Silver Beach, A History

Alright, in all honest’s truth, I wrote this short piece on the history of the Silver Beach Amusement Park when I first began working at Shadowland in May 2014. Today I met a group of my girlfriends for lunch on the bluff of St. Joseph this afternoon though, and took a walk around the familiar stomping grounds. I absolutely loved my time at Shadowland and am now feeling extremely sentimental. I feel it is only appropriate to share with you a bit about the beginnings of the wonderful place I was able to call my work environment for awhile, as well as my hometown.

The town I grew up in is surrounded in whimsical history and entertainment. Once named the Most Romantic City in Michigan, St. Joseph also was home to the Silver Beach Amusement Park years ago. The lakeside town is centered in the Lake Michigan Wine Trail and offers a number of attractions for explorers, couples, and families. If you’ve ever wanted to experience small-town life in Michigan, look no further than St. Joe on your next vacation!

Below the bluffs of downtown St. Joseph, Michigan, hugging both the Lake Michigan shoreline and the St. Joseph River lays an area where carnival music was once heard, merry-go-round carousel horses galloped in place, a roller coaster roared, and Charleston dancers strutted their stuff.

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The St. Joseph area was a hotspot for boaters. Canoes, rowboats, and riverboats provided scenic tours from St. Joseph to Berrien Springs. Logan Drake, owner of a boat livery on the St. Joseph River saw a higher calling of tourism in the area and began looking at ways to draw more people to the less-popular beaches of St. Joseph.

Romance has always played a key role on Silver Beach. During one of their moonlit courtship beach walks, Drake’s bride-to-be, Maude Schlenker, coined the name Silver Beach saying the water “shimmered like silver.” This inspired a new concept with Drake’s tourism aspirations.

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In 1891, Drake and his partner Louis D. Wallace established the Silver Beach Amusement and Realty Company with the intention of giving tourists more to do in St. Joseph. Initially, ten cottages were built along the beach as rentals for vacationers. By the end of the amusement park’s run 80 cottages were available.

To make the beach more popular for renting, Drake and Wallace invited local concessionaires to sell novelties such as swimming caps and lemonade in a barrel. Within months games of chance and a photographic studio emerged to allow couples to have their portraits taken. By 1896, an ice cream parlor, souvenir shop, and a pavilion which hosted dancing and a big band music were erected. Wooden stand and white tents could be seen up and down the beachfront. A couple of water slides were anchored in shallow water for children around the turn of the century. This marked the beginning of the Silver Beach Amusement Park!

Photo Courtesy of Fort Miami Heritage Society, St. Joseph, MI

The park continued to grow as the years passed. A wooden boardwalk was built above the Silver Beach sands to allow lake water to rush underneath. This boardwalk was a common place for courting couples to stroll at night.

Along the boardwalk were three buildings. The first building, the Natorium, housed a bathhouse and swimming pool, a rarity for the time. This was a dream of Drake’s to give beachgoers the option of swimming in either the lake or the heated indoor pool. The second was an open-ended roller skating rink which also housed Southwest Michigan’s first pipe organ.

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The third building is allowed Drake and Wallace to capitalize on the growing need for a big dance hall among the twin city area of St. Joseph and Benton Harbor by constructing a dance pavilion in 1907. The hall featured two stages for bands which urged the “Battle of the Bands” to become a popular event on the beachfront. In addition to the dance hall, the House of Mysteries was built alongside the penny arcade and concession stands to provide entertainment for all ages at the Silver Beach Amusement Park.

As the park’s popularity sky-rocketed, Drake and Wallace added a variety of amusements. In 1905 the Chase through the Clouds rollercoaster was built. Utilizing several separate one- or two-person capacity cars, the “Figure 8” coaster, as it was known to be called, became a staple of the amusement park until it was torn down in 1923 and replaced by the Velvet rollercoaster. Additionally, the merry-go-round carousel first appeared in 1916, a bowling alley opened around 1917, and several “firsts” event day activities such as the first all-male bathing beauty contest took place on the beach.

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The last improvement, and my personal favorite, was the building of the Shadowland Ballroom in May of 1927. Once it was completed, it became one of the finest dance facilities in the entire country. The Ballroom was decorated with 5000 yards of silk pongee stretched between arches that permitted natural lighting throughout. Ballroom dances were held seven days a week and were usually free, unless it was a big band night. It wasn’t uncommon to have over a thousand dancers on any one evening, and Silver Beach Amusement Park even staged at least one of the fad marathon dances during the 1930s.

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The old dance pavilion remained, but as ballroom dancing was becoming more popular, the Shadowland Ballroom was needed. The old dance hall was renovated into the Fun House. The House included a 35-foot Maplewood slide, revolving barrel, spinning saucer, sugar bowl, and a haunted house. The Mirror Maze was placed under the same roof as well.

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Drake made every attempt to change the amusement park to keep the attractions interesting and up-to-date. Silver Beach expanded with the debuts of The Whip, electric bumper car house, beer garden, Ferris wheel, and miniature diesel train called The Century Flyer. By the late 1940s the park assumed the look that would be its final face until its official closing three decades later.

During the 1950s and 60s, the park continued to evolve to the times. Kiddieland was created and featured rides customized for children too small to enjoy the larger rides. Miniature golf, go-karts, and various other carnival rides also came and went during these two decades. It was not until the late 1960s that Silver Beach Amusement Park’s popularity began to dwindle. The crime rate of the park rose significantly due to out-of-town teen gangs and the park’s congenial atmosphere decreased. After a particularly violent season in 1970, local police closed the park.

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Another factor fighting against the park was its age. Extensive repairs were needed for many of the buildings that had stood in the park for over 70 years. With a costly estimation for repairs and improvements needed for the park to open in 1972, the owners of Silver Beach were left with no other choice and the park was closed permanently.

Many of the rides were sold to interested amusement companies throughout the country. Parts of Silver Beach made their way to Indiana, Texas, New Mexico, and Virginia. The remainder of the park was left abandoned for three years before the owner cleaned up and threw the historical pieces away. It wasn’t uncommon, however, to see couples still walking the crumbling boardwalk hand-in-hand among the ruins of the once-prestigious amusement park.

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The spirit of Silver Beach is alive and well, though. In 2010, the Silver Beach Center publicly opened. Only a short walk from the expanse of beach sand and Lake Michigan, the Center offers a newly constructed Silver Beach experience. Walk through the doors and look up into Michigan’s tallest kaleidoscope. Take a stroll down memory lane by walking the boardwalk to the Silver Beach Carousel or Silver Beach Amusement Park Museum, or peek a glimpse of the Shadowland Ballroom. Curious Kids’ Discovery Zone offers excitement for kids of all ages with 15 water activities, a climbing wall, virtual reality fun, and traveling hands-on educational exhibits. Directly across the road from the Center is the Whirlpool Fountain which provides fresh, free fun to all the public. The community of St. Joseph is proud to continue a dreamer’s delight with this new vision of what Silver Beach is and will be.

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If you decide to visit my quaint little hometown, I would love to recommend the best and tastiest restaurants and accommodations. Please comment below so we can connect.

Happy travels, friends,

Asking Our Bridal Party: The Bridesmaids

Today marks the official last day of rounding up my best girls and asking them to be my bridesmaids. (This may have been the most difficult part of wedding planning to date, folks! Adult life is BUSY!) However, though I knew who I wanted to be my bridesmaids and had a general idea of how I wished they would appear on the Big Day, I really didn’t know too much in terms of what is required of a bridesmaid. And to be the best bride-to-be and friend for my girls, I felt it was my responsibility to do a little bit of research prior to popping my own proposal their way…

Did you know that the the origin of bridesmaids can be traced all the way back to the Book of Genesis? I’ve studied the Bible time and time again, and never truly read the story of Jacob and his two wives Leah and Rachel with the intent of discovering their wedding plans. There it is though, in both 29:24 and 46:18, references to the two wives hosting handmaidens as their maids during their weddings. Thus the tradition began!

The history of bridesmaids actually spans across multiple cultures, religions, and time periods. In early Roman times, bridesmaids formed a kind of bridal infantry as they accompanied the bride to the groom’s village. It was the maid’s duty to act as a sort of protective shield if any wayward thugs or vengeful suitors should try to kidnap the bride or steal her dowry. In the Chinese feudal era, the production of an heir was so precious that brides were susceptible to kidnapping before their wedding by rival clans. Therefore it was the bridesmaids responsibility to protect the bride by dressing just like her to lower the risk she may be identified.

It became the Western tradition following later Roman law, though, to require ten witnesses at a wedding in order to outsmart evil spirits. Dressing like the bride and groom, both bridesmaids and groomsmen were meant to confuse the spirits into not knowing who was truly getting married. This can be evidenced as late as the Victorian age by viewing wedding photographs — it is difficult to decipher the marrying couple from their bridal party!

Though I did not consider choosing my girls with the intent of having them protect me from evil spirits or Highwaymen on my wedding day, these early customs still do have some influence in today’s traditions. The bridal party commonly dresses with the look and feel of the wedding, and continues to serve as key support staff and advisory board for the bride and groom.

The modern-day bridesmaid is not only an honored member of the wedding party and special guest at the reception, but she is also a special assistant to the bride during the wedding planning process. From shopping for dresses to writing invitation to designing centerpieces to hosting a bridal shower, a bridesmaid’s first duty is to be helpful. The 21st Century bridesmaid is a helper, organizer, and adviser to one of her best friends in the world. And the payoff is pretty sweet — looking absolutely beautiful walking down the aisle and witnessing up-close the marriage of your loved one.

After doing some research, I had a question: what does being a helper, organizer, and adviser actually entail though? Here is the gist of what I found:

  • Co-Host Bridal Shower 
  • Co-Host Bachelorette Party
  • Be Present at Rehearsal Dinner
  • Be Present at Wedding Ceremony & Reception
  • Act as Emotional Support: Wedding planning can be a stressful time, so turn to your best girlfriends for support when you’re feeling stressed or frazzled. As people who care about you, your bridesmaids want to help.
  • Take on Financial Responsibilities: Typically the bridesmaid pays for her own dress and accessories, and the bride should outline additional costs early in the planning process.
  • Assist with Assorted Tasks: Be it addressing envelopes, fluffing the bride’s train, or helping choose the bridesmaid dresses, bridesmaids should be able to be relied upon to reduce stress and aid in a range of detail work.

My biggest issue, as with all-things-wedding-related, was the financial responsibilities my girls may have to take on and how I could help alleviate any financial strain. One of my girls was a new mom, another just got married last year, and another is planning her own wedding for August 2018. I want their roles as bridesmaids to be fun and as stress-free as possible.

So, G and I decided since our wedding is whimsical and rustic anyways, there would be no need for the bridesmaid dresses to match! Even though dresses have come a long way in recent years (averaging around $200 with alterations), this still seemed a hefty burden to ask of my girls on top of them needing possible hair stylists, makeup, transportation, or accommodations. Instead, we’re telling the girls our color profile (blush to dusty rose) and allowing them to choose whatever dress fits their style, body type, and, best of all, budget. The mix-matched look is something I absolutely adore and cannot wait to see what my girls come up with!

1,048 curtidas, 7 comentários - Brideside.com (@brideside) no Instagram: “From dusty rose to ballet pink mix-and-match maids Shop all our shades of pink right here /…”

I also noted that shoes do not need to match, and that we simply want the girls to be comfortable first and foremost. Silver or gray shoes would be liked, but if any of the girls do not have these colors, just find something in their closets which they are okay dancing all night in.

The girls are already discussing my bachelorette party and it’s various possibilities. I am so excited to have them all meet — none actually know one another, so it’ll be fun to have a meet-and-greet sometime in the near future.

And although I foresee needing help from my girls with a few things, my family and fiance are more than willing to assist with wedding details as well. I am truly blessed by the people in my life! I am so thankful for these girls for saying, “YES!” to being my bridesmaids and cannot wait to dance the night away with them on June 16th!

So, without further ado, please meet my wonderful ladies:

Kari lived with me at Western for an entire two weeks, but would return weekly to force me to watch The Bachelor. She is my reminder of PSL’s return, Snapchat updates, and lives for bad puns.

Courtney is my official Catan coach and wine drinking pal extraordinaire. You’ll notice her on the dance floor at the wedding — she won’t leave it all night!

Tonie and I blissfully met on a cruise to the Bahamas. We mostly speak to one another in Mean Girls GIFs or emojis. If you happen to run into her, please yell, “Go Green!” She’ll love it.

Amber has always been there for me, pruning me on the ways of womanhood. Follow the scents of sweet pea and sounds of the Chicken Dance, and you’re sure to find her!