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Situated in the southwest corner of Michigan's Lower Peninsula, the city of New Buffalo is on Lake Michigan, at the mouth of the Galien River, which forms a natural harbor.

In southern Berrien County, New Buffalo is surrounded by New Buffalo Township, except for Lake Michigan to the west.

The chief route through the city is US Highway 12 and M-239, both of which connect with I-94 east of New Buffalo. Red Arrow Highway extends north of the city, generally paralleling the interstate and the Lake Michigan shore, passing through the downtown section of Harbert.

Michigan cities and villages within twenty miles of New Buffalo include Grand Beach, Michiana, Three Oaks, Galien, Bridgman, and Baroda. The Indiana communities of Michiana Shores, Galena, Duneland Beach, Springfield, Long Beach, Pottawattamie Park, Michigan City, Trail Creek, La Porte, Hudson Lake, Beverly Shores, and New Carlisle are also within twenty miles of New Buffalo.

Like other communities along the lakeshore in the southwest Lower Peninsula, New Buffalo was founded as a resort town, largely due to its proximity to Chicago, about seventy-five miles away, made even more accessible later by the railroad. Early settlers were particularly attracted by the potential for a harbor at the point where the Galien River empties into Lake Michigan.

The origins of the European-American settlement of the area goes back to 1834 when Wessel Whittaker and his crew encountered a November storm while en route to Chicago from Buffalo, New York. When their vessel capsized, Whittaker and his crew came ashore near the area of the current village of Grand Beach, just south of New Buffalo. While walking to St. Joseph to report the loss of their ship, they came across a natural harbor.

Believing that this harbor could be profitable, Whittaker returned to found the community which he named for his hometown of Buffalo, New York. In 1835, he came with friends and relatives, acquired a large tract of land, and began developing and promoting the new town and its harbor. Other early settlers included Henry Bishop, Freeman A. Clough, and William Hammond. Sawmills were built, and log cabins were erected. People traveling between Detroit and Chicago spent tourist dollars there.

In the late 1840s. the Michigan Central Railroad completed its line between Niles and New Buffalo, making New Buffalo the end of the line for rail travelers between Detroit and Chicago.

Alonzo Bennett platted the townsite in 1835, became its first president when it was incorporated as a village in 1836, and its first postmaster on July 29, 1837.

Despite its natural harbor, New Buffalo never did become a prominent shipping point. In 1839, the US government erected a lighthouse at that point but, due to a shifting shoreline, the lighthouse lasted only until 1857, and was not replaced.

The railroad proved to be the greater benefit to the community. In its first year, more than 100,000 rode the Michigan Central, stopping at New Buffalo. Hotels, restaurants, and stores sprung up. The railroad built piers to improve the harbor, and three Ward Line steamers stopped in New Buffalo. Sidetracks were built every mile or so along the railroad to serve the lumber industry.

In 1853, Michigan Central extended its line, sharply decreasing the number of visitors to New Buffalo, and resulting in the closure of several of the town's businesses.

Nevertheless, the land had been cleared and improvements had been made, and there was soon a new group of settlers, mostly German immigrants. By the end of the 1850s, New Buffalo had a newspaper, a law office, a doctor's office, and Catholic, Methodist, German Evangelical, and Baptist churches.

The railroad regained its influence in the community in the 1920s after the Pere Marquette Railroad laid tracks to the village, adding coaling stations, a roundhouse, and a 56-room hotel. Although there were other industries, such as a glass factory and a pickle factory, as well as local farms, its economy was heavily dependent on tourism from Chicago. Families rented small cabins for a week or a month each summer, arriving by train initially, and then by car, as they became more prominent.

After World War II, the nature of tourism changed. Chicago residents were moving to the suburbs, and those who still came to New Buffalo wanted more, and many of them purchased vacation property. Summer cabins were converted to winterized second homes and were expanded to larger buildings. Its harbor began to be used more for recreational boating than shipping.

New Buffalo became a city in 1965. The railroad continues to be important to the community, as Amtrak has a station in New Buffalo.

The focus of this portion of our guide is on the city of New Buffalo. Appropriate topics include the municipal government, local businesses, schools, churches, organizations, attractions, and events.


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