Between 1835 and 1902 at least 41 ships sank or smashed onto shore in Southwest Michigan - claiming at least 95 lives.
An exhibit opening next month at the North Berrien Historical Museum in Coloma not only maps out the Lake Michigan shipwreck sites off Berrien County, but takes a close look at the era's shipping industry.
Cargo routes from St. Joseph and Benton Harbor to Chicago and Milwaukee were vital to the development of Berrien County in the mid-19th Century, said curator Alexander Gates.
The new exhibit, called "Shipwrecks of the Berrien County Coast," examines the trends in what kinds of goods were shipped from and to area ports. The shipwrecks highlighted in the exhibit are good examples of the ships plying the lake during the peak of the commercial shipping era.
One interesting artifact to be displayed is the ship's bell from the propeller steamer Montezuma.
The ship, built in 1848, sank at the mouth of the St. Joseph River in 1861. Coloma's first postmaster, H.M. Marvin, bought the bell from a salvage company and donated it to Coloma's first church, the Coloma First Congregational Church. The church used it as its church bell until it was replaced in 1916, but is still owned by the church, Gates said.