Newaygo Dam History

Scott Looman
Education Director
Newaygo County Museum


The evolution of the Newaygo Dam is an excellent example of the manipulation of our natural resources as well as a good case study for the choices we make between economics and conservation.

In 1853, the Penoyer family sold their land and business interests in Newaygo to lumbermen from Glenn Falls, New York who called their new lumber business the Newaygo Company. They immediately started construction on a wooden dam that would provide the power to operate “Big Red” the largest water powered sawmill in the state at that time.

Newaygo Dam built in 1854 out of wood to provide water power for the Newaygo Company’s sawmill (Big Red)


Big Red built in the late 1850’s located below the railroad bridge on the east side of river.


Fifty years later, lumbering had faded as a major industry in Michigan and the old wooden dam was in need of major repairs. The Newaygo Company sold their holdings including the dam to the Portland Cement Company who operated a new cement plant in Newaygo.

In 1900, the company began work on two major projects, the reconstruction of the Newaygo Dam and the construction of the Newaygo Powerhouse to provide water powered energy for the plant.

The refurbished dam was completed in 1901. It raised the level of the pond for better recreational opportunities and employed a gate that could be opened and closed for dam and pond maintenance.


Refurbished Newaygo Dam completed 1901 by Portland Cement Company


The powerhouse was built on the foundation of Big Red and used the same water races to supply power for the four water powered fly wheel turbines, producing 2000 horse power. The energy from the powerhouse was used by Portland Cement Company until the mid 1920s when the company switched to steam power and sold the dam to Consumers Power Company – Consumers Energy as we know it today. The powerhouse is still standing today and is located just down river from the railroad bridge.


Newaygo Powerhouse/Old Newaygo County Museum 4-17-18, Newaygo Grain Elevator the in background (photo-N.Looman)


Consumers Power Company acquired the Dam  for the purpose of developing hydro-electric power for the area.

In early 1965 Consumers Power offered to sell the dam to the City of Newaygo for $1.00 but the offer was declined because the maintenance costs were too high. The ownership of the dam was transferred to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in the fall of 1966.

In 1967 a routine lowering of the pond by Consumers Power, in conjunction with the Michigan Department of Conservation, to determine if repairs were needed to insure the free migration of steelhead, trout, and walleye, uncovered flaws in the dam that were cost prohibitive to repair. As a result the dam pond was never raised again.


Newaygo Dam at the centennial celebration in 1954

In October of 1968 the State of Michigan started taking bids for the destruction of the Newaygo Dam. A contractor from Grand Rapids got the job and for $84,000 the demolition of the dam was completed in February, 1969.


Today, as you kayak or fish under the M37 Bridge you can still see the steel remnants of the Newaygo Dam reaching out from the bed of the river.


Information and photos for this article was acquired from documents held by the Newaygo County Museum and Heritage Center.