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- Mason County -

Mason County is located in the extreme west-central part of Michigan's lower peninsula. The surrounding counties are Manistee (north), Lake (east), Newaygo (southeast) and Oceana (south). Lake Michigan forms the western boundry. The county was originally laid out in 1840 and named "Notipekago," meaning "river with heads on sticks.". On March 8, 1843, the name was changed to Mason in honor of Michigan's first governor, Stevens T. Mason. It was another twelve years, 1855, before Mason county was organized.

In 1847 Burr Caswell became the first white man to enter a farm in Mason county. It was located on the bluffs south of, and adjoining, Buttersville village. The first floor of his two-story wood-framed house was used as the county's first courthouse and today is a part of White Pine Village; an outdoor museum with over two dozen historical buildings. The courthouse was moved from the Caswell home to Lincoln in 1861 where it remained until 1873 when it was moved to Ludington. Originally known as the settlement of Pere Marquette, the town was later renamed in favor of industrialist and lumber baron James Ludington. Ironically, James Ludington never resided there. Vast tracts of timber attracted the attention of James Ludington, Charles Mears, Eber Ward and others. Ward was the wealthiest man in Michigan at the time and owned over 70,000 acres of land in Mason county. Logging camps and sawmills sprang up rapidly around Ludington. The lumber was then loaded aboard schooners with towering masts, and steamers billowing clouds of black smoke, in Ludington harbor to be carried to growing lumber-hungry cities; most of it going to Chicago.

Other manufacturing interests included machine shops, boiler works, a cannery, boat and engine works, one of the largest manufacturers of game boards in the world and one of the largest salt producing plants in the world.

The Flint & Pere Marquette Railroad began cross-lake steamer service between Ludington and Sheboygan, Wis., in 1875. The F. & P. M. was absorbed by Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad in 1947. At one time during the 1950's seven ships sailed in and out of Ludington harbor year round transporting passengers and rail freight across the lake. Two of these, the 410 ft. sister ships SS Spartan and SS Badger were the last, and largest, coal-fired, steam engine car ferries built in the U.S. After changing hands twice, and being laid up for a year, the Badger emerged as the only operating ferry of its kind in the world. The Badger currently makes 450 crossings each year. She is registered as a historical site in both Michigan and Wisconsin, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009 and designated as a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service on January 20, 2016.

Before the factories, lumbering, ships or settlers came Father Jacques Marquette, a French Jesuit missionary and explorer who founded Michigan's first European settlement at Sault Ste. Marie and later founded St. Ignace. On 18 May 1675, at the age of 38 years, while returning to St. Ignace following a two year long exploration, Father Jacques Marquette succumbed to a bout of dysentery and was buried by his companions on a southeast slope near the outlet of the river that now bears his name. History records that he gave instructions for his burial, in part saying "Mark my grave with a cross." Early on the Indians renewed the cross from time to time. In the 1920's the Ludington chapter of the D.A.R. had a large boulder with a bronze plate inscription placed at the site. ("Mark my grave with a cross.") Later a huge wooden cross was erected and, in August, 1955, a beautiful masonry shrine topped with a metal cross was completed in time to be dedicated during Mason county's centennial celebration.

There are fifteen townships in Mason county which cover a total of 1,242 square miles. The county seat, and largest city, is Ludington.


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