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historic photo of Dodge State Park with children playing on playground

Dodge Brothers gift state parks

In 1922, directors of the Dodge Brothers Co. made one of the largest donations to Michigan’s developing state parks system. Eleven parks, totaling more than 600 acres in all, were presented to the state in memory of late brothers and industrialists John F. and Horace E. Dodge, who founded the Dodge automobile company. 

Overcrowded beaches and picnic grounds, along with the increased auto ownership that promoted travel to parks, were some of the reasons for the donation. Conditions in Oakland County, just outside Detroit, were especially dire. Therefore, several state parks were developed in that county, as well as in Macomb, Monroe and Livingston counties. Parks, such as Island Lake State Recreation Area, were first a part of the Dodge Brothers’ donation. In fact, Island Lake was one of the smaller donations. The biggest donation was the former 240-acre Horseshoe Lake State Park near Oxford in Oakland County. 

The Dodge brothers created their own outdoor recreation spaces that became state parks. For instance, around 1914, John Dodge purchased some real estate about 15 miles east of Pickford in the Upper Peninsula as a place for his family and friends to hunt and fish. He originally built a main lodge and a caretaker’s cabin, adding another five cabins thereafter. He named the area the Munuskong Hunting and Fishing Club. In 1924, the Dodge Brothers Co. board of directors approved the purchase of this property and turned it over to the State of Michigan for a state park. In 1925, this property became the Munuscong Bay State Park spread over 2,400 acres. The property is no longer a state park and is now part of the Lake Superior State Forest).

Receiving the initial gift of 11 parks, Gov. Alexander Groesbeck said: “It was my privilege, especially in their later years, to count John and Horace Dodge as my friends. I knew them as employers, who were always careful and considerate of their employees and associates. They were never too busy to take an interest in the welfare of those who had helped them to achieve their remarkable success. Beginning in a small way, they had a large share in the development of the great automobile industry in Michigan. This state is fast becoming the summer playground of the people of the central west, and the automobile is the main factor in this development. John and Horace Dodge foresaw this condition, and I am sure, if they could express themselves today, the present action of your board of directors would receive their hearty approval.

“…I agree with you that the recreational needs, particularly of our urban dwellers, are largely met by the establishment of such parks as this fine gift of Dodge Brothers Inc., has made possible.”

Today some of the Dodge brothers’ parks have been combined with more acquired space to make bigger parks. Dodge Park 4 in Oakland County is one of the original donated parks.