Located in picturesque southwestern Michigan, the small city of Buchanan is a charming and lively community. It is part of Berrien County and is located at the southeast corner of Buchanan Township, which is about 5 miles west of the better known and larger city of Niles. Buchanan borders Indiana as well as along the banks of the scenic Saint Joseph River and shores of Lake Michigan. The whole southwestern region of Michigan is recognized for superior agriculture of all kinds including vegetable, fruit, and flowers. There is also a distinct and notable Dutch influence throughout the area. As Buchanan is located along the shores of Lake Michigan, it boasts beautiful beaches, sand dunes, and state parks. Throughout the Midwest, the Lake Michigan beaches of Buchanan are celebrated for their sandy, almost Southern California-like beaches. These are also perfect for summer pastime and leisure activities.
The area that would become known as the city of Buchanan, Michigan had already been populated by Native Americans in places such as the Moccasin Bluff Site. In 1833, Charles Cowles formally founded and settled the community of Buchanan. It was later named for and to honor the future (and fifteenth) President of the United States, James Buchanan. As it is situated with many waterways running through and along it (Lake Michigan, the St. Joseph River, and McCoy Creek to name a few), Buchanan found its beginnings as a busy milling town. The McCoy Creek features a gradual 60-foot drop in water level which leads to the St. Joseph River. This drop in water level produces a rapid and constant flow of water that made it the perfect site for a milling society. Buchanan was platted in 1842, mapping out the boundaries and division of individual parcels- notating streets, easements, alleys, as well as the rights of use over the land of another. It later became incorporated in 1858.
As the community developed, beautiful redbud trees were planted along the city streets as well as major roadways. Clusters of tiny magenta buds swell into showy rosy pink flowers in early spring before the leaves appear. The trunk of the redbud often splits near the ground which results in a fascinating multi-trunk shape with elegant arched branches and a rounded crown. The leaves of the redbud tree are heart-shaped and change from a reddish color to dark green to bright yellow. Seeing a redbud tree in full bloom is certainly a memorable experience, let alone entire streets lined with them. It is because of these beautiful and plentiful trees that the city has affectionately been given the moniker “Redbud City.”
For many years, Buchanan has been recognized as a Tree City USA by the National Arbor Day Foundation. Tree City USA is a movement focused on helping to make cities and towns throughout the United States greener. Not only does the program recognize cities and towns for their urban and community forestry, it also gives aid, support, and public attention to highlight the importance of urban forestry. Specifically, the program offers the framework required for areas to manage and enlarge their public green space and trees. The basic standards that a city needs to meet to qualify to achieve Tree City USA status are: maintaining a tree board or department, having a community tree ordinance, spending a minimum of $2 per capita on urban forestry, and hosting an Arbor Day celebration.
In 1941, Buchanan became part of the Works Progress Administration arts project (commonly referred to as the WPA). The WPA was an American New Deal Agency that served the purpose of providing employment to millions of (largely unskilled) workers to carry out public works projects. Not only did the WPA carry out public works projects like constructing public buildings and roads, it also had a large focus on the arts. Federal Project Number One of the WPA had five singular parts: the Federal Art Project, the Federal Music Project, the Federal Theatre Project, the Federal Writers’ Project, and the Historical Survey. The government at the time saw the importance in providing federal cultural support, not only giving direct grants to private institutions. Buchanan became part of this history when Gertrude Goodrich painted a mural in the Buchanan post office. The mural was titled Production; it depicts an industrial scene with various machinery and multi-ethnic workers. At one point, this mural was painted over. Fortunately, this was recognized as a travesty and is in the process of being carefully restored.
Today, Buchanan continues to maintain its historic charm. Part of the reason for this is the role that the Buchanan Preservation Society holds. They firmly live by the words of John Ruskin, “Our duty is to preserve what the past has had to say for itself, and to say for ourselves what shall be true for the future.” Buchanan possesses not only one, but two separate historical districts. Within these districts, people can discover wonderful architecture from the community’s past. Buchanan is home to historic Pears Mill, one of only a few mills that is still powered by water and which currently still mills grain into flour. It uses waterpower from the swiftly flowing McCoy Creek and was built in 1857 and still stands. This historic and operating flour and grist mill can be visited today.
While the region generally enjoys moderate weather, in April of 1979, Buchanan was subject to an F2 tornado. With winds reaching 157 miles per hour, numerous farms, houses, and mobile homes were damaged. Luckily there were not any fatalities, but the city did sustain significant damage.
Buchanan Arts & Culture
Buchanan may be a small city- but this does not mean that it is devoid of art and culture. The city has the Buchanan Art Center, the Buchanan Museum of Fine Art, the Tin Shop Theatre, and the Common.
The Buchanan Art Center features exhibits, classes and workshops, as well as a lovely gift shop. The focus of this art center is locally made art; all of the artists must live within only 100 miles of Buchanan, Michigan. The goal is to offer a space in Buchanan that is devoted to cultivating the arts by offering excellent educational classes and programs for all ages. This is also accomplished by gallery exhibits, sales opportunities, and a gift shop. The proceeds go back into the Center to support class offerings and local artists. All of this allows and encourages the Center to creatively procure the power of the arts in stimulating positive social change. New exhibits by local artists are featured every six weeks and events are constantly being added and updated.
The Buchanan Museum of Fine Art is renowned as Southwestern Michigan’s leading public art museum. The emphasis of this museum is the conservation, preservation, and exhibition of historic American and European art. The site of this museum is in the beautiful and nationally celebrated Collins & Weaver Opera House. Prior to becoming the site of a fine art museum, the opera house served as a cultural center hosting music and theatrical performances, lectures, political caucuses, socials, and graduations on the premises. It also served some of the first motion picture showings held in the 20th Century. The legacy of the cultural center remains with the ongoing contributions to the art world. The Buchanan Museum of Fine Art is a member of the Michigan Museums Association. It is open to the general public with admission being free of charge.
The Tin Shop Theatre is another historic site. It was originally constructed as a furniture factory back in 1865. Since then, it has been used as a lumber business and hospital (during the 1918 flu epidemic). Today, the building has been renovated and showcases plays and musicals featuring local talent. The theatre is largely run by the Buchanan Fine Arts Council. The Council’s commitment is to incite participation among residents of the Buchanan area in all aspects of the fine arts; primarily encouraging any program, concert, or exhibition that will inspire residents of this city to experience and appreciate the arts.
The Common is a distinctive outdoor venue – an amphitheatre. It is a place where guests can enjoy the Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings and live concerts throughout the summer. The farmers market is open from May through October and has goods and offerings from local farms, including vegetables, fruits, baked goods, and other treats. The live concerts are featured every Thursday evening in the summer (these are classic in nature) as well as on the last Saturday of each summer month (part of the common concert series). All of the events held at the Common are free to the public. This is yet another way that the city reminds its residents and visitors of how great Buchanan really is. Stop, Lunch, and Listen is a program that occurs every Thursday at noon and is intended for little ones and enjoyed by all ages. These engagements feature an entertainer who shares topics that range from music to history lessons; offerings are broad enough that there is something to suit any child’s interest.
In our fast-paced world, Buchanan is the perfect place to escape to slow down and relax. For most, daily life consists of waiting in traffic, relentless meetings, checking the next point on the agenda, and then planning to begin it all again the following day. In Buchanan, the sunrises are peaceful, and the crystal-clear waters are only disturbed by fish tugging on a line or a canoe gliding along with the current. Buchanan has many offerings for the recreational enthusiast. The Saint Joseph River is the perfect site for boating, kayaking, and fishing. The city offers easy access to the river from their own boat launch located off of Red Bud Trail. There are many hiking trails to enjoy the sound of singing birds and rustling leaves. McCoy Creek Trail, which runs through the core of the city, is great for walking, running, and biking. This trail also has exercise equipment set up along the way to use. Nearby is the Redbud Track and Trail which is the home of world class motocross. The city also has miles of scenic country roads which are perfect for cyclists of all abilities. As mentioned earlier, there are also the golden sand beaches of the freshwater coastline to enjoy a book on, or go swimming in.
Other than outdoor activities, Buchanan also hosts plentiful shopping and dining opportunities. There is a vibrant uptown area which features commercial retail. There are great shops for clothing, antiques, interior design, floristry, and even a new Cannabis Dispensary, High Profile. As for dining options, some restaurants to check out include:
– Tabor Hill Winery & Restaurant—offers fine wine, walking tours of the vineyard, tasting room, as well as restaurant. The restaurant offers lunch and dinner while overlooking the countryside and vineyards. Great for trying the fine Michigan wines.
– Union Coffee House & Café—This is an intimate and inviting café showcasing gourmet coffee and teas from around the world. The menu consists of eclectic and creative sandwiches and baked goods with plentiful vegan, vegetarian, and gluten free options. It is known throughout the region as a listening room for original acoustic music- plenty of indie folk artists perform here.
– McCoy Creek Tavern—Buchanan’s charming and friendly local watering hole in a historic building. They are known for their excellent burgers and having the biggest chicken sandwich around. Don’t miss the karaoke on Friday nights and live music on Saturday nights.
– Lehman’s Farmhouse—Lehman’s Farmhouse is a brewery/distillery/winery in downtown Buchanan. All of the offerings are made onsite using fruits from Lehman’s Orchard.
– Buchanan Sweet Shop—Craving something sweet? Buchanan Sweet Shop is an old-fashioned soda fountain. It‘s like stepping into the past as the building has maintained the original fixtures and décor from 1947. Offerings range from homemade chocolates, to chocolate malt, to all of the ice cream confections. They also offer a full lunch menu.
There have been many notable people who have hailed from the wonderful and quaint city of Buchanan, Michigan.
– Cary Moon – Ms. Moon is an American political activist, urban planner, landscape architect, and politician who was raised in Buchanan.
– Harry Niles – Mr. Niles was an outfielder and second baseman who played for various Major League Baseball teams including the St. Louis Browns, New York Highlanders, Boston Red Sox, and Cleveland Naps. He was born in Buchanan.
– Jack “Sky” Knight – Mr. Knight was an American aviation pioneer. In 1921, he completed the very first and revolutionary overnight transcontinental air mail delivery.
– Jackson Scholz – Mr. Scholz was an American sprint runner. In the 1920s, he became the first person to appear in an Olympic sprint final in three different Olympic games. He was the 200m sprint champion in the 1924 Olympics. This event was later portrayed in the film Chariots of Fire. After his athletic career, he went on to gain accolades as a successful author. He was born in Buchanan.
– Jay Town – Mr. Town is an American attorney and government official who has served as United States District Attorney. He was raised in Buchanan and graduated from Buchanan High School.
– John Grant – Mr. Grant is an American singer-songwriter who was born in Buchanan. His debut solo album Queen of Denmark was named best album of the year in 2010 by Mojo. He has collaborated with numerous artists including Kylie Minogue, Goldfrapp, Robbie Williams, and Sinead O’Connor.
– Peggy Cramer – Ms. Cramer was a catcher who played for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball Leagueteam the South Bend Blue Sox. She was only 16 years old when she joined the league. She is featured in the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. She was born in Buchanan.
– Virgil Exner – Mr. Exner was an influential automobile designer who worked for numerous American companies including General Motors, Chrysler, and Studebaker. He had a fondness for fins on cars for both aesthetic and aerodynamic purposes. He lived in Buchanan during his youth and graduated from Buchanan high school.
The small city of Buchanan has a total area of 2.57 square miles. 2.5 square miles is made up of land, while the remaining 0.007 square miles is made up of water. It has an elevation of 696 feet.
Buchanan Climate / Weather
Buchanan, Michigan is a beautiful city which enjoys all four seasons. The most pleasant months of the year for most in Buchanan are June, July, August, September, and October. These five months typically have high temperatures in the comfortable range of 70-85°. July is the hottest month for Buchanan with an average high temperature of 83.0°, which ranks it as warmer than most places in Michigan. January is the snowiest month in Buchanan with 20.2 inches of snow, and 6 months of the year have significant snowfall. July is the most humid month, though humidity is low for most of the year.
On average, Buchanan gets about 40 inches of rain per year. Considering the US average is 38 inches of rain per year, Buchanan does not receive all that much more. As this city is located in the northern region of the US, it’s not surprising that the city averages 64 inches of snow per year (the US average is 28 inches of snow per year for reference). Buchanan is not too gloomy of a place though, even with the rain and snow; there is an average of 171 sunny days per year to enjoy (the US average is 205 sunny days- so it’s not too far off!). Buchanan gets some kind of precipitation, on average, 140 days per year. Precipitation is rain, snow, sleet, or hail that falls to the ground.
Buchanan Population Census
The population of Buchanan is approximately 4,456- as was reported by the census of 2010. The population density was 1,782.4 inhabitants per square mile (688.2/km2). There were 2,139 housing units which makes an average density of 855.6 per square mile (330.3/km2). The racial makeup of the city was predominately White, with 86.6% of the population forming this group. The remaining 13.4% is made up of: 7.5% African American, 1.2% Native American, 0.3% Asian, 1.3% from other races, and 3.1% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 3.3% of the population.
There were 1,901 households. Of those households, the majority (34.8%) were made up of individuals and 14.9% of which had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. Of the remaining households, 40.1% were married couples living together, 31.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 13.3% had a female householder with no husband present, 6.4% had a male householder with no wife present, and 40.2% were non-families. The average household size was 2.34 persons and the average family size was 3.01 persons.
The median age population in the city was 37.6 years. 24.6% of residents were under the age of 18; 9.3% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 26.3% were from 25 to 44; 25.6% were from 45 to 64; and 14.3% were 65 years of age or older. The gender breakdown of the city was 51.9% female and 48.1% male.
As for religion population, approximately 46.9% of the population consider themselves religious. It is predominantly Christian. Miscellaneous Christian faith makes up 11.8 % of the religious population followed by Catholicism at 11%. Other religions that are observed are: Lutheran (7.3%), Methodist (4.1%), Pentecostal (2.7%), Presbyterian (2.5%), Muslim (2.0%), Church of Jesus Christ (0.8%), Episcopalian (0.3%), Jewish (0.2%). There are no acknowledged practitioners of Eastern Faith in Buchanan.
The political climate in Buchanan, Michigan’s population is leaning conservative. In the last presidential election, 53.7% voted Republican, 40.9 % voted Democrat, and 5.4% voted Independent. In the last five Presidential elections, they voted Republican four out of the five times. This is typical for Michigan.
As the city is rather small, there are only six public schools in the Buchanan Community School system. It consists of two traditional elementary schools, Ottawa and Moccasin (grades K-4), Buchanan Step Up (grades K-12 for alternative education), Buchanan Middle School (grades 5-7), Buchanan Virtual Academy (grades 6-12), and Buchanan High School (grades 8-12). There are about 19 students per teacher, 592 students per librarian, and 531 children per school counselor. There are no private schools in the city of Buchanan.
Historically, Buchanan was a main producer of heavy machinery. It was known as the headquarters for the Clark Equipment Company, which was a manufacturer of truck axles, fork lift trucks, front-end loaders, and additional heavy machinery. The company was formed in 1916 out of a procurement of two other Buchanan companies. The Clark Equipment Company decided to leave the area in the 1990s. This was a huge change for the community, forcing the city to expand and diversify. Many smaller businesses of Buchanan took over the buildings that the Clark Equipment Company essentially donated to the city. Buchanan is also the home of the Electro-Voice headquarters; a manufacturer of premium quality audio equipment. This audio equipment includes items like microphones, amplifiers, and loudspeakers.
Buchanan has an unemployment rate of 4.5% (this is slightly higher than the US average which is 3.9%). That being said, Buchanan has seen the job market increase by 0.1% over the last year. Future job growth over the next ten years is predicted to be 25.4% (which is lower than the US average of 33.5%). The average income of a Buchanan resident is $22,409 a year (whereas the US average is a slightly highly $28,555 a year). The Median household income of a Buchanan resident is $39,250 a year (in contrast to the US average of $53,482 a year). While the economy may not be as booming as it once was in Buchanan, the cost of living is below the US average. The median home price in Buchanan is $76,600 (whereas the US average is $231,200).
The nearest railway hubs to Buchanan are the Amtrak stations at Niles and New Buffalo, Michigan, and the South Shore Line station in South Bend, Indiana. The closest airport is the South Bend International Airport in Indiana. This commercial air service hosts flights to larger hubs including Chicago O’Hare, Las Vegas, Detroit, Michigan, Atlanta, Orlando, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Cincinnati, St. Petersburg-Clearwater, and Cleveland.
Buchanan is located 1.5 miles north of US 12, 2.3 miles west of US 31, 9.3 miles north of the US 31 interchange on the Indiana Toll Road (I-80/I-90), and 20 miles east of I-94 (exit 4 via US 12).