker would be put in charge immediately and a crew of men would start trimming trees and shrubbery within two weeks. Later, an engineer would be sent to “lay out shrubbery, drives and walks, and other features.”

The Board of Commerce was organized to perpetuate and expand the economic growth of the area. If the members of the 1920 group could see Orchard Beach State Park today they would undoubtedly be astounded at the vast numbers of vacationers using the park and the corresponding effect on the area economy.

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