A Great Lake and Two Rivers

Keep on Shining

Fame is fleeting, even if you’re a lighthouse featured on a U.S. postage stamp, can trace your history back to 1832 and, when covered in layers of ice and snow, appeared on the front page of the New York Times. But, alas, none of these accomplishments mattered when the federal government declared the St. Joseph North Pier lighthouses surplus. No longer needed for navigation, they were goners. That is, until devoted friends stepped in, forming the Lighthouse Forever Fund in 2014. The goal was to raise $2 million to preserve and restore the lights and catwalk.

Before 2014 was over, the Lighthouse Forever Fund had already raised $1.65 million. Renovations were completed and it’s now open for tours. Visit lighthouseforeverfund.org for more information.

Horses on the Move Again
Silver Beach, named after the silvery light cast by the moon, is an award-winning beach chosen as one of the top 10 family beaches by Parents magazine. But, from 1891 to 1971, it was also home to the Silver Beach Amusement Park and Silver Beach Carousel, a wonderful whirl of hand-carved, hand-painted carousel animals and three band organs.

The carousel was dismantled; the animals and band organs sold. However, with the same public dedication and support that restored the lighthouses, the carousel rides again and is now part of the Silver Beach Center, located on Silver Beach below the city’s bluff. The 1911 Herschell Spillman Company band organ that was part of the original carousel was re-purchased and donated by a local resident.

Other modern-day Silver Beach activities include the Curious Kids’ Discovery Zone: An interactive children’s museum with a garden growing on its roof. In season, the interactive Whirlpool Compass Fountain shoots water 35 feet into the air on the hour and half hour from 10 a.m. to dusk.

Calendar of Events

March 18:
Majestic Mahler, performance by the Southwest Symphony Orchestra

April (date to be determined):
Free horse-drawn carriage rides begin

April 1:
Easter Brunch at Fernwood

April 4:
Artisan Market at Journeyman Distillery

April 14:
Mutts Gone Nuts

April 29:
SMSO Presents Latin Rhythms

May 6:
Antiques on the Bluff

May 13:
Mother’s Day at Domaine Berrien Cellars

May 18-19:
Sidewalk Sale Downtown St. Joseph

May 19:
BBQ, Blues & Bluegrass: A Taste of Michigan

May 22-27:
2018 KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship

May 25:
Memorial Day Parade

May 26-27:
Lemon Creek Art & Wine Festival

May 26-27:
Round Barn Island Spirit Party

June 2:
Lake Bluff Artisan Faire

June 17:
Lemon Creek Winery’s 34th Annual Father’s Day Festival

June 22-August 22:
Wednesday Brown Bag Concert

June 23-24:
Lest We Forget Reenactment & Watercraft and ‘Copter Rides

July 7:
Mike Yore Memorial Car Show

July 14:
Krasl Art Fair on the Bluff


A Great Lake and Two Rivers

by Jane Simon Ammeson
St. Joseph and Benton Harbor — both quaint and charming southwest Michigan towns — offer boaters a fun mix of fishing, food and a PGA golf tournament.

Around 1780, William Burnett built a trading post on a bluff overlooking the St. Joseph River as it flowed into Lake Michigan; the mouth of this waterway was an important point of Native American travel and commerce. By 1825, a mail route — albeit a very slow and sporadic one — existed between what would later become St. Joseph, Michigan and Chicago.

Fast forward a few decades, when fur trading gave way to an abundance of local orchards and farms, and ships carried cargo to other ports large and small on the Great Lakes. Today, we have trucks and trains to do just that; however, boats — sail and motor — still arrive at this port city where red brick streets are lined with wonderfully restored Queen Anne and Victorian-era homes, and turn-of-the-century commercial buildings filled with shops and restaurants.

St. Joseph, like Burnett’s trading post, sits on a hillside overlooking the St. Joseph River, the shores of Lake Michigan and the neighboring town of Benton Harbor. St. Joseph is fronted by Lake Bluff Park: A wide, green expanse of mature trees, small garden areas, statuary, benches, a seasonal hot dog cart and the wonderfully elaborate Maids of the Mist Fountain built in 1872. The park is a common gathering place with free concerts at the band shell overlooking the harbor, a busy farmers market on Saturdays and a plethora of events, including vintage car, craft and antique shows, and the juried Krasl Art Fair, which draws artists from all over the country. A free horse-drawn trolley travels along the bluff and down State Street, the downtown’s main thoroughfare.

Sand, sun and blue waters

The St. Joseph River and its historic lighthouses separate a string of public white sand beaches. South of the piers, follow the shoreline to Lions Park Beach and the more active Silver Beach County Park, where you’re sure to find a volleyball game in play, an entertainment pavilion and access to the piers. Running parallel to the beach is the John and Dede Howard Family Recreation Trail, which winds through a wooden glen. 

North of the lighthouse, the 16-acre, family-oriented Tiscornia Park continues on past beachfront homes to the 2,950-acre Jean Klock Park in Benton Harbor. There are yoga classes in the pavilion against a backdrop of waves and tall dunes. Other features of this park include walking paths through the Jack Nicklaus-designed Harbor Shores Golf Course, a boardwalk, volleyball courts, an observation tower, a playground and a picnic shelter.

Embrace your inner water spirit by indulging in a variety of watersports. Rentals are available at Scooter Joe’s Wheel & Water Rentals and Third Coast Paddling: Paw Paw River Kayak and Paddleboard Rentals. Pontoon boats are available at Anchor’s Way Marina.

A river runs through it — and so do the fish 

The St. Joseph River joins with the Paw Paw River and divides two cities: St. Joseph on the south bank and Benton Harbor on the north. Both rivers have marinas and public launches, and restaurants line their banks. West Basin Marina offers 100 slips (10 transient), showers, laundry facilities, pump-out service, a fuel dock and a ship store. The Marina at Harbor Shores is home to Freedom Boat Club, which provides a great alternative to boat ownership. 

Two long breakwaters run along both sides of the river providing walkways and public parks. It’s not unusual to see people fishing by flashlight at night along the piers when the fishing is good. There’s even a short smelt season (about three weeks) in the spring where these tiny, lively lake creatures can be easily scooped up in nets.

“Fishing is a pretty important part of this community,” says Jerry Link, owner of Originator Sport Fishing Charters in St. Joseph. “People come from all over the country to fish here.”

So, what are they catching?

Link, who operates river charters during the cold season aboard his heated, enclosed boat, says that it’s largely a variety of trout (brown, lake and steelhead) and salmon (Coho and king) with some yellow perch and walleye, as well.

“As soon as the weather breaks, I start doing charters on my boat designed for Lake Michigan,” he says. “Last year we were out in March.”

From lake to land

Going from ship to shore is easy to do.

“About a half-mile away, there are restaurants like Azul Tequila, Zoup and Biggby Coffee,” says Katie Alti of Anchor’s Way Marina in St. Joseph. “Just a few blocks farther, there’s the downtown with lots of restaurants and stores. You can easily walk to all of them; plus we have Uber now, too.”

Tie up along the south embankment located at the Margaret Upton Arboretum in the city’s downtown and you have easy access to all that downtown has to offer.

“The Arboretum has a pretty riverwalk that leads down to Silver Beach,” says Kathy Myers, owner of Pier 1000 Marina in Benton Harbor. “On the River Tavern has several docks where small boats can tie up, and Plank’s Tavern on the Water at the Inn at Harbor Shores also has docks for tying up and dining.”

Myers says they’re expecting a lot of boaters this year, as they have in the past, for the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship. “Our marina is just a short walk away from the Harbor Shores Golf Course where it’s held every other year,” Myers says.

“Restaurants like Bread+Bar and Babe’s Lounge are practically just across the road, and across the river is Clementine’s,” says Jamie Miller of Pier 1000. “When people stop by for fuel or marine services, they can grab beer, wine and ice. We also have a café which serves sandwiches, hot dogs and pretzels.”

Joe Mara, manager and bartender at Babe’s Lounge & Restaurant on the St. Joseph River in Benton Harbor, points out that the Benton Harbor public boat launch is only a short distance from the restaurant, so people launching there can walk over for lunch, dinner and late-night drinks. 

Downtown St. Joseph

English toffee, fudge and caramel apples are just a few of the many sweet things available at both Kilwin’s Chocolate Fudge & Ice Cream Shoppe and the Chocolate Café & Museum on State Street. Like to read? Check out Forever Books. Oenophiles can sample and nibble at both the Lazy Ballerina Winery and White Pine Winery. If you enjoy olives more than grapes, there’s high quality extra virgin olive oils and aged balsamic vinegars at the Olive Cart.

It’s the real deal — squeaky wood floors and all — at G&M Variety, an old-fashioned five and 10 cent store, which opened in 1939. For kids, the Toy Company stocks educational and creative toys. Fido won’t feel left out at FuzzyButz Pet Bakery, where you can peruse the wide range of all things animal-centric. 

Caffeinate at Caffe Tosi’s (and try some of the award-winning Bit of Swiss Bakery goodies they sell there), or try the freshly-made New York-style bagels and java at Broad Street Café.

Take time to enjoy the Touch Tone Art & Culture and other walking tours that highlight the town's sculptures and memorials, some of which date back more than a century: There are war monuments, a cannon, a gazebo with stairs leading down to Silver Beach, and a memorial to the firefighters who lost their lives saving others when the Yore Opera House burned down in 1896. 

The Krasl Art Center, with its elaborate Chihuly glass sculpture in the entryway, is free and open to the public. The center’s beautiful outdoor patio has wonderful seating amidst statuary and a view of the lake.

Benton Harbor Arts District

The burgeoning Benton Harbor Arts District has become a hotspot for art galleries, and dance, music and yoga studios. There’s a waiting list to purchase the urban lofts redeveloped from former manufacturing buildings. The district has lots to offer, including eateries like Mason Jar, known for its organic, local fare; Piggin’ and Grinnin’, whose owner has won major barbecue contests; and The Livery, a brewery fashioned out of a 19th century — you guessed it — livery.

Lake to plate

Whether it’s from a streetside café, such as Schu’s Grill & Bar or Caffe Tosi’s, the second-floor porch at the Bistro on the Boulevard or rooftop tables at Ryebelle’s, Buck Burgers & Brew or 221 Main Street; dining in downtown St. Joseph often comes with a view of the water and cityscape.

Fresh fish from Lake Michigan are what’s cooking at several area restaurants as part of Michigan’s Catch & Cook, a program designed so clients aboard fishing charters can enjoy their freshly caught catch almost as soon as they disembark, without any fuss or preparation.

“A lot of people don’t want to mess with the fish or they’re not going home right away, so we filet and clean it, put it in a Ziploc bag and call one of the participating restaurants to let them know it’s coming so they can be ready to cook it,” Link says.

Mara says Babe's Lounge and Restaurant has  been participating in the Catch & Cook program since it was introduced about five years ago. 

“We’ll usually cook [the fish] whatever way the guest wants — such as grilled, Cajun, sautéed — except if the catch is huge. One night we had several charters bring in 60 steelhead; those we fried,” Mara says.

Myers, of Pier 1000 Marina, says, “I like to say people come here because the boating is wonderful, and they come back because of our town."