Benton Harbor

Benton Harbor

Benton Harbor, city (1990 pop. 12,818), Berrien co., SW Mich., on Lake Michigan at the mouth of the St. Joseph River opposite St. Joseph; inc. 1869. A long-time fruit industry, tourist, and industrial center, noted for appliance manufacturing, the city declined in the late 20th cent., experiencing severe job and population loss.
Benton Harbor is a city in Berrien County in the U.S. State of Michigan.

The population was 11,182 at time of the 2000 census. It is the lesser populated of the two principal cities included in the Niles-Benton Harbor, Michigan Metropolitan Statistical Area. It is the administrative home of Whirlpool Corporation, which acquired the Maytag Corporation in 2006, making it the world's largest producer of home appliances. Sites of interest are Shiloh House, built in 1910, which served as the administration building and men's dormitory for the House of David colony, a communal religious group; Morton House (on Morton Hill), built in 1849 by Eleazar Morton, which now houses a museum; nearby Sarett Nature Center, a 300-acre wildlife sanctuary which offers trails, an interpretative building, and classes, and Jean Klock Park on Lake Michigan. Near Benton Harbor is a large fruit market which replaced the prior fruit market located in the "flats" area of Benton Harbor, which was torn down during an urban renewal project during the 1960s.

Benton Harbor and the City of St. Joseph (which is located across the St. Joseph River) are known locally as the "Twin Cities". Fair Plain and Benton Heights are unincorporated areas adjacent to Benton Harbor.


Benton Harbor was founded by Henry C. Morton, Sterne Brunson and Charles Hull, who all now have or have had schools named after them. Benton Harbor was mainly swampland bordered by the Paw Paw River, through which a canal was built, hence the "harbor" in the city's name. In 1863, the settlement was given the name of Brunson Harbor. In 1865 the name of the settlement was changed to Benton Harbor in honor of Thomas Hart Benton, a Missouri Senator who helped Michigan achieve statehood. In 1866, Benton Harbor was organized as a village and in 1891 was incorporated as a city.

Riots of 1966 and 2003


According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 4.5 square miles (11.6 km²), of which 4.4 square miles (11.4 km²) is land and 0.1 square miles (0.2 km²) (1.79%) is water.


As of the census of 2000, there were 11,182 people, 3,767 households, and 2,557 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,545.7 per square mile (983.5/km²). There were 4,492 housing units at an average density of 1,022.7/sq mi (395.1/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 92.40% African American, 5.48% White, 0.15% Native American, 0.13% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 0.14% from other races, and 1.65% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.58% of the population.

There were 3,767 households out of which 42.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 20.8% were married couples living together, 42.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 32.1% were non-families. 26.6% of all households were made up of individuals and 8.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.91 and the average family size was 3.53.

In the city the population was spread out with 39.6% under the age of 18, 9.8% from 18 to 24, 25.9% from 25 to 44, 16.5% from 45 to 64, and 8.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 25 years. For every 100 females there were 83.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 72.7 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $17,471, and the median income for a family was $19,250. Males had a median income of $27,154 versus $20,105 for females. The per capita income for the city was $8,965. About 39.6% of families and 42.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 52.5% of those under age 18 and 29.7% of those age 65 or over.

The demographics of Benton Harbor contrast sharply with those across the river in St. Joseph.

White Black Household Income
Benton Harbor 5.49% 92.40% $17,471
St. Joseph 90.31% 5.11% $37,032


Major highways

  • I-94 bypasses the city to the east and south, connecting with Kalamazoo and Detroit to the east and with Michigan City, Indiana and Chicago, Illinois to the south and southwest.
  • I-94 Business Loop travels through the downtowns of both Benton Harbor and St. Joseph. It follows the former route of US 12.
  • I-196 begins nearby in Benton Township and continues northerly toward Holland, ending at Grand Rapids.
  • US 31 is currently a freeway from the Indiana border north, until merging with a two-lane road to a brief connection with I-94. A freeway connection directly to I-94 is planned.
  • M-63 serves as a loop route connecting with I-196 at the north and running through downtown St. Joseph. M-63 continues on to I-94 and then to M-139, where it ends. M-63 follows much of the former route of US 33.
  • M-139 begins at US 31 in Berrien Springs and terminates at BL 94 in Benton Harbor. M-139 follows the former route of US 31, in part.



  • Both Benton Harbor and neighboring St. Joseph are commercial ports that receive bulk goods from lake freighters.


The city is served by the Benton Harbor Area Schools within the Berrien County Intermediate School District

The public school district serves the city of Benton Harbor and surrounding areas. For years a popular student gathering place was the Tiger Den restaurant across the street from the high school, before it closed. The school district has one high school, seven elementary schools, and two middle schools. In 2007, the district hired a new superintendent. Carole Schmidt replaced Dr. Paula Dawning. The hiring of Schmidt was notable because she left her job as superintendent of the St. Joseph Public School District. Schmidt is the first white superintendent of the Benton Harbor School District in decades.

The school board governs the school district. The current president is Dan McGinnis. There are three charter schools in the city of Benton Harbor: Benton Harbor Charter School, Countryside Academy, and Mildred C. Wells Academy

Until the consolidation done in the mid-1960's certain out-lying areas, such as Fairplain, had their own independent school districts.

Library service for the City of Benton Harbor is provided by the Benton Harbor Public Library.


Benton Harbor is served by The Herald-Palladium newspaper, whose offices are in nearby St. Joseph Township, and is part of the South Bend TV. It is served by sister radio stations WCXT, WCSY, WHIT, WIRX, WSJM, WSJM-FM, and WYTZ, as well as some in the South Bend Radio. Additionally, most of the Chicago market TV and radio stations are available from 60 miles across the lake.


An American Basketball Association team (ABA), the Twin City Ballers, played in Benton Harbor for a few games in November 2006, but left the city due to poor attendance at games.

Jack Dempsey defended his heavyweight title September 6, 1920, in Benton Harbor, defeating Billy Miske.

Notable residents or former residents

Notable companies


External links

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