Historic Village of Pentwater
What is now a park-like shore along the lake was the heart of Pentwater's industrial district during the lumbering era. Today's grass replaced many large neat stacks of newly sawn lumber awaiting shipment. Lumber was the principal outgoing cargo during the harbor's most active years (1865-1900).
Getting the lumber onto a ship that would take it to market was a tedious and grueling operation. A typical load of lumber might be made up of 7,000-8,000 pieces individually put aboard by longshorement called "lumber shovers". What couldn't go into the hold was piled on the deck. Deck loads were so high that schooners in the lumber trade had a "lumber reef" to raise the bottom of the sail above the load.
Sometimes a vessel was too large to come into the harbor. Then the cargo was first loaded onto light barges, winched out to the vessel anchored in Lake Michigan, and then reloaded piece by piece onto the pitching ship. Timbers destined to become ships' masts were too long to be loaded and had to be towed. According to the Pentwater News, lath and shingles were also shipped as were cranberries, potatoes, tan bark, and, in one year, 26,000 lbs. of maple sugar. Perishable goods such as fish and fruit went deep into the hold where Lake Michigan's cool water could keep them fresh.
Trade was mostly with Chicago.
Including unloading, a round trip took about a week. However, in August 1881 the local schooner DAN I DAVIS
set a round-trip record of 36 hours to Milwaukee and back.
From the harbor's beginning in 1856 traffic increased until, in 1891, 1,140 vessels carrying freight and passengers visited Pentwater. At first, masts and sails dominated the harbor scene as small (50-150 ton) schooners and sailing scows hauled away the large quantities of white pine from local mills. At one time the newspaper reported 20 vessels in the harbor waiting cargoes. Of the few steam vessels, Mears' flagship, the propeller driven C. MEARS
, was the most welcome visitor, bringing, among other things, timely news of the Civil War. As the stream of lumber slowed to a trickle, sails became fewerin the harbor and steamboats became larger. Vessels such as the KANSAS
brought summer visitors to the Sands and Maxwell pier to be greeted by the village band. By the early 1900's commercial vessels ceased to visit and, with the bridging of the channel in 1926, the commercial use of the harbor reverted to fishing tugs.