Michigan: Monroe County

Monroe County (pop. 152,021) is one of 17 counties named for James Monroe, fifth president of the United States.

He was from Virginia.

Monroe County is in the southeastern corner of Michigan, along the shore of Lake Erie.

A geographical oddity in Monroe County is the “Lost Peninsula,” which is connected to Toledo, Ohio; drivers must go 10 minutes through Ohio to reach the rest of Michigan.

“Lost Peninsula” at upper right, above Toledo

Monroe County has the lowest elevation in Michigan, 571 feet above sea level along Lake Erie.

Sterling State Park and Fermi Nuclear Generating Station

The county seat of Monroe County is the city of Monroe (pop. 20.733).

Monroe County Courthouse (1880)

The Monroe Theatre (1938) in downtown Monroe is now the River Raisin Centre for the Arts.

It was vacant for many years.

General George Armstrong Custer (1839-1876) spent much of his childhood in Monroe.

Custer statue in Monroe (1910)

Model Christie Brinkley was born in Monroe in 1954, as Christie Lee Hudson.

The furniture manufacturer La-Z-Boy is headquartered in Monroe. The firm was founded in 1927.

Not just recliners anymore

The Cabela’s store in the village of  Dundee (pop. 3,957) claims to have “The World’s Largest Bronze Wildlife Sculpture.”

Two fighting (or kissing) bears

The unincorporated community of Ottawa Lake has a giant Uncle Sam statue.

Formerly in Toledo

Monroe County has a village called Maybee (pop. 562), named after one of its founders, Abram Maybee.


Michigan: Lenawee County

Lenawee County (pop. 99,892) is east of Hillsdale County, along Michigan’s southern border with Ohio. It is the only Lenawee County in the U.S.

Lenawee County in 1895

The county seat of Lenawee County is the city of Adrian (pop. 21,133).

Lenawee County Courthouse

Around the turn of the 20th century, Adrian was known as the “Fence Capital of the World” because of its wire fence manufacturing plants.

The Adrian Engine House No. 1 is an historic fire station built in 1855. It now houses private offices.

Romanesque Revival and Italianate styles

The Adrian Public Library (1909) building is now the home of the Lenawee County Historical Society Museum.

Next door to the old fire station

The Croswell Opera House (1866) in Adrian is the oldest continuously running theater in the state. It was a movie theater from 1921 to 1967.

Still used for live theater

Adrian College, founded in 1859, is affiliated with the United Methodist Church. It has about 1,600 students.

Founded as a theological institute

The Irish Hills Towers, in northern Lenawee County, are wooden observation towers built in 1924 to boost tourism in the area. They have been closed to the public since 2000.

60 feet tall

The Southern Michigan Railroad Society runs seasonal trains in Clinton Township.

13 miles of track

The city of Tecumseh (pop. 8,521) was once known as the “Refrigeration Capital of the World” because of the manufacture of refrigeration products. Tecumseh Products moved its factory from Tecumseh to Mississippi in 2008.


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Michigan: Hillsdale County

Hillsdale County (pop. 46,688) is east of Branch County. It’s the only Hillsdale County in the U.S.

The Grand River, Michigan’s longest river, begins in the northeastern corner of Hillsdale County and flows 252 miles to Lake Michigan.

The county seat of Hillsdale County is the city of Hillsdale (pop. 8,305).

Hillsdale County Courthouse (1899)

Hillsdale is the home of Hillsdale College (1844), which was the first college in the U.S. to prohibit admissions discrimination on the basis of race, sex, or religion.

About 1,500 students

Actor Jason Robards, Sr. (1892-1963) was born in Hillsdale. He was the father of Jason Robards, Jr.

In “The Wayne Murder Case” (1932)

In the unincorporated community of Somerset, a small park has 17 “faux wood” concrete bridges that were constructed in about 1930.

The style is called “trabajo rustico.”


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Michigan: Branch County

Branch County (pop. 45,248) is east of St. Joseph County, on the border with Indiana. It’s the only Branch County in the U.S.

Branch County was named for John Branch, Jr., (1782-1863), secretary of the Navy under President Andrew Jackson.

Also senator from North Carolina

It is Michigan’s third-smallest county in square miles, with about 100 lakes.

Popular for fishing

The county seat of Branch County is the city of Coldwater (pop. 10,945). A clock tower, adjacent to the courthouse, was built in 1988.

The old courthouse burned down in 1972.

Downtown Coldwater is on the National Register of Historic Places.

U.S. Highway 12 runs down Chicago Street.

The Tibbits Opera House in Coldwater is the second-oldest theater in Michigan.

Built in 1882

The Capri Drive-In Theater in Coldwater has been in operation since 1964.

Two screens


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Michigan: St. Joseph County

St. Joseph County (pop. 61,295) is east of Cass County. The only other St. Joseph County is nearby, in Indiana.

The county seat of St. Joseph County is the village of Centreville (pop. 1,425).

St. Joseph County Courthouse (1899)

Actor Verne Troyer grew up in Centreville. He played the part of “Mini-Me” in the Austin Powers movies.

He is 2 feet, 8 inches tall.

The largest city in St. Joseph County is the city of Sturgis (pop. 10,994), hometown of Motel 6 spokesman Tom Bodett.

The Strand Theater in downtown Sturgis has been operating since 1941.

It now has four screens.

The Mottville Speedway, in Mottville Township, opened in 1950.

The village of Colon (pop. 1,173) was named for the punctuation mark, not the body part.

Colon was the longtime home of magician Harry Blackstone, Sr. (1885-1965). Colon has several magic-supply businesses, and it hosts an annual magic convention.

Blackstone’s grave, Lakeside Cemetery

At Colon High School, the sports teams are called the Magi.


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Michigan: Cass County

Cass County (pop. 52,293), is east of Berrien County. With 508 total square miles, it is Michigan’s smallest county.

It is one of nine Cass counties in the U.S. and one of eight named for Lewis Cass (1782-1866), territorial governor of Michigan and later secretary of war in the Andrew Jackson administration.

Born in New Hampshire

Cass County is considered one of Michigan’s 10 “Cabinet counties,” named for Andrew Jackson and the men in his cabinet (Barry, Berrien, Branch, Calhoun, Cass, Eaton, Ingham, Livingston, Van Buren).

Most were created in 1829.

The county seat of Cass County is the village of Cassopolis (pop. 1,774).

Cass County Courthouse (1899)

Lawyer-politician Dennis Archer grew up in Cassopolis; Archer has been a justice on the Michigan Supreme Court, mayor of Detroit (1993-2001), and president of the American Bar Association.

He taught school in Detroit before becoming a lawyer.

The largest city in Cass County is Dowagiac (pop. 5,879).

Dowagiac Amtrak station (1903)

Dowagiac has one of Michigan’s few remaining drive-in movies – the 5-Mile Drive-In.

It opened in 1961.

Cass County has more than 100 lakes; the village of Edwardsburg (pop. 1,259) is the home of Lunker’s, which claims to be one of the largest hunting, fishing, and outdoor stores in the U.S.

Opened in 1985

The First Methodist Episcopal Church of Pokagon (1876), in Pokagon Township, was the site of the first public performance of the hymn “The Old Rugged Cross, ” in 1913.

Written by the Rev. George Bennard

The Swiss Valley Ski and Snowboard Area is in the eastern part of Cass County.

Lighted for night skiing

Cass and Berrien counties are in an area informally called “Michiana,” centered on adjacent St. Joseph County, Indiana, and its county seat, South Bend.

“Touchdown Jesus,” Notre Dame University


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Michigan: Berrien County

Berrien County (pop. 156,813) is in the southwestern corner of Michigan, bordering Indiana and Lake Michigan.

Warren Dunes State Park and Grand Mere State Park are popular recreational areas along Lake Michigan.

The highest dunes are more than 200 feet above the lake.

The county seat of Berrien County is the city of St. Joseph (pop. 8,365).

St. Joseph Pier Lighthouse

Kate Upton, model and actress, was born in St. Joseph in 1992. Her great-grandfather was Frederick Upton, who co-founded the Whirlpool Corporation – which is still based in Berrien County.

Originally the Upton Machine Company

From 1891 to 1971, St. Joseph was the home of the Silver Beach Amusement Park. The land is now Silver Beach County Park.

It had steamboat access from Chicago.

St. Joseph’s “twin city” is Benton Harbor (pop. 10,038), on the opposite side of the St. Joseph River. Benton Harbor reached its peak population of 19,136 in 1960.

Benton Harbor in 1961

The actor and comedian Sinbad (David Adkins) was born in Benton Harbor in 1956; he was in the marching band at Benton Harbor High School.

The village of Berrien Springs (pop. 1,800) was the county seat of Berrien County from 1837 to 1894.

Former Courthouse (1839)

Andrews University in Berrien Springs was founded in 1874. It was the first higher-education facility founded by Seventh-Day Adventists.

It has about 3,000 students.

The city of Coloma (pop. 1,483) is known for the Dinosaur Farm, containing a variety of skeletal dinosaur sculptures.


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Michigan: Van Buren County

Van Buren County (pop. 76,258) is west of Kalamazoo County, along Lake Michigan.

It is one of four counties named for President Martin Van Buren (1782-1862) – although it got its name when he was Andrew Jackson’s secretary of state, before he became president.

“The Little Magician” was 5′ 6″ tall.

The county seat of Van Buren County is the village of Paw Paw (pop. 3,534). It got its name from the paw paw trees along the Paw Paw River.

Van Buren County Courthouse (1901)

Outfielder Charlie Maxwell, who played in the major leagues from 1950 to 1964, grew up in Paw Paw.

His nickname was “Paw Paw.”

Paw Paw, in a grape-growing area, has an annual Wine and Harvest Festival.

Grape-stomping competition

The largest city in Van Buren County is South Haven (pop. 4,403), which is partially in Allegan County.

“Blue Moo” the cow, South Haven

The South Haven South Pierhead Light, at the mouth of the Black River, dates from 1903.

One of at least seven Black rivers in Michigan

South Haven is the home of the National Blueberry Festival.

The city of Gobles (pop. 829) is the home of the Timber Ridge Ski Area, which opened in 1961.

240-foot vertical drop

The village of Decatur (pop. 1,819) was the hometown of Edgar Bergen (1903-1978) – actor, ventriloquist, and father of actress Candice Bergen.

The village of Mattawan (pop. 1,997) was the hometown of Marian and Vivian Brown, the “San Francisco Twins,” born Jan. 25, 1927. Starting in the 1970s, they became local celebrities on the San Francisco social scene.

Co-valedictorians at Mattawan High School in 1945


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Michigan: Kalamazoo County

Kalamazoo County (pop. 250,331) is west of Calhoun County. It’s the only Kalamazoo County in the U.S. The origin of the word “Kalamazoo” is uncertain.

The county seat of Kalamazoo County is the city of Kalamazoo (pop. 74,262).

Arcadia Creek flows into the Kalamazoo River.

The Kalamazoo Mall, built in 1959, was the first outdoor pedestrian shopping mall in the U.S. Four downtown blocks were eventually closed to traffic; two blocks reopened in 1998.

The mall in the early ’60s

Kalamazoo is the home of the public Western Michigan University (1903), with about 24,000 students, and the private Kalamazoo College (1833), with about 1,400 students.

Aerial view of WMU

The State Theatre in downtown Kalamazoo, built in 1927, hosts a variety of concerts and other events.

An “atmospheric” movie palace

The song “(I’ve Got a Gal in) Kalamazoo” was a hit for Glenn Miller and His Orchestra in 1942.

The Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital, which opened in 1859, is the largest mental health institution in Michigan.

The water tower is a local landmark.

Amtrak’s “Wolverine” (between Chicago and Pontiac) and “Blue Water” (between Chicago and Port Huron) both stop at the Kalamazoo Transportation Center, which incorporates the Michigan Central Railroad depot.

Built in 1887

New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter grew up in Kalamazoo. He starred in baseball and basketball at Kalamazoo Central High School.

A tornado hit Kalamazoo on May 13, 1980, killing five people and injuring 79. About 1,200 people were left homeless.

The Air Zoo is an aviation museum in the city of Portage (pop. 46,292), just south of Kalamazoo, adjacent to the Kalamazoo-Battle Creek International Airport.

Founded in 1977

The Barn Theatre, in the village of Augusta (pop. 885), is Michigan’s oldest professional summer stock theater company.

It opened in 1946.


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Michigan: Calhoun County

Calhoun County (pop. 136,146) is west of Jackson County. It is one of 11 Calhoun counties in the U.S. – all named for John C. Calhoun, U.S. senator from South Carolina and vice president under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson.

The county seat of Calhoun County is the city of Marshall (pop. 7,080).

Downtown Marshall in the ’60s

The Honolulu House in Marshall was built in 1860 by the first U.S. consul to the Sandwich Islands.

Now a museum

The American Museum of Magic in Marshall has a large collection of magical paraphernalia, including many items that once belonged to magician Harry Blackstone, Sr.

The museum opened in 1978.

The largest city in Calhoun County is Battle Creek (pop. 52,347).

Heritage Tower and Battle Creek Tower (both 1931)

Battle Creek is the world headquarters of Kellogg Company, founded in 1906 by Will Kellogg – whose brother, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, invented cold breakfast cereal. Post Cereals also began in Battle Creek.

Battle Creek is known as “Cereal City.”

Dr. Kellogg’s Battle Creek Sanitarium opened in 1876. The sanitarium’s tower building was built in 1928; it was converted into a military hospital in 1942 and into a federal office building (now the Hart-Dole-Inouye Federal Center) in 1954.

Future senators Hart, Dole, and Inouye met there during WWII.

Battle Creek has an annual Cereal Festival, featuring “The World’s Longest Breakfast Table.”

The festival dates from 1956.

Sojourner Truth (1797-1883), abolitionist and women’s rights advocate, lived in Battle Creek for many years and is buried at Oak Hill Cemetery there.

12-foot statue in Battle Creek

Comedian Thomas Richard “Dick” Martin (1922-2008) was born in Battle Creek and graduated from Michigan State University.

On “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In”

The city of Albion (pop. 8,616) is the home of Albion College, a liberal arts college founded in 1835.

It has about 1,300 students.


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