Escanaba Park is owned by the Army Corps of Engineers and is leased to the City of Grand Haven.
Revetment work in 1857 formed what became known as the “Government Pond” or “Government Basin”. These first revetment diggings were placed to narrow and improve the channel, as well as halt the erosion at the bend in the river, known as “The Lower Diggings”. The east basin was kept deep enough to moor ships, but waters in the west were shallow to the point of being unusable. Therefore it was used as a dumping ground for material dredged from the channel, and it filled up more and more as years went on.
Commander John Kelly was commander of the Coast Guard Tenth District (1930-1933), which had headquarters in Grand Haven. He dreamed of turning the waste area on the west end into a landing ideal for Coast Guard vessels. Working with the Corps of Engineers and the City, he was able to see his dream realized.
The Cutter Escanaba arrived in December of 1932 when the landing was nearly completed,
but Kelly would never get to see finished product. He died of a heart attack while attending a
community dinner at the Elk’s Lodge commemorating Armistice Day on November 11, one
month before the landing was completed.
The embarkment was finally finished in December of 1933, and was a fine addition to the waterfront as well as an ideal mooring for the Escanaba. It was dedicated Kelly Memorial Park, after the man who had put so much work into creating it, and it retained this name for 16 years.
During World War II, the Escanaba was called into the war on convoy duty in the North Atlantic. On June 13, 1943, she sunk following a huge explosion aboard with the loss of 101 of the 103 person crew. News of the sinking was a great loss for the people of Grand Haven. The aftermath of this event, such as the memorial service for the Escanaba’s crew, fundraising for Escanaba II, and the recovery and placement of the Escanaba’s mast in what was still Kelly Memorial Park, were some of the first occurrences which would eventually lead to the City of Grand Haven being designated as Coast Guard City U.S.A.
It was during the 1949 Coast Guard Festival Memorial Service that Mayor Martin Boon made the announcement that Kelly Memorial Park was going to be renamed Escanaba Memorial Park in commemoration of the World War II loss of the Escanaba and it’s 101 crewmen.
Every year during the Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival, the National Memorial Service is held at Escanaba Park. It honors the brave members of the United States Coast Guard, in particular those who have “passed over the bar” in the last year.
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