Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, Michigan
The twin cities of Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, Michigan are a popular vacation destination for families with young children, most notably because of the carousel, children’s museum, and fountain that doubles as a splash pad, all within steps of Silver Beach.
And yet, all of these merely hint at the revelry that once took place here. For nearly 80 years, visitors flocked to Silver Beach in St. Joseph to enjoy pinball machines, bumper cars, games, a boardwalk, a roller coaster, and a 44-horse carousel carved by a master craftsman.
After the Silver Beach Amusement Park closed in 1971, the carousel was sold and shipped out of state, and a community effort to buy it back fell through. But decades later, the people of St. Joseph still hadn’t given up. In the early 2000s, they raised enough money to build a new one and populate it with a menagerie of creatures, from peacocks to sea serpents, each custom designed and funded by a different sponsor. One local enthusiast even tracked down the carousel’s original band organ and brought it back home after it had passed through owners in three different states.
The new carousel opened in 2010. Along with the city-owned beachside fountain that doubles as a splash pad and located just blocks away from the beach, it has helped this area reclaim its place as a popular, family, summer vacation spot.
Like most lakeside Michigan towns, St. Joseph and Benton Harbor have a host of other attractions, including sandy beaches, a nature center with more than 8 miles of hiking trails in the warmer months and snowshoe and cross-country ski rentals in the winter, an 18-hole golf course, several wineries and breweries, and fishing charters that leave from here from April through August. But its history as a place of family fun and celebration -- and the locals’ dedication to preserving and celebrating that history – that makes it unique.