The Working World: Business and Industry

Charlevoix is known as one of the premier destinations in Northern Michigan.  The natural beauty surrounding the city on three lakes, the famous Earl Young Mushroom Houses, the many events and festivals throughout the year, and much more have been attracting countless visitors for decades. At the turn of the century, the campaign “Charlevoix the Beautiful” stuck to the delight of residents and tourists. But even before Charlevoix became a summer destination, this town had numerous thriving industries.

Beneath the natural beauty of this town, there is another world entirely. This less-known city has been brought to life by the Charlevoix Historical Society.  In its new exhibit, The Working World: Business and Industry in Charlevoix, co-curators David Miles and Jacob Thomas are telling the story of Charlevoix as an industrial powerhouse in addition to an active resort town.

Two of the earliest industries took full advantage of the town’s natural resources. The first industry was fishing. By 1908, Charlevoix become the largest fish exporter on the Great Lakes. Due to overfishing, the local fish population was decimated. Today, John Cross Fisheries remains the only fishery in town. Logging businesses once covered a good portion of Round Lake’s north shore. Much of the lumber that rebuilt Chicago after the Great Fire in 1871 came from Charlevoix. However, overcutting led to the decline of this industry.

Over the last fifty years, Charlevoix has played an important role on the world stage. When Neil Armstrong stepped on to the moon on July 20th, 1969, Charlevoix went with him. Portions of the Apollo space suits, made with an ultra-light, ultra-strong metal fiber, were crafted only one place in the world: Hoskins Manufacturing in Charlevoix.

Today, it’s hard to believe that greeting cards and music records were sold over the counter. That’s what the shopping experience was like before Charlevoix’s Freedman Artcraft revolutionized the retail industry with their innovative display racks.

Nuclear power has been an extremely important part of the town’s history. After Big Rock Point Nuclear Plant was decommissioned in 1997, the Lake Michigan shoreline north of Charlevoix has never been the same. The Big Rock Point Nuclear Plant was the oldest nuclear power plant in the United States prior to being decommissioned.

As Charlevoix has changed over the years, there are still many thriving industries. Companies like St Mary’s Cement, Beaver Island Boat Company, Munson Healthcare Charlevoix Hospital, and Charlevoix State Bank are still in business after decades of operation. Every business, past and present, has a unique story to share. Next time you go shopping, run to the bank, or eat at a restaurant, think about what shops, banks, and restaurants were here in the past and what these businesses may look like in the future.