What was once a 180-acre family farm and recreational estate for vacationers located on the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan is now just faint memories.
Located in Hagar Township, Jacobia was originally developed by Henry William Jacobs between 1914 and 1925. Jacobs was known to be a bit unruly, yet gifted. He quit school in the fifth grade and became an apprentice in a machine shop. He then went on to become a machinist in the Navy.
Jacobs married his wife, Marie Meta Schutte Jacobs in New York in 1896. When he left the Navy it is said that he used his wife’s $500 inheritance to invest in a machine shop. He later became the assistant superintendent for locomotion of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railway where he rose to the rank of vice president.
Henry William Jacobs, the inventor
Though Jacobs spent much of his life working for the railroads he was an inventor at heart. In his lifetime, he acquired patents for 160 inventions; however, some of them were not as lucrative as others.
One of his major achievements was in redesigning the firebox to make it not only more efficient but safer which was marketed through the Jacobs-Shupert United States Firebox Company. The company filed for a patent on Feb. 24, 1914, and sold it to the Frisco Railroad. This gave him the capital to form the Oxweld Service Company which was a consulting firm for the railroad industry that had offices in both New York and Chicago.
The Oxweld company would grow to be housed in an office on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago. And just like many Chicagoans of today, Jacobs required a summer home, and what better place to look than southwest Michigan?
Establishment of Jacobia
In an account by Henry’s daughter, Bertha the family purchased the first parcel of land in 1914 from the Fremeyer family (the correct spelling of the family name is unknown), and the last piece of acreage purchased from the Brandt Estate making the property about 180 acres with 2,000 feet of Lake Michigan shoreline.
The first name of this property was known as Camp the Hague. Hague means peace, and because Jacobs was known to be against America going to war, he felt this name fitting though he later renamed the farm Jacobia.
The estate was notable locally for its most unusual structure, a water and observation tower that sat on the top of the dunes and was affectionately named Jacobs Tower. The tower was known to be modeled after a medieval Hungarian Robber Baron tower and was between 110 and 160 feet tall.
The tower Jacob built had an outside stairway and an observation walkway so guests could climb up and see the lake and also observe ships entering and leaving Benton Harbor and the St Joseph River.
The tower also housed a 1,200-gallon water tank where it stored the pumped water out of Lake Michigan that was used to fill a beachside swimming pool, and to store water used to redistribute throughout the farm. With Jacobs’s passion for aeronautics coupled with his ingenuity, he used his abandoned “multiplane” aircraft engines to pump the water from the lake.
During WWI this attracted local authorities’ attention and he was investigated as to whether he was a German spy who might be signaling to enemy submarines in Lake Michigan (see Willis Dunbar, 1968, How It Was in Hartford Michigan, p. 210-11 for more).
Along with the tower, the farm grew to have a barn, a dance pavilion, a lakeside cottage, guest tent accommodations, a family chapel, and a 150-foot wooden staircase which was named “Jacobs ladder” that lead from the farm to the beach.
Jacobs planned to convert his estate into an upscale resort after reading about the initial resort community, Michigan Beach Association, in the Chicago Evening Post newspaper. To “one-up” the association, Henry kept trying to get Jacobia incorporated as a town, but he kept getting denied.
Sadly, the development barely got off the ground because of a series of tragedies, misfortunes, and a drinking problem, which led to his death.
Jacobia was parceled off and sold by his family members.
(Part II in next week’s