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Coloma - Watervliet, Michigan

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The History of "Shingle Diggins"

The history of our beautiful area is unique and a genuine part of yesteryear's America ...

The first English settlers in the Coloma area were Mr. & Mrs. Job Davis in 1832. They planned to make wooden shingles with the help of local Indians and float these shingles down river to sell in St. Joseph, Michigan. During the first year of operation, Mrs. Davis died and Mr. Davis, although his enterprise had grown to include several more pioneers, abandoned the effort.

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In 1833, a search for someone to head the project brought in Stephen R. Gilson, whose energy and business knowledge made the operation very successful. In 1837 alone, "Shingle Diggins", as this operation and community had become known, turned out 1,300,000 hand split wooden shingles.

Shingle Diggins was so successful, the operation had to close in 1838 because all the area's suitable timber had been depleted.

During the 1840's, stage coach travelers riding between Paw Paw and St. Joseph, on what is now Red Arrow Highway, were able to buy a meal and rent a room in Shingle Diggins. The hotel was the Osgood House.

There was also a store in Shingle Diggins where travelers and local residents could obtain needed supplies. As actual paper money was scarce and unreliable, shoppers would trade or "dicker" with the store owner for purchases. This manner of exchange resulted in Shingle Diggins being referred to as "Dickerville".

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The Dickerville name remained until the 1850's when the town was to be assigned a post office. The town's people wanted the post office but didn't want to be officially known as Dickerville. So, a new, more suitable name had to be selected. Miss Gilson, recalling stories of the 1849 Gold Rush, remembered her father comparing Dickerville to that of Coloma, California. The name was then changed from Dickerville to "Coloma".

In the 1880's, Chicago residents looking for an escape from the "Windy City", came to beautiful Paw Paw Lake in Coloma. Area farmers began renting rooms to these summer visitors as there were not enough rooms available elsewhere.

By 1895, the resort business developed so rapidly that hotels and pavilions were under construction all around the lake. Double decked steam boats of up to 90 feet in length were circling the lake on a regular schedule. Summer visitors came in such large numbers, that one boat captain founded a railroad which ran from Coloma directly to his boat dock.

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Summer weekends found Coloma crowded with thousands of vacationers who came to enjoy Paw Paw Lake and all that the area could offer.

Later in the 1920's and throughout the 1940's, the best Big Bands in the country vied for any opportunity to play before the crowds at the Crystal Palace, Woodward and Edgewater pavilions.

Today, handsome homes and condominiums accommodate year around residents.

Learn more about the Historic Coloma Area visit the North Berrien Historical Museum, 300 Coloma Avenue, Coloma. Call (269) 468-3330 for hours or more information.


 
 

 

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