The city of Ludington (population 8,357) traces its roots to 1849, when Burr Casswell moved to the area near the mouth of the Pere Marquette River, named for the French missionary and explorer who died there in 1675. Casswell later brought his family and began a small community known as Pere Marquette village. Officially chartered in 1873, the town was renamed for lumberman James Ludington, owner of a large logging operation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The population boomed in the late 1800s due to these sawmills and the discovery of salt deposits.
With the increase in commerce in the area, Ludington became a major Great Lakes shipping port. In 1898 the Pere Marquette Railroad constructed its first car ferry to continue the rail cargo line across Lake Michigan to Manitowoc, Wisconsin. By the mid-1950s, Ludington had become the largest car ferry port in the world. Today the SS Badger makes regular trips across the lake from Ludington, one of only two lake-crossing car ferries on Lake Michigan.
The city of Ludington recently helped preserve the North Breakwater Light, built in 1924 to guide watercraft safely into the harbor with a beam that is visible for 19 miles. In 2007 the city acquired the lighthouse from the General Services Administration as part of the federal government Surplus Properties program. The Sable Points Lighthouse Keepers Association runs the lighthouse and ensures its preservation and use as a museum and tourist attraction. The North Breakwater Light opened to the public on June 9, 2007. As part of its efforts to protect Ludington’s maritime history, the city council is also working to acquire the Ludington Coast Guard Station, with plans to convert it into a maritime museum.
The Mason County Historical Society opened Historic White Pine Village in 1976. It is a community of more than 25 buildings on 23 acres dedicated to preserving and presenting Mason County’s heritage. More than 475 volunteers work at the village per year. The One Room School Experience provides a day in an original one-room school built in 1895. Students study lessons, read from the McGuffey’s Reader, and experience recess, as they would have a hundred years ago. The village is also home to the Ludington Mariners Old Time Base Ball team, playing exhibition games using 1860 rules.
Ludington is a part of the Cultural/Heritage Tourism Roadmap for Southwest Michigan, a new heritage route in southwest Michigan from New Buffalo to Ludington. The project will be completed in 2008, and encompasses a 170-mile corridor along US 31. It was funded in part by a Preserve America Grant to the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office. US 31, also known as the West Michigan Pike, opened up scenic dune land and resulted in the establishment of eight state parks in the region before 1930. The road made it possible for Chicago’s middle and working class families to vacation in southwest Michigan. By the time the West Michigan Pike was completed in 1922, a profusion of simple farm and “mom and pop” resorts had sprung up along the Lake Michigan shore. This “Golden Age of Resorts” lasted until the start of World War II.
Designated a Preserve America Community in May 2008.