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History of Macatawa

The history of Macatawa dates back to 1847, when the Dutch settlers first came to the Holland area. Soon after, their leader Dr. Albertus C. Van Raalte, wrote to the governor and the U.S. Congress requesting funds for the building of a harbor. Van Raalte knew from the beginning that for the new community to flourish, it is essential to gain access to Lake Michigan, to and from Black Lake, (now Lake Macatawa). However, the entrance to the lake from Lake Michigan was blocked with sandbars and silt.

Repeated requests for government help were made in the years that followed but to no avail. All the while, the Holland settlers made numerous attempts to establish a harbor. A permanent pier was built into Lake Michigan that was battered year after year by winter storms. Dredging was done both by hand and machine.

In 1860, citizens managed to cut a new channel-present location from Lake Macatawa to Lake Michigan. It was deep enough for barges to float from Lake Michigan into Lake Macatawa.

In 1866, harbor officials received word from Congress that they would receive an appropriation for work on the harbor.

In 1867, the Federal Government took over improvement of the harbor. Additional monies came in 1870, 1871 and 1872 but it was not until the turn of the century, fifty years after the effort was begun, that the harbor was substantially completed.

In 1872, while the harbor was still under development, the first lighthouse was erected with $4,000 of federal funds. Named the Big Red, it is a local icon that sits in the middle of the Holland harbor channel and at the northern tip of Macatawa.

Over the years, "Big Red" has taken on a life of its own, popular with painters, photographers, beach-goers, and boaters. There's nothing more relaxing than sitting in the shade of a tree, and watch the river empty into Lake Michigan, while the red sentinel stands guard on the opposite shore.