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Paw Paw Lake. Just the name invokes lazy, hot summer days in a secluded country setting. Situated in Southwest Michigan, 891-acre Paw Paw Lake is a country-like setting but not at all secluded. Chicago is only two hours away, and Benton Harbor is considered a 'trip to town' at a little over ten miles. The lake's close proximity to population centers is what made Paw Paw Lake a popular resort by the late 1800s.
The area around Paw Paw Lake was settled early in the 1820s by adventurous lumbermen and farmers who quickly realized the advantages of the Paw Paw River for milling grain and operating sawmills. The small city of Coloma was first known as 'Shingle Diggins' because of the shingle-making facility built there. It later became Dickerville and finally Coloma. By the time Coloma was the common name, many orchards were producing apples, peaches and cherries in the ideally-mild climate afforded by nearly Lake Michigan.
First a stagecoach stop and later a railway depot made Coloma and its neighboring hamlet Watervliet easy to get to and poised to grow. And the first things to grow were resort businesses on Paw Paw Lake. By 1895, Chicago newspapers were touting Paw Paw Lake as a spot destined to become a popular resort. That prophetic statement forsaw many large resort hotels and dance pavilions being built along the lake's 9-mile shoreline. Within a 10-year period, 50 hotels and 10 dance pavillions were built along the lake. A railroad was built from Coloma to the shore, making it easy for vacationers to reach their destination in reasonable comfort. Double-deck excursion boats plied the water; one boat, the Margaret, was said to have held 250 people.
Train records show over 40,000 people coming to Paw Paw Lake in one summer. The last big dance pavilion, the Crystal Palace Ballroom, built in 1925 could handle 2500 dancers at one time. The Crystal Palace Ballroom continued in operation into the 1950s, hosting such famous dance bands as Bob Crosby, Lawrence Welk, Jimmy Dorsey and the Benny Goodman orchestra. But times changed, automobiles became common and being accessible by train wasn't as necessary to enjoying a summer holiday. The masses of vacationers moved on-and left the beautiful lake to the residents and summer cottages. Today, lovely homes and condos dot the shoreline and another generation of lakelubbers enjoys the summer days at Paw Paw Lake.
Paw Paw Lake has settled into a summer routine that residents and visitors alike love to partake of. The local yacht club teaches sailing and sponsors boating safety classes, children's classroom activities, clean-up days and the weekly potluck. Remote control boat races have been added recently and are very popular with the children. The Paw Paw Lake Association works diligently to treat weeds and educate property owners in ecologically-sound lawn and lakefront care. The shoreline is quite heavily developed, but a large number of the properties are summer residences and the off-season is somewhat deserted.
For the fishermen in the family, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) provides two public boat launch sites. Several fishing tournaments are held throughout the year, and Paw Paw Lake has produced several trophy fish: Longnose Gar, Largemouth Bass, Bowfin and Bluegill. Crappie are also caught, and the lake has very good Pike fishing through the ice when using tip-ups. Primarily a drainage lake, Paw Paw Lake has two small inlet drains and one outlet with an overflow spillway at state Highway M-140 that eventually winds its way to the Paw Paw River. Tiny Lake Stella is connected to the bigger lake by a short channel. The irregular shoreline provides several small bays and inlets ideal for fishing. Charter fishing can be arranged on Lake Michigan nearby. For winter sports, the Michigan Snowmobile Association can direct you to suitable trails in the Coloma area.
Paw Paw Lake is the ideal summer home base for exploring the Lake Michigan shoreline. Warren Dunes State Park is 25 miles away. Coloma sports Deer Forest, an exotic animal park that is popular with the children. Paw Paw Lake offers all sorts of water sports, swimming and fishing. A public golf course is located along the south shore. Adults enjoy the Lake Michigan Wine Trail. Local campgrounds can handle any type or size of camping vehicle. And no one can resist a leisurely drive along the Blue Star Highway, through Lake Michigan dune country and views of luxurious lakeshore homes. If birding is your pleasure, the nearby Sarrett Nature Center in Benton Harbor can provide maps and direct you to favored locations to view both inland and shore birds.
Coloma holds several festivals throughout the year: the Glad-Peach Festival is the big celebration of two main local crops. The area provides many of the cut flowers for major markets, and peaches are one of the premier crops. The Festival includes such activities as car shows, peach baking contests, a parade and a 10K run. A great time is had by all.
If Paw Paw Lake sounds like the kind of get-away destination you'd enjoy, local realtors can help you line up rental cottages for a weekend, a week or a month. If you find you don't want to leave, realtors can help you locate the condo or summer residence of your dreams. So, come on over and stay awhile. Paw Paw Lake welcomes you.
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