7 Muskegon Sightseeing

Muskegon's modest downtown was dotted with beautiful buildings faced in large, rough-cut, gray or red stones, Richardsonian Romanesque bequests of Hackley. They rose to looming spires or sported sculptures, pillars, and stained glass. In the surrounding neighborhoods snoozed brightly painted Victorian mansions, and down by the lakefront's railroad tracks brooded monolithic brick warehouses that were falling into disrepair. In short, the town was filled with buildings Hopper might have portrayed.

Long ago, the area's Ottawa and Pottawatomie joined the French in annihilating other local tribes until the French asked them, too, to move on. In the middle 1800s, easterners came to log. During Hackley's lumbering era, Muskegon boasted of having more millionaires than any other town in America and was called "Lumber Queen of the World" and "the Riviera of the Midwest."

But when Hackley and other barons used up the local forests, the economy faltered, and Muskegon wooed industrial factories. The booms during two world wars were offset by lulls during The Great Depression and the 1970s, and Muskegon when I visited was a rustbelt city rebounding as best it could. Civic leaders pinned their hopes on a former lakeside industrial scrap yard rehabbed and re-dubbed "Heritage Landing," with new buildings for businesses, condominiums, and restaurants.

Also out by Heritage Landing was a lighthouse, like Hopper often portrayed, and Muskegon is one of the few Midwestern towns that boasts several. This one lay on the end of Muskegon's pier. A mere 100 yards across the water, I could see the pier of the city of North Muskegon, but no bridge connected the towns. "Sometimes a ferry runs between the two," Micki had told me. "But that's not in operation right now."

Muskegon's most famous lighthouse lay out at the tip of the bay jutting into Lake Michigan, in Pere Marquette Park. In April 1675, the famous French explorer spent a night here two days before his death. Now, teenagers cruise the triangular parking lot blaring rock and roll out of convertibles, and people of all ages swim from the grand beach, stroll the dunes or pier, or visit the retired submarine Silversides.

No comments: