The Rise and Fall of Port Sheldon

Port Sheldon was located near the mouth of Pigeon Lake in Ottawa County. It was the result of hungry eastern capital that was invested in the wilds of Michigan with a view to making a fortune in real estate as the area developed.

On the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, in Olive township, near the mouth of Pigeon Lake once stood a city named Port Sheldon. There was heard the sound of axe and hammer and the noise of machinery, where shipping lay at anchor off shore, and busy hands were loading and unloading merchandise. Today all is now a comparative waste of marsh and sand with hardly a building left standing.

In 1836 a number of New York and Philadelphia capitalist formed a joint stock company. The building of Port Sheldon was begun in 1837 by Alex H. Jaudon, a man of wealth, in what was known as the "wild cat" period in Michigan. A number of other gentlemen from Philadelphia joined in the enterprise and a company was formed called the Port Sheldon Land Company.

In the fall they began operations in earnest. They came with vessels loaded with stores and provisions, bringing building material and houses ready to set up, and about forty men, which included directors, superintendents, surveyors, engineers, etc. During the first eighteen months at least $110,000 was expended in clearing the land and erecting buildings and making improvements.

At the end of the first six months first class buildings were finished and occupied. A large general store for the company was put up, which was immediately stocked with every imaginable items, some too rich and fashionable for the inhabitants of this country. A saw mill was soon in operation. All the buildings were principally of wood as no other material was available.

They built a splendid hotel for $60,000. The hotel in the wilderness, where a traveler did not come once a month. It was called the "Ottawa House". They built an office costing $20,000, their mill $20,000 and good roads made to Grand Haven costing between $5,000 and $10,000. A lighthouse was built at their own expense and maintained for two years. They owned a beautiful yacht, MeMee, and had fancy boars and boat clubs.

The general superintendent was Saunders Coates, afterwards a manufacturer in gas works in New York, a man highly esteemed. The other superintendents were A. H. Judson and E. P. Deacon; the former was last heard of in New York, the latter in Cuba. G. M. Barber, well known in Grand Rapids, was the surveyor. An elegant map of the harbor and plat was engraved.

The city made a fine show on paper. There were 142 blocks, with 24 lots to a block. Seven lots were reserved for churches, one for a fish market; two for markets, four for a railway depot, one for a city hall, and one for a school house. The railroad was laid out through the city, and piers from Pigeon Lake to Lake Michigan. The surroundings of the harbor were on the map, and all indicated that if there was not a city there the projectors meant there should be.

A road was surveyed from Port Huron via Grand Rapids, (then a small village), with its terminus at the future metropolitan city. The western end of this road, beginning at Port Sheldon, for about two miles, was cleared of the forest trees and stumps and graded, all ready for the ties. The determination of those engaged in this city and railroad building was shown in the erection of a depot building, the roof of which was supported by Grecian columns. It was finished the first year at the cost of $210,000. With all the hurry and bustle of modern "booms" and modern railroad buildings, it is doubtful whether another instance of such a building with so many offices, being completed and ready for business with so small an amount of initial work.
The nearest house to Port Sheldon occupied by white people was at Grand Haven thirteen miles distance. The buildings, generally were far better than those in Grand Rapids at that day. All lots were 64 by 128 feet, with board sidewalks along the streets. The greatest resident population at any time would not exceed three hundred. The inhabitants were not lacking for meat as bear, deer and wild turkey were very numerous.

The terrible commercial crisis that soon ensued, followed by the discovery all too late that the harbor could not be kept open, etc., obliterated the city. The company abandoned the project, bought off those who had made investments, paid for their improvements, assuming to themselves all their losses, dismantled their mill, moved off all that was movable, and abandoned the place, leaving their clerk, Mr. Pike, sole occupant and sole agent. There he lived for several years, endeavoring to sell the hotel and thirty lots for less than the cost of the glass and paint. The rest of the land had been sold chiefly for the hemlock bark that was on it.

The old hotel still remains although in a very dilapidated condition. Before the dawn of the Michigan Shore Railroad, Port Sheldon was the halfway stopping place on the stage route between Grand Haven and Holland, and one of the buildings being occupied by W. Baker, who served in the capacity of landlord.

Transcriber: ES
Created: 26 Nov 2008