St. Joseph, Michigan
Clockwise from top: Silver Beach, Blossomland Bridge, State Street in downtown St. Joseph, North Pier Inner Lighthouse
Official seal of St. Joseph, Michigan
St. Joe
Location within Berrien County
Location within Berrien County
St. Joseph is located in Michigan
St. Joseph
St. Joseph
Location within the state of Michigan
Coordinates: 42°05′53″N 86°29′03″W / 42.09806°N 86.48417°W / 42.09806; -86.48417
CountryUnited States
Incorporated1834 (village)
1891 (city)
 • TypeCouncil–manager
 • MayorBrook Thomas
 • Total4.78 sq mi (12.38 km2)
 • Land3.20 sq mi (8.30 km2)
 • Water1.58 sq mi (4.08 km2)
630 ft (192 m)
 • Total7,856
 • Density2,452.70/sq mi (947.05/km2)
Time zoneUTC-5 (Eastern (EST))
 • Summer (DST)UTC-4 (EDT)
ZIP code(s)
Area code269
FIPS code26-70960[2]
GNIS feature ID0636762[3]
WebsiteOfficial website

St. Joseph, colloquially known as St. Joe, is a city and the county seat of Berrien County, Michigan. It was incorporated as a village in 1834 and as a city in 1891.[4] As of the 2020 census, the city population was 7,856.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7] 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 seen by European explorers. French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, built Fort Miami on the bluff overlooking Lake Michigan.[8] 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.[9]

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.[10] The post traded food, furs and goods with places including Detroit, Mackinac and Chicago.[11] 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.[12] 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.[13]

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 on March 7, 1834.[11] The city was incorporated June 5, 1891.

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.[14]

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.[15]

Downtown St. Joseph
Maritime Heritage Trail Park

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.[16]

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.[17]

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.[18] 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.[14]

In 1924, as graded roads began to line the Lake Michigan shoreline, G & M was forced to merge into 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.[14]

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.[19]

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 Benton Harbor and nearby St. Joseph. Whirlpool has its world headquarters in Benton Harbor.[20]

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 led police to shut it down in 1970.[21]


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.[22]


Historical population
U.S. Decennial Census[23]

2010 census

As of the census[24] 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[2] 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 inhabitants per square mile (988.9/km2). There were 4,594 housing units at an average density of 1,338.8 per square mile (516.9/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.


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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/Appointed
Brook Thomas Commissioner 2021
Michael Fernandez Commissioner-Elect 2023
Mike Sarola Commissioner 2021
Tess Ulrey Commissioner-Elect 2023
Michele Binkley Commissioner 2017



St. Joseph is cohost of the annual Blossomtime Festival[26] with Benton Harbor.

The Krasl Art Fair on the Bluff[27] 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.[28]

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.[29]

In 1987, 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, Gin Blossoms, Little Big Town, and Jason Michael Carroll.[citation needed]

In a study done by Michigan State University in 1998, approximately 63,000 people attended the 1997 Venetian Festival and the festival generated around $1.7 million in revenue to the local economy.[30]

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.[31] 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.[32]


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



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, WQYQ, WSJM-FM, and WYTZ as well as some in the South Bend market.

Notable people

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."[15]


  1. ^ "2020 U.S. Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved May 21, 2022.
  2. ^ a b "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 31, 2008.
  3. ^ "St. Joseph". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey, United States Department of the Interior.
  4. ^ Coolidge 1906, p. 25.
  5. ^ "St. Joseph city, Michigan - Census Bureau Profile". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved March 6, 2024.
  6. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Archived from the original on May 31, 2011. Retrieved June 7, 2011.
  7. ^ "French and Indian Footprints". Archived from the original on June 25, 2010. Retrieved February 6, 2016.
  8. ^ "City of St. Joseph, Michigan". Archived from the original on January 4, 2010. Retrieved February 6, 2016.
  9. ^ Eccles 1997, p. 134.
  10. ^ Coolidge 1906, p. 19.
  11. ^ a b "History of Saint Joseph" (PDF). Michigan History Magazine. Archived from the original (PDF) on January 5, 2009.
  12. ^ Fuller 1916, p. 266.
  13. ^ Fuller 1916, pp. 275–76..
  14. ^ a b c Hilton 2002.
  15. ^ a b Connie Braesch (November 8, 2010). "Coast Guard Heroes: Joseph Napier". United States Coast Guard. Archived from the original on September 3, 2012.
  16. ^ Fedynsky 2010, p. 25.
  17. ^ " - Ask Us - Augustus Herring & the Wright Brothers". Retrieved May 9, 2015.
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ Historical Dictionary of the U.S. Maritime Industry By Kenneth J. Blume 2012
  20. ^ "Whirlpool in the 1940s". Archived from the original on October 8, 2008. Retrieved February 6, 2016.
  21. ^ Schultz, Alan; Terrill, Jeff; Wenzlaff, John. "Silver Beach Amusement Park History: The Southwest Michigan Directory". Michigan History Magazine. Southwest Michigan Business & Tourism Directory Retrieved May 9, 2015.
  22. ^ "US Gazetteer files 2010". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on January 12, 2012. Retrieved November 25, 2012.
  23. ^ "Census of Population and Housing". Retrieved June 4, 2015.
  24. ^ "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved November 25, 2012.
  25. ^ "City Commission - City of St. Joseph, Michigan".
  26. ^ "Join us Saturday, May 2nd at 10:30 AM in Downtown St. Joseph, Michigan for the 36th annual Run for the Buds!". July 12, 2011. Retrieved May 9, 2015.
  27. ^ "Krasl Art Center - St. Joseph, MI. Where imagination and art fills your senses!". Archived from the original on July 27, 2013. Retrieved February 6, 2016.
  28. ^ "Lake Bluff Concours d'Elegance of Southwest Michigan". Archived from the original on April 23, 2015. Retrieved May 9, 2015.
  29. ^ "". Archived from the original on October 4, 2018. Retrieved January 13, 2022.
  30. ^ Ast, William F. III. "Venetian Festival officials dissolve 33-year-old St. Joseph summer event".
  31. ^ "Venetian Festival". Archived from the original on February 23, 2009. Retrieved December 1, 2014.
  32. ^ "Appointment of the Admiral & Blessing of the River". Archived from the original on April 11, 2009. Retrieved December 1, 2014.
  33. ^ "SWMPC | Berrien County Transit". Archived from the original on January 27, 2011. Retrieved February 6, 2016.
  34. ^ "Meeting Minutes". Archived from the original on August 4, 2009. Retrieved February 6, 2016.
  35. ^ "A Christian, Private High School in SW Michigan".
  36. ^ "WSJM AM 1400 & FM 94.9 - SJHS Alum Named Miss America". Archived from the original on March 9, 2014. Retrieved February 6, 2016.
  37. ^ "St. Joseph". The Herald Palladium. May 19, 2007. Retrieved May 9, 2015.


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