St. Joseph county is named from the river that cuts through the county and spills into Lake Michigan at the sister cities of St. Joseph and Benton Harbor . Pioneers were drawn to the area by the fertile prairie lands which were well-suited for agriculture. The logging of St. Joseph County was done mainly to free more of the sandy loam for agriculture, which shipped the harvested crops via the St. Joseph River .
Boasting more navigable rivers creeks and streams than any other county in Michigan , St. Joseph County is dotted with quaint river villages, is an old stagecoach stop halfway between Detroit and Chicago and is rich in Midwestern history. This is what we call River Country.
There are two historical passages that cross through River Country. One is the St. Joseph River, named after the patron Saint of New France who guards and guides the traveler. It originates in Hillsdale Michigan , dips into Indiana and returns to Michigan , then pours into Lake Michigan . The other passage is the Sauk Trail, now known as US 12, which stretches between Detroit and Chicago . Both of these routes were historically used for transportation, first by the Native Americans, then trappers, traders, missionaries and settlers. Towns and villages were bound to spring up on the banks of this magnificent river and along this major path and stories were left to be told. There are three tales I would like to share with you, that are woven into the history of this area.
Sturgis is located in southeastern St. Joseph County at the intersection of US-12 and M-66. This city was the first town to welcome the Michigan Southern Steam Locomotive in 1851, and developed because of the water power available from the St. Joseph River .
White Pigeon is located in southern St. Joseph County near the Michigan/Indiana border . It was named after an Indian chief who lived there in the early 1800's.
Incorporated in 1837, White Pigeon is the oldest incorporated village in Michigan.
Centreville is the county seat. It was named because of it's location in the exact center of the county, which is the junction of M-86 and County Road 133. Three miles north of town is the Langley Covered Bridge which is the longest covered bridge in Michigan .
Colon , Michigan -- how did it come to be known as the "Magic Capital of the World?" The summer of 1926 a man by the name of Harry Blackstone visited Colon .
He and his brother Peter began their stage careers doing comedy magic. Gradually, the art evolved into a full evening show of illusions with Harry doing the performing and Peter working behind the scenes building the illusions. Blackstone 's show grew in size and by 1927 a crew of a dozen people worked and traveled with Blackstone.
During the off-seasons of the early 20's, Blackstone and his troop traveled to West Lake near Kalamazoo to refit old equipment, build new effects, and relax. The company grew too large for the accommodations at West Lake and Blackstone looked elsewhere for a summer place. In the summer of 1926, his wife, Inez, drove her car south (by chance) from Kalamazoo through Leonidas and into Colon . At the western edge of the village she noticed Angel Island in Sturgeon Lake . Upon investigation, she found that the island was for sale, and she placed a down payment on the property. Harry found that the island was ideally suited for his purposes. There was a frame house and a large barn where the stage equipment could be stored and many animals which were used in the show could be kept. The barn would also serve as a worship. There were several cottages which could be used to house the crew. Blackstone purchased the island that summer and from then until 1949 Blackstone called Colon his home. Blackstone moved to California (for health reasons) in 1949. However, he always claimed that he would rather live in Colon than anywhere else in the world.
His partner, Percy Abbott built a magic manufacturing company which has become world famous for its quality-built magical effects.
While on the road, Blackstone "traded" an amount of merchandise from the magic shop to a magician for an illusion. (An illusion differs from a trick in the size of the presentation, and might be referred to as a big trick.) The magician promptly sent to the Blackstone Magic Company the illusion and a list of merchandise promised to him by Blackstone . Percy sent the merchandise and assumed that the illusion then belonged to the company. Later, Percy sold the illusion to another magician. Blackstone finished his tour and returned to Colon , only to find that "his" illusion had been sold. The situation simmered for a short time and then a verbal storm erupted when the two men met in a local store. Percy closed up the shop and that was the end of Colon 's first magic company.