Benton Harbor Then

Benton Harbor’s first settlers were Eleazar and Joanna Morton. Eleazar purchased 160 acres of land in Benton Township, and in 1836, he and his wife and children moved into a log cabin on a site located in the middle of present day Main Street. The site not only housed his family, but also served as a wayside inn for weary travelers, which he welcomed gladly into his house. In 1849, the family moved to 501 Territorial Road. Henry Morton, one of Eleazar and Joanna’s ten children, helped his father build this home and he, his wife Josephine, and their children lived with his parents.

The Morton House
The Morton House

Benton Harbor was originally founded as Brunson Harbor in 1860 after Sterne Brunson. Mr. Brunson was one of three men that undertook constructing the mile-long canal from Lake Michigan. This canal made it possible for boats to travel directly into the heart of the business district of Brunson Harbor. This helped development and enabled the shipping of fruit and manufactured goods.

Sterne Brunson
Sterne Brunson

In 1865 Brunson Harbor was renamed Benton Harbor after U.S. Senator Thomas Hart Benton. The city was named after him due to his immense support for Michigan’s bid for statehood.

Senator Hart Benton
Senator Hart Benton

The sacrifice of the first settlers is not to be overlooked. A.E. Chancey in his book, Berrien County: A Nineteenth Century Story, tells of the troubles of the times.

“They performed a miracle in such a godforsaken place, among the rattlesnakes and mosquito-infested frog ponds and sand dunes…with a few pots and pans the simple meals were prepared over an open fireplace. The bedding was tick filled with boughs or dried grass… The people of Berrien County owe a debt of gratitude to the pioneers who migrated to the county during the Nineteenth Century. Many of them sacrificed their lives to create the great county in which we now live.”