Dr. David Seibold has an explanation in his local history tome, "Grand Haven: In the Path of Destiny." However, the answer isn't quite as clear as the view from one of the area's highest sand dunes.
"One explanation is that fishermen far out in (Lake Michigan) measured their distance to shore as 'five miles' when the top of Five Mile Hill could be seen," Seibold notes. "Another account contends that a lantern, which could be seen 'five miles,' was placed atop the dune to direct fishermen back to port at night."
But Seibold discounts those two theories. He said the shoreline remains visible for 10-15 miles for boaters heading west on the lake from the Grand Haven harbor; and it would likely be the lighthouse beacon, not a lantern atop the hill, that fishermen would see to guide them home.
Although the first lighthouse went up in 1839, Seibold notes there was a three-year span when the port had no lighthouse after it was washed away by storms in the fall of 1852. He said maybe "the myth of the Five Mile Hill lantern took root" during those years by early fishermen.
I had long thought the name came from the view: that you could see for five miles from the top of the hill.
Five Mile Hill is just a short drive up either Emmett or Prospect streets. Where the streets meet is a short-term parking lot and a bench to enjoy a spectacular view of Lake Michigan, Mulligan's Hollow, downtown Grand Haven and the Grand River channel.