A short history of Smith’s Landing

Sebastian Smith was an early resident of Watervliet who moved from Maine in 1854.  He eventually owned approximately 100 acres of orchards and even shipped apples to England.  Engravings depicting his farm and the outlet bay of Paw Paw Lake accompany a 1890 biographical sketch of him in History of Berrien and Van Buren Counties, Michigan
 With Illistrations and Biographical Sketches
of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers.
 D. W. Ensign & Co., Philadelphia 1880.   In these images his orchard extends over the hill that would be platted as Fair View in 1922 and the adjacent Bluecircle farm land.  His cows graze along the road that rounds the bay and lies at the foot of the hill known in 1900 as Hetherington Hill.  Until 1960 this road, identified as M11, would remain a main route connecting Chicago visitors with northern destinations in Michigan.  In the 1880s he built a pier here that would identify the adjacent lakeshore as Smith’s Landing.    What has been described as the first cottage on Paw Paw lake would be built there in 1887, another would be located “in Sebastian Smith’s cowpasture”, and within a few years lakeside development had blossomed at several locations around the lake.  This period of Paw Paw Lake history is reviewed by R.L. Rasmussen in Paw Paw Lake – A 100 Year Resort History (1890’s-1990’s) Southwestern Michigan Publications, Coloma MI.

Smith’s pier was only a hundred feet from the short stream that connects Paw Paw Lake to the Paw Paw River.   Watervliet’s shops, lodgings, and a rail depot were two miles downstream and for some years steam launches navigated the shallow waters.  Even larger steamboats ferried passengers around the lake itself as tourism and resorts proliferated in the early 20th Century.   Today the site of Smith’s pier endures as a Watervliet Township swimming pier and small park, the last remnant of the public beaches of Fair View.  When Abraham Botto purchased Smith’s Landing from Sebastian Smith the boundaries of the property must have been poorly defined.  Botto’s estate remained in and out of probate court from 1920 until 1949 before a conventional description of Fair View was entered by his daughters and Smith’s Landing was finally laid to rest.

Gaff-rigged sailboat at Smith’s Landing


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