Home / History

History of New Buffalo

Sesquicentennial Historic Walking Tour

In 1986, New Buffalo's Sesquicentennial, the community created a walking tour of our historic sites, complete with interpretive plaques and this guidebook.  Enjoy!

Pioneer Settlement 

The City of New Buffalo is the Gateway of Michigan.  It was established in 1836, and incorporated in 1837. But it was back in the fall of 1834 when Captain Wessel Whittaker decided to be the first pioneer to settle the area after a storm ran his ship the Post Boy aground. 
The Captain and his crew survived the shipwreck and walked to the frontier town of Michigan City.  The following day he hired transportation to Saint Joseph, Michigan to report the ship's loss to its underwriters. 
On his way to Saint Joseph he crossed and obviously fell in love with an area that was "a natural harbor surrounded by dunes and tall trees where a river flowed from the surrounding woodlands into Lake Michigan". 
After reporting the loss of his ship to the underwriters the following day he then traveled to Kalamazoo via stagecoach and studied maps and legal descriptions of the Galien River. 
He returned to his home of Buffalo, New York convinced that he must return to this natural harbor where the Galien River flowed into Lake Potawatomi and then into Lake Michigan. 
He and the others that followed were convinced that they must return to New Buffalo, Michigan.  History illustrated Captain Whittaker is not the first visitor to be captivated by Lake Michigan and the surrounding environment of New Buffalo.


Gateway of Michigan Sign

Gateway of MichiganThe old New Buffalo The Gateway of Michigan sign which use to be over Buffalo Street (US Route 12) near Willard Street.

Old Chicago Hotel

The old Chicago Hotel was located at the southwest corner of Mechanic and Barton Streets:

Old Chicago HotelThe State of Michigan's Historic Sites Online entry for the old Chicago Hotel: The Chicago Hotel (132 North Barton Street) was built in 1849 to serve the anticipated traffic from New Buffalo's designation as the western terminus of the Michigan Central Railroad. From New Buffalo, passengers were ferried to Chicago via steamship. The hotel was a center of social activity in the late nineteenth century, despite the fact that the railroad tracks were extended to Chicago in 1852. The building itself was a large and plain brick structure with a square cupola at the peak of its hipped roof. A new porch roof and railings and the large picture windows were the most noticeable alterations. The Chicago Hotel has been demolished since its nomination to the state register of historic sites in 1979.

Old Saint John German Lutheran Evangelical Church

The old German Lutheran Evangelical Church is now Saint John United Church of Christ. It is located at the northwesterly corner of Barker and Buffalo Streets.

Old Saint John German Lutheran Evangelical ChurchThe State of Michigan's Historic Sites Online entry for the Church of Saint John: The Church of St. John is a rectangular, wood frame structure--its original clapboarding covered in 1955 with a synthetic masonry cladding--with a partly projecting, square tower centrally positioned in the narrow entrance end. The tower has a square belfry and octagonal spire and the building has Gothic windows fitted with stained glass in the 1950s. The parish house, a former German schoolhouse, thought to be nearly as old as the church, was moved to a position behind the church in 1948. A large, brick "church house" was added in 1965. The St. John Church is significant as one of the oldest German Evangelical churches in southwestern Michigan. The congregation was organized on October 30, 1858 by the Reverend Charles Haas of Michigan City, Indiana as the United German Lutheran St. John Congregation. Despite the word "Lutheran" in its name, it affiliated with the Michigan District of the (German) Evangelical Synod of North America. In 1862 to 1863 the congregation built the present church and in 1890 they moved it a short distance to its present site. The "Evangelical" denomination merged with the "Reformed Church in the United States" in 1934 and in 1957 that larger body merged with the General Council of Congregational Christian Churches to form the United Church of Christ. The present church building, though extensively altered inside and out over the years, is one of the oldest Evangelical church buildings in Michigan.

New Buffalo Welcome Center

The State of Michigan's Historic Sites Online entry for the New Buffalo Welcome Center: The nation's first highway Travel Information Center opened on May 4, 1935, on US-12 at New Buffalo, not far from here. Other states followed Michigan's lead, and by 1985 there were 251 travel information centers across the nation. The New Buffalo center was built by the Michigan State Highway Department, now the Michigan Department of Transportation, to welcome motorists entering the state via US-12. It was relocated at this site, with its more modern building, on April 6, 1972, after the I-94 Freeway was completed. Michigan's state-wide travel information program, which began in 1935, includes staffed welcome centers and interpretive, promotional and informational displays at rest areas and roadside parks across the state.

West Michigan Pike Historic Marker

The historic West Michigan Pike was founded in 1911, and completed in 1922. Please see this fascinating historic directory from that time. Also, see the City's news archive page of the historic marker dedication ceremony.

The West Michigan Pike state historic marker is located along New Buffalo's riverfront, on North Whittaker, just north of the bridge.

West Michigan Pike Historic MarkerHistoric Marker Side 1: At the turn of the twentieth century, deep ruts and sand made West Michigan roads nearly impassable. In 1911, the West Michigan Lakeshore Highway Association was founded to promote the construction of the first improved highway along Lake Michigan in order to bring auto tourists from Chicago to Michigan to support the new resort industry that grew up when logging ended in the region. Completed in 1922, the West Michigan Pike extended from the Indiana state line to Mackinaw City. It was designated one of the first state trunk lines (M-11) in 1917, as part of the Dixie Highway in 1923, and incorporated into the nations first federal highway system as US-31 in 1926. Straightened and realigned over the years, it is also known as the Red Arrow and the Blue Star Memorial Highways.

West Michigan Pike Historic Roadside MarkerHistoric Marker Side 2: The West Michigan Pike, advertised as "Lake Shore All the Way Chicago to Mackinaw," was completed as a paved highway in 1922. Tourists, particularly those from Chicago who sought cooler temperatures by coming to Michigan, gained greater access to communities dotting the Lake Michigan shore between the Indiana state line and the Straits of Mackinac. In 1926 the pike (M-11) was designated US-31. By then, traffic congestion and poor road conditions were again impeding Travel. The West Michigan Pike Association, which had started the road, advocated for US-31 to be widened and rerouted in 1929 as a "superhighway." A full-blown tourism industry with lodgings, restaurants, and attractions grew up along the West Michigan Pike and flourished into the twenty-first century.