STRANGE GH: Hidden Ottawa County treasures rich in folklore

Aug 15, 2011


A Kalamazoo bank robbery took place in the 1870s, resulting in a thief getting away with $64,000 worth of gold coins and diamonds. A remarkable death-bed confession took place some years later at Jackson State Prison and made its way onto the front page of the Oct. 7, 1899, edition of the Grand Haven Tribune. The stash was said to be buried on Five Mile Hill.

The dying convict was the robber. He revealed he had buried the loot from the Kalamazoo bank in two satchel cases on Five Mile Hill in Grand Haven because police were in close pursuit. He intended to go back to dig up the stash, but he was arrested for another crime and placed behind bars in Jackson.

After his confession made the newspapers, many treasure hunters came to Grand Haven over the next couple of decades to dig at the hill. However, to date, the stash has never been found.

Another hidden stash story is a little-known legend involving bank robber John Dillinger and the Village of Fruitport.

Dillinger spent nearly a year on the run from police in 1933 and 1934, and West Michigan was on his list of secluded havens. It is said Dillinger stayed briefly in Fruitport at the Pomona Hotel; and, while there, pulled off an “underground” bank heist. Reportedly, Dillinger used a tunnel system beneath the hotel to gain access into the adjacent bank and then buried the stolen money somewhere in Pomona Park.

Recently, the owners of The Village Park Bed and Breakfast, located across from Pomona Park, discovered the existence of four “secret tunnels” under their establishment, lending credibility to the legend. The Pomona Hotel once stood nearby. The proprietor told the press the tunnels had been “filled in” and that “the stories at this point are only rumors.”

The largest supposed buried treasure in Ottawa County is located in Port Sheldon.

More than 175 years ago, Nicholas Biddle, president of the Second Bank of the United States, induced a group of investors to build cities along good harbors in Michigan. One of the planned cities was Port Sheldon in Ottawa County. The dream was to create a city the size of Chicago at the astounding cost of $200 million.

A railroad spur started the town, along with a large hotel dubbed The Ottawa House, which featured gambling halls.

The dream was short-lived as the project went bankrupt in 1837.

Legend has it that, in 1839, unpaid investors planned a raid on the Ottawa Hotel to collect their money from Biddle. Fearful of the plot, it is said Biddle buried a quarter million dollars in a well near the hotel. The raid did not materialize, but Biddle was afraid to touch the buried money.

Biddle died on Feb. 27, 1844, without revealing the exact hiding place. Reportedly, the cache — if it ever existed — has never been found.

Treasure hunting may not be your thing, but our county is certainly “rich” with tales of treasure.

— By Kevin Collier


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