The fabulous history of Fruitport’s Pomona Park

Posted at 6:35 PM, May 19, 2015
and last updated 2015-05-19 21:06:54-04

FRUITPORT, MI. -- The history of Fruitport's Pomona Park can be summed up in one word....REMARKABLE! While it may be just a quiet place to relax, have a picnic, or let the kids play for a bit, it wasn't always that way. Pomona Park was once a place that was booming with folks from around the country at a resort, plus it rocked with dance music from the big band era with their pavilion built on Spring Lake. Here's their story.

Back in the middle 1800s, perhaps even earlier, Fruitport was blessed with an abundance of peach trees. Edward Craw, a Civil War captain, moved to Fruitport and began to capitalize on the peach tree crop. At one time he owned quite a lot of the village. After plenty of great harvests and an abundance of folks moving to the area, construction began on a huge resort called the Pomona House. It opened in 1871 and drew people from all around the Midwest, even the United States. The Pomona House was one of three major resorts along the lakeshore in the area. Others were located in Grand Haven and Spring Lake, and while operated and owned independently, they collectively drew thousands of visitors each year. It was common to visit Grand Haven, Spring Lake, and then the Pomona House during vacation over several days.

The Pomona House (and area) also had another huge draw and claim to fame. Magnetic water or sulphur baths. It was discovered that these special magnetic waters helped cure various ailments, so folks would come from everywhere to partake in the magnetic water in an effort to relieve arthritis and things of that nature. The water was even bottled and sold! As fate would have it, the Pomona House burned down in 1875. It was rebuilt and burned a second time in 1876. The big draw to Fruitport was over.

Pomona Park sat vacant (except with the old burned out building on it) until about 1900 or so. It was the electric rail car known as the Interurban that came into existence and began to capitalize on the old boom. The Interurban rail service ran from Grand Rapids, to Coopersville, and rails veered off to Fruitport and Grand Haven. Since the Interurban company had an electric power house and stop in Fruitport, they wanted to capitalize on it and draw more people in. So they built a huge wood pavilion over Spring Lake on the shore of Pomona Park in 1902. It was a major success!

The Interurban operated the pavilion until 1928 when it was sold to band leader Frank Lockage. He began bringing in major, nationally known talent and acts like Glenn Miller, Lawrence Welk, and Buddy Holly just four months before he would die in a plane crash with the famous Big Bopper and Richie Valens. At first the pavilion was a seasonal thing with open areas and unheated. It would later become a year round draw for people to dance and simply party in to the wee hours of the night.

The fun, excitement, and draw went on until January 3, 1963. In the early morning hours of January 4 the pavilion would burn to the ground. Never before seen home movies were taken of the fire and are part of the video in our West Michigan Story. Unfortunately, it was never rebuilt and the property sits only as a park today. That said, the original pylons that held the pavilion up over the water are still visible today. The slab of concrete that led in to the pavilion still in tact...even with pieces of the original floor tile still attached.

The history of Pomona Park is amazing and incredible to say the least. A special thanks to Brian Zwart of the Fruitport Historical Society. Unlike many historical experts in the area, Brian is a much younger man who has researched Fruitport and Pomona Park extensively. His enthusiasm and insight in to Fruitport's past is addictive, enlightening, and entertaining. Many thanks to his historic stories that laid the foundation for my West Michigan Story.

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