Contributor: The Herald-Palladium
Lake Township’s first settler was John Harner in 1834. Thomas Phillips farmed in the northeast area of the Township starting in 1836. 1839 saw the arrival of Henry Lemon. Oronoko was separated from Lake Township in 1846.
Lumbering was the first commercial interest and was made possible due to the water power and ample forests of the area. Many sawmills were soon built in the township. Of these mills, the Charlottesville Lumber Company of 1856 was the largest. The founders included Charles & Warren Howe and George Bridgman.
1860, Charlottesville was the first village in Lake Township and had a population of 557. The first fruit farm was owned by Joshua Whitten and encompassed 30 acres.
A half mile East of Charlottesville, George Bridgman platted a new village. The Bridgman Post Office, railroad station and this new town were named after Bridgman. Charlottesville was eventually absorbed by Bridgman.
Orzo Baldwin owned the Railroad View Plant Farm which became a very successful nursery after he advertised his raspberry plants for sale in the Philadelphia “Farm Journal”.
Many local residents followed his lead and entered the nursery business.
In 1949, Bridgman became a city. Construction of the Donald C. Cook Nuclear Plant began in 1968. Three years later a new high school opened. Businesses such as Weldun Tool & Engineering Company and the Hoover Ugine Plant boosted employment in the area.
Residents remember: “The year was 1928…” Bridgman’s high school basketball team won the state championship that year. One of the team members, Henry Batson, would become one of the first city commissioners.
In 1949, a growing number of people were pushing to move Bridgman from a village to a city. “I think the people thought they would rather govern themselves that have the township govern them,” said Batson who was elected to serve the city in 1949. “As a village we were paying a township tax and we didn’t have a whole lot to say about the decisions that were being made,” said Batson. “The people approached the village council with petitions to become a city. Then it was up for a vote and it passed. I was elected to the first city commission,” said Batson.
Batson, at age 90, still has keen memories of those first city commission meetings. “We met in the firehouse and had to back out the fire truck to have room for our meeting.” One of the first issues the new city commissioners took up was water. Bridgman had a series of wells but as the city grew the wells were going dry. “We’re only a mile from the lake. There’s no reason to pump another well,” said Batson, who fought to have the city adopt a lake water system and build a water plant. There was resistance to his plan because well water didn’t need to be treated. “It came from the ground and could be pumped right into people’s homes,” said Batson. Lake water had to be treated first – but the supply was guaranteed, according to Batson. The lake water system the city finally developed was ahead of its time. The commission decided to put a caisson out in the lake with pumps in it. Pipes were placed 18 feet below Lake Michigan’s bed so the water being pumped into the caisson and out to the new water treatment plant had already been filtered through 18 feet of sand. As a result of this sand, today Bridgman doesn’t have a zebra mussel problem with its water like other municipalities using the lake for water.
Residents remember: “The year was 1936…” Bridgman was a village with a population of about 1,000. A retired fireman from Chicago decided to relocate to a small 5-acre country farm in Bridgman with his family. His son, Joseph Lozeau, would enroll in Bridgman High School that year and graduate the following year in a class of 23 students.
Lozeau found a job as a general carpenter after graduation with Spitzer Construction. Later he worked as a clerk in the local A&P store earning all the money he needed to marry his sweetheart, Caroline Menser, in 1939.
Lozeau met Caroline at the Bridgman Theater where she worked the popcorn concession. “Our theater drew people from all over the area. It was open 7 days a week and always busy. It was the only one around except for the one in St. Joseph,” said Lozeau. The theater is no longer there. A Ben Franklin store now resides where the theater stood. But the memories of the theater and the drug store next to it bring back times of a more un-hurried, friendly lifestyle many of Bridgman’s elderly residents fondly remember.
Knaak’s Drug Store had an old-fashioned soda fountain where moviegoers would stop for an old-fashioned ice-cream soda, sundae, malted milk or soft drink. “That’s where I first started drinking Cherry Cokes,” said Lozeau. They made their own ice cream too. The building on the other side of the theater housed a store called Westfalls, with shelf medicine and candies. “Kids would buy their Mary-Janes and green-leaf candies there before going to the movies,” said Lozeau.
In 1942, Lozeau joined the post office, working in the building now occupied by the Coast to Coast Hardware Store. “The Citizen’s Telephone Company was upstairs and housed the switchboard,” he recalled. Ten years later, he and the post office moved to the McCort Building, now an antique shop. Finally in 1961 the post office and Lozeau relocated to the current building on Maplewood. Lozeau started as a clerk working for Postmaster Gustav Knaak, Jr. “That’s when the local nursery businesses were our biggest customers. They brought all their tree and strawberry plants for us to mail,” said Lozeau. Nurseries like Ackermans, Rambos and Kriegers shipped their plants and their catalogs via the Bridgman Post Office. Next, the die cast industry moved into the area bringing more business to the post office. “A truck from Benton Harbor brought the mail in sacks. We opened and sorted it. We had one rural route carrier, Emil Menser, at that time,” said Lozeau. “In those days we didn’t have village or city delivery. Everyone had a post office box with combination locks – they weren’t worth a didly,” said Lozeau.
In 1964, after 22 years of service, Lozeau was appointed Postmaster. The next 17 years of service flew by. “I loved every minute of it. I like the people. The customers were always friendly,” said Lozeau of a career that spanned a total of 39 years. He retired on January 16, 1981.
Residents remember: “The year was 1966…”
A housewife and mother looking for a part-time job finds one as deputy clerk-treasurer for the city of Bridgman. A year later she was sworn in as clerk-treasurer. Phyllis Weber spent the next 30 years of her life as city clerk, treasurer, and in 1983 she was appointed city superintendent. What began as a part-time job exploded into a round the clock position. “I wanted a job where you went in at 9 a.m. and left at 5 p.m. and forgot about work until the next morning,” said Weber. “But it didn’t work out that way.” When there was flooding in the streets, Weber was out of bed and at the scene. When there was trouble at the beach house, Weber was there.
Weber’s first office in a small store front is now Coast to Coast Hardware store. The new City Hall dedicated in 1998 is a far cry from the old one where Weber started her career with the city. “Besides hosting the police department, the meeting room was host to some bats, which would swoop down occasionally during a commission meeting. We had a gas-fired space heater which we used to melt snow in a bucket so we could flush the toilet,” said Weber, who was part of all that happened in and to Bridgman from 1966 to 1996.
Weber’s pride in the city was always evident. The award-winning Weko Beach Park is named after her husband’s family who built the original beach house. W E for Weber and K O for her in-laws’ partner in the endeavor – the Bruno Kohlanders. “My in-laws built the first beach house.
People came from all over Chicago and South Bend in the early ’40s to eat some good German food and to dance. Friday nights they had fish frys. On Sundays, a group from the Chicago Symphony would come and give concerts. The original dance floor is still there in the community room,” said Weber.
Bridgman hasn’t changed too much in those 30 years, according to Weber. “We always have been a clean town. People take care of their lawns.” Although she admits she’s surprised at the new upscale residential developments in recent years, Weber maintains that Bridgman has always been a nice place to live. “It was nice before, but it’s nicer now. It’s a small town with a big town look.”
Residents remember: “Just picked up the somewhat vague history of Bridgman…”
I guess I would like to leave my share of what I know. My grandparents, Charles and Rose Westphal had a drug store in the, what is now empty lot, from the late 1800′s I guess. My mother was born there in 1909. She was Ruth Westphal. I had an aunt, Verna Westphal, born in about 1904 also there. She married Edward Groth also from Bridgman. In 1946 after serious health problems my grandparents sold the store and built and moved into the house just to the west of Boyd’s Funeral home. I have many many memories throughout my childhood of Bridgman. My grandfather was mayor, fire chief and school president among the many things in town thru out his lifetime. He also had a coal yard along the railroad.
They were one of the early settlers of Bridgman and are buried, as our my parents in Bridgman. My mother told of how the entire town turned out one night to save the Weko Beach concession stand, for want of a better word, in her childhood, from a serious storm.
I have many many memories of going there, my grandparents lived upstairs when the drug store was in their ownership. At that time next door was a movie theatre, now the dime store.”
Karen Harman Domansky , Lansing, Illinois
Monday, July 30, 2001 11:01 AM
Visitors remember: ”We just spent 4 days camping (outdoors) at Weko Beach…”
It was a pleasant surprise! We went to Michigan with the intent to camp at Warren State Park — upon arriving we learn we would have a bit of a hike to get to the Lake, so we decided to look around for another campground.
Shamrock campground is about 20 minutes from Bridgman but it was not quite the beach we were looking for. We decided to head back to Warren when we came across a sign for “Weko Beach” — we had no idea they had camping/log cabins and tent camping facilities – Hot Showers, indoor & toiliets, ice, and firewood for the bonfire – and a conveniently located ranger station!
We were extremely impressed! We pitched up our tent, paid $12 per day for our camp site and began to enjoy a very relaxing and peaceful family vacation. My husband, son and even our dog enjoyed hiking the hills and watching the sun rise and set everyday.
PS — Bridgman was a beautiful little town”
McDonald Family: Ramona, Peter, Terry & Zeus
Sunday, August 26, 2001 12:45 AM
Visitors remember: ”I spent many summers back in the 60′s at the First Church Camp just south of town…”
My grandparents were the caretakers. It was located between Warren Dunes and Weko Beach. It burned down about ten years ago but the memories I have of this wonderful place will live forever with me.
There were about 15 cabins and a huge lodge full of stuffed animals and birds. My siblings and I would spend hours roaming the camp, dunes, woods, and the beach. There was a really cool winding staircase leading down to the beach which also burned in the fire.
I’ve returned to this camp twice in resent years just to remember the wonderful times in my youth…”
Saturday, July 13, 2002 1:12 AM
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