St. Joseph is a city in the U.S. state of Michigan. It was incorporated as a village in 1834 and as a city in 1891.[6] As of the 2010 census, the city population was 8,365. It lies on the shore of Lake Michigan, at the mouth of the St. Joseph River, about 90 miles (140 km) east-northeast of Chicago. It is the county seat of Berrien County.[7] It is home of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers.


The mouth of the St. Joseph River at present day St. Joseph was an important point of Amerindian travel and commerce, as it lay along a key water route between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. Both the Miami and Potawatomi used this route and would use the area as a camp.[8] The St. Joseph River also allowed for connection with the Sauk Trail, which was the major land trail through Michigan. In 1669, the mouth of the river was discovered by European explorers. French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, built Fort Miami on the bluff overlooking Lake Michigan.[9] In 1679, he waited for the ship Le Griffon, which never returned. Once the ship was deemed lost, La Salle and his men made the first land crossing of the lower peninsula by Europeans.[10]

The next permanent white settler in St. Joseph was William Burnett, who around 1780 started a trading post at the mouth of the St. Joseph River.[11] The post traded food, furs and goods with places including Detroit, Mackinac and Chicago.[12] In 1829, Calvin Britain, who had come from Jefferson County, New York, and had taught at the Carey Mission at Niles for two years, came to the site of St. Joseph.[13] Shortly thereafter, he laid out the plat of the village, then known as Newburyport, named after a coastal city in Massachusetts. Britain was influential in attracting other settlers to the area. Lots sold rapidly and the village flourished.[14]

The St. Joseph river mouth was straightened through a channel and piers were added later. The first lighthouse in St. Joseph contends with Chicago's original lighthouse as the first to be built on Lake Michigan. Newburyport changed its name to St. Joseph when it was incorporated in 1834.[12]

The first water route across Lake Michigan between St. Joseph and Chicago began as a mail route in 1825, but service was sporadic until 1842 when Samuel and Eber Ward began a permanent service. That lasted eleven years. Before the rise of large ship companies on Lake Michigan, service was done primarily by owner-operated boats. With the rise in shipping in Benton Harbor and the rise in tourism in St. Joseph, permanent and larger operations began operating out of the ports.[15]

Original St Joseph Lifesaving Service boathouse, circa 1874.

The Coast Guard still maintains a station on this site.[A] In 1876 the United States Lifesaving Service built a Lifesaving Station at St Joseph, appointing Joseph Napier as the first stationkeeper.[16]

Downtown St. Joseph, May 2007

After a bitterly fought political contest, St. Joseph was named the seat of Berrien County in 1894, when Berrien Springs relinquished that status. The three largest towns in the county, Benton Harbor, St. Joseph, and Niles, each wanted to be the county seat, but none had a majority vote. Once St. Joseph and Benton Harbor voters combined their votes, St. Joseph had enough to win.[17]

On October 11, 1898, Augustus Moore Herring took one of his gliders, fitted with a motor, to Silver Beach in St. Joseph. Herring’s machine lifted ever so slightly off the ground and actually flew for seven seconds. Eleven days later, the inventor made another flight of ten seconds. While Herring had a powered heavier-than-air craft, he did not have a way to control it. It was left to the Wright brothers to perfect controlled flight five years later, and give themselves and Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, a place in history that might have ended up belonging to Herring and St. Joseph.[18]

Transportation history

Two major shipping companies operated between St. Joseph and Chicago during the last half of the 19th century, the Goodrich Transportation company and the local firm of Graham and Morton. They dominated the traffic at St. Joseph for more than 100 years, although other smaller companies did operate during this time.

Starting in 1874, Henry Graham and J. Stanley Morton began operating a steam line out of St. Joseph. Their collaboration would become the Graham and Morton Transportation Company.[19] Through vigorous competition, they won the war to become the major carrier out of St. Joseph. Goodrich stopped service to the Twin Cities in 1880. The company grew fast and over the fifty plus years of its existence became the second largest line on Lake Michigan behind only Goodrich.[15]

In 1924 G & M merged with Goodrich. Like most other ports along Lake Michigan, St. Joseph saw a huge drop in traffic during the early years of the twentieth century and this was exacerbated by the Great Depression. The route between Chicago and St. Joseph did survive until the 1950s.[15]

On January 29, 1870, the Chicago and Michigan Lake Shore Railroad extended a rail line from New Buffalo to St. Joseph. This railroad connected St. Joseph to Grand Rapids, Muskegon, Detroit and Chicago. (Prior to this, the only connection St. Joseph had to these other cities was by water.) The line was reorganized as the Chicago and West Michigan Railway and then was incorporated into the Pere Marquette Railroad.

Business and industry history

In 1892, Truscott Boat Manufacturing Co moved to St. Joseph from Grand Rapids. In the early 20th Century, the company was the largest employer in St. Joseph with 700 employees and built 600 wooden boats per year. The company built boats for the government in World War I, struggled during the Depression, was sold in 1940, revived during World War II to build ships for the Navy and went bankrupt in 1948.[20]

In 1911, Louis, Emory, and Frederick Upton began a business that produced household washing machines. The business soon became a boom and has continued to grow to this day. In 1929, Upton Machine Company merged with Nineteen Hundred Corp., taking the latter name. The company began marketing a line of appliances known as the "Whirlpool" brand in 1948. Within the next decade, Nineteen Hundred changed its name to Whirlpool. Today, Whirlpool Corporation is the largest manufacturer of major home appliances and maintains a large presence in St. Joseph and nearby Benton Harbor. Whirlpool has its world headquarters outside Benton Harbor.[21]

In 1891 the Silver Beach Amusement Park was opened on land between the lake and mouth of the river in St. Joseph. Logan Drake and Louis Wallace bought the land from the Pere Marquette Railroad and added cottages to lure tourists to the lake front. As the park aged and grew in popularity, the pair added many attractions, including concessions, games, pool, a boardwalk and different rides. The first roller coaster was built in 1904 and was called the Chase Through the Clouds, which was replaced by the Velvet roller coaster (renamed the Comet). Among the most popular attractions were the carousel and the Shadowland Ballroom, built in 1927. During the 1960s and 1970s, the buildings decayed and the crowds decreased. Finally, crime in the park caused it to be shut down by police in 1970.[22]

2016 shooting

On July 11, 2016, Larry Darnell Gordon, an inmate, opened fire on the third floor of the Berrien County Courthouse in St. Joseph, killing two bailiffs and injuring a sheriff's deputy and a civilian. Gordon was being taken to a courthouse hearing when he disarmed an officer and attempted to take hostages. Moments after taking hostages, other court officers shot and killed Gordon.[23][24][25][26]


According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 4.80 square miles (12.43 km2), of which 3.22 square miles (8.34 km2) is land and 1.58 square miles (4.09 km2) is water.[1]


Historical population
Census Pop.
1880 2,603
1890 3,733 43.4%
1900 5,155 38.1%
1910 5,936 15.2%
1920 7,251 22.2%
1930 8,349 15.1%
1940 8,963 7.4%
1950 10,223 14.1%
1960 11,755 15.0%
1970 11,042 −6.1%
1980 9,622 −12.9%
1990 9,214 −4.2%
2000 8,789 −4.6%
2010 8,365 −4.8%
Est. 2016 8,288 [3] −0.9%
U.S. Decennial Census[27]

2010 census

As of the census[2] of 2010, there were 8,365 people, 3,933 households, and 1,941 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,597.8 inhabitants per square mile (1,003.0/km2). There were 4,795 housing units at an average density of 1,489.1 per square mile (574.9/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 88.1% White, 5.3% African American, 0.3% Native American, 3.4% Asian, 0.9% from other races, and 1.9% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.8% of the population.

There were 3,933 households of which 20.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 37.5% were married couples living together, 8.9% had a female householder with no husband present, 2.9% had a male householder with no wife present, and 50.6% were non-families. 43.5% of all households were made up of individuals and 13.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 1.97 and the average family size was 2.74.

The median age in the city was 41.6 years. 16.4% of residents were under the age of 18; 9.2% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 28.6% were from 25 to 44; 27.2% were from 45 to 64; and 18.6% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 48.8% male and 51.2% female.

2000 census

As of the census[4] of 2000, there were 8,789 people, 4,117 households, and 2,058 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,561.3 per square mile (989.3/km²). There were 4,594 housing units at an average density of 1,338.8 per square mile (517.1/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 90.31% White, 5.11% African American, 0.41% Native American, 2.39% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 0.46% from other races, and 1.31% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.29% of the population.

There were 4,117 households out of which 22.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 37.6% were married couples living together, 9.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 50.0% were non-families. 44.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 14.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 1.99 and the average family size was 2.77.

In the city, the population was spread out with 19.0% under the age of 18, 9.5% from 18 to 24, 30.6% from 25 to 44, 22.7% from 45 to 64, and 18.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 39 years. For every 100 females there were 96.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 92.9 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $37,032, and the median income for a family was $51,328. Males had a median income of $36,250 versus $26,395 for females. The per capita income for the city was $24,949. About 4.3% of families and 6.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 6.1% of those under age 18 and 6.3% of those age 65 or over.

Arts and culture

St. Joseph is cohost of the annual Blossomtime Festival[28] with Benton Harbor.

The Krasl Art Fair on the Bluff[29] is held in Lake Bluff Park every year on the weekend after the July 4 weekend.

The Concours d'Elegance of Southwest Michigan is held annually on the second Saturday in August. The inaugural show was held in 2005. An invitational fine car show, 75 vintage car owners are asked to show vehicles in St. Joseph's downtown Lake Bluff Park.[30]

Venetian Festival

From 1979 to 2011, St. Joseph was the site of the Venetian Festival, which comprised three traditions: the Blessing of the River, the Lighted Boat Parade, and a Classic Boat Parade. The festival's name was a nod to similarities between St. Joseph and Venice, Italy.[31]

In 1987 the USS Oliver Hazard Perry came to port, and its commander let festival-goers take a free tour. This initiated a tradition whereby US Navy ships regularly came to the festival. Music also contributed to the festival's success, and was offered at three locations: the Bluff, Shadowland Pavilion, and the Main Stage. Many local musicians played at the Bluff and the Pavilion, while the Main Stage hosted such well-known bands as the Beach Boys, Cheap Trick, Little Big Town, and Jason Michael Carroll.[32]

In a study done by Michigan State University in 1998, approximately 63,000 people attended the 1997 Venitian Festival and the festival generated around $1.7 million in revenue to the local economy.[33]

Competitions also took place along Silver Beach and the Saint Joseph River during the festival, including volleyball tournaments, a river run & walk, and sand sculpturing.[34] The Lighted Boat Parade and the Classic Boat Display both took place along the St. Joseph River and were a part of the Venetian Festival since 1987. Fireworks and rides were also attractions, bringing people from bigger cities such as Chicago. A blessing of the river was done July 30, and continues as a tradition to this day.[35]


City government is organized as a council-manager government. There is a city commission with five members, who are elected at large. City elections are held in November of even-numbered years; at each election, three commission seats become open. The two candidates receiving the greatest number of votes receive four-year terms, while the candidate receiving the third-greatest number of votes receives a two-year term. At the first meeting following each election, the commission selects from its own number a mayor and mayor pro tem for the following two years. The city commission is a part-time body, typically meeting twice each month to act as a legislative body and set general policies. Day-to-day operations are delegated to a contracted city manager.

Major city facilities include the City Hall and Police Station at 700 Broad Street; the Department of Public Works at 1160 Broad Street; the Fire Department at 915 Broad Street; the Maud Preston Palenske Public Library at 500 Market Street; the John and Dede Howard Ice Arena at 2414 Willa Drive; the Water Treatment Plant at 1701 Lions Park Drive; and Riverview Cemetery at 2525 Niles Road.

The city Water Treatment Plant provides drinking water to the communities of the Lake Michigan Shoreline Water and Sewage Treatment Authority, which serves Lincoln Charter Township, Royalton Township, St. Joseph Charter Township, and the villages of Shoreham and Stevensville. Wastewater treatment is provided through the Joint Wastewater Treatment Plant, which is jointly owned by the cities of St. Joseph and Benton Harbor, and which also serves the LMSWSTA communities, Benton Charter Township and portions of Sodus Township.

Current City Commission
Name Title Year First Elected
Michael Garey Mayor 1999
Fran Chickering Mayor pro tem 2007
Jeffery Richards Commissioner 1984
Mary Goff Commissioner 1986
Chris Heugel Commissioner 2013



St. Joseph is served by The Herald-Palladium newspaper, whose offices are in nearby St. Joseph Township, is part of the South Bend/Elkhart television market, and is served by sister radio stations WCSY-FM, WCXT, WIRX, WSJM, WSJM-FM, and WYTZ as well as some in the South Bend market.


  • I-94
  • BL I-94
  • I‑196 begins just northeast of Benton Harbor–St. Joseph
  • US 31
  • M-63
  • M-139
  • The St. Joseph railway station is serviced daily by Amtrak's Pere Marquette passenger train.
  • Twin Cities Area Transportation Authority (TCATA) provides public transit throughout the St. Joseph-Benton Harbor area. It was originally a dial-a-ride system. More recently, it launched three fixed routes. Only one of those routes, the Red Route, passes through St. Joseph. The other routes are limited to Benton Harbor and its vicinity.[37]
  • The St. Joseph Harbor is a commercial port that receives bulk goods from lake freighters. St. Joseph has two docks within city limits and another dock is located in Benton Harbor. Due to limitations on the depth of the port and lack of dredging funding, the harbor is experiencing a down trend in the amount of tonnage. The 2007 numbers for the port are:[38]
2007 Shipping Report
Shipper Good Number of Vessels Tonnage
Consumers Limestone, sand and slag 27 277,106
Dock 63 Limestone, stone and sand 13 171,187
Lafarge Bulk Cement 27 185,250
Total 67 633,543

Previous year tonnage includes:

Past Tonnage
Year Vessels Tonnage
2000 69 770,189
2001 87 1,118,964
2002 82 665,917
2003 90 794,572
2004 85 767,975

Notable people

St. Joseph in popular culture

The book The Other Side of the River by Alex Kotlowitz (ISBN 0-385-47721-X) documents the death of an African American teenage boy through the eyes of locals in Benton Harbor and St. Joseph. The book delves into race relations between the two cities.

The controversial book A Million Little Pieces by James Frey takes place in part in and around the city of St. Joseph. Many of the disputed parts took place in the area. James went to St. Joseph High School. Some members of the area including local police helped to show that the book was not a complete factual recount but partly a fictional retelling of events.

Stephen Christian, singer of the band Anberlin, spent part of his childhood in St. Joseph, and in the song (*fin) mentions "The house on Ridge Road", which he says is in St. Joseph.

See also



  1. ^ As keeper of the Saint Joseph Life-Saving Station, Station 6, Joseph Napier demonstrated his heroism during multiple rescues as a career lifesaver on the Great Lakes. His gallantry was no more visible than on the day he risked his life and led his crew into gale-force winds to save six souls aboard a stranded vessel."[16]


  1. ^ a b "US Gazetteer files 2010". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on January 24, 2012. Retrieved 2012-11-25. 
  2. ^ a b "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2012-11-25. 
  3. ^ a b "Population and Housing Unit Estimates". Retrieved June 9, 2017. 
  4. ^ a b "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on September 11, 2013. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  5. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: St. Joseph, Michigan
  6. ^ Coolidge 1906, p. 25.
  7. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Archived from the original on May 31, 2011. Retrieved 2011-06-07. 
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on June 25, 2010. Retrieved 2016-02-06. 
  9. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on January 4, 2010. Retrieved 2016-02-06. 
  10. ^ Eccles & Allen 1997, p. 134.
  11. ^ Coolidge 1906, p. 19.
  12. ^ a b "History of Saint Joseph" (PDF). Michigan History Magazine. Archived from the original (PDF) on January 5, 2009. 
  13. ^ Fuller 1916, p. 266.
  14. ^ Fuller 1916, pp. 275–76..
  15. ^ a b c Hilton 2002.
  16. ^ a b Connie Braesch (2010-11-08). "Coast Guard Heroes: Joseph Napier". United States Coast Guard. Archived from the original on 2013-01-04. 
  17. ^ Fedynsky 2010, p. 25.
  18. ^ "Aerospaceweb.org - Ask Us - Augustus Herring & the Wright Brothers". aerospaceweb.org. Retrieved May 9, 2015. 
  19. ^ Graham & Morton transportation co. (1915). Graham and Morton Line (from old catalog). Chicago, Illinois, St. Joseph, Mich.: A. B. Morse company, Library of Congress. p. 32. Retrieved May 9, 2015. 
  20. ^ Historical Dictionary of the U.S. Maritime Industry By Kenneth J. Blume 2012
  21. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on October 8, 2008. Retrieved 2016-02-06. 
  22. ^ Schultz, Alan; Terrill, Jeff; Wenzlaff, John. "Silver Beach Amusement Park History: The Southwest Michigan Directory". Michigan History Magazine. Southwest Michigan Business & Tourism Directory swmidirectory.org. Retrieved May 9, 2015. 
  23. ^ Berman, Mark; Izadi, Elahe (July 11, 2016). "Two bailiffs killed, deputy sheriff injured in Berrien County courthouse shooting". The Washington Post. The Washington Post. Retrieved July 11, 2016. 
  24. ^ Ellis, Ralph (July 11, 2016). "2 bailiffs, suspect killed at Michigan courthouse, official says". Turner Broadcasting System. CNN. Retrieved July 11, 2016. 
  25. ^ Silverstein, Jason; Ng, Alfred (July 11, 2016). "Several reportedly dead in shooting at Michigan county courthouse". New York Daily News. Retrieved July 11, 2016. 
  26. ^ Krietz, Andrew (July 11, 2016). "2 bailiffs, shooter dead in Berrien County Courthouse shooting". USA Today. Detroit Free Press. Retrieved July 11, 2016. 
  27. ^ "Census of Population and Housing". Census.gov. Archived from the original on May 12, 2015. Retrieved June 4, 2015. 
  28. ^ "Join us Saturday, May 2nd at 10:30 AM in Downtown St. Joseph, Michigan for the 36th annual Run for the Buds!". blossomtimefestival.org. July 12, 2011. Retrieved May 9, 2015. 
  29. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on July 27, 2013. Retrieved 2016-02-06. 
  30. ^ "Lake Bluff Concours d'Elegance of Southwest Michigan". concoursswmi.com. Retrieved May 9, 2015. 
  31. ^ [1][dead link]
  32. ^ [2][dead link]
  33. ^ News, William F. Ast IIIFor the. "Venetian Festival officials dissolve 33-year-old St. Joseph summer event". 
  34. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on February 23, 2009. Retrieved 2014-12-01. 
  35. ^ "Appointment of the Admiral & Blessing of the River". Archived from the original on April 11, 2009. Retrieved December 1, 2014. 
  36. ^ "A Christian, Private High School in SW Michigan". 
  37. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on January 27, 2011. Retrieved 2016-02-06. 
  38. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on August 4, 2009. Retrieved 2016-02-06. 
  39. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on March 9, 2014. Retrieved 2016-02-06. 
  40. ^ "St. Joseph". The Herald Palladium. May 19, 2007. Retrieved May 9, 2015. 


External links

Media related to St. Joseph, Michigan at Wikimedia Commons

Coordinates: 42°05′53″N 86°29′03″W / 42.09806°N 86.48417°W / 42.09806; -86.48417