Near the turn of the twentieth century, as the last vestiges of Muskegon’s lumbering era faded from the horizon, a community that catered to theatrical entertainers was started by C.S. "Pop" Ford. He found a captive market in the actors who performed at the summer show house at nearby Lake Michigan Park.
Beginning around 1903, vaudevillian performers began to summer in the area. Like many others, the Keatons discovered Muskegon during appearances at the theater in 1902 and 1905. They became enthralled with the area, and beginning in 1907, the family returned annually. For Joe, the patriarch, it was a slice of heaven. Bluffton offered a break from the constant touring associated with vaudeville. He liked the recreation offered by the lakes, the presence of other performers, and the carefree atmosphere of the area. For his wife, Myra, a passionate card player, the community offered an endless supply of pinochle partners.
For their children, it was a place to call home.
With that decision, Muskegon played a defining role in life of one of the cinema’s top filmmakers and performers – Buster Keaton.
The Actors’ Colony was formed by Joe Keaton and friends in 1908, and this tight community thrived in this section of the shoreline city for 30 years. With a backdrop of Lake Michigan and Muskegon Lake, and massive sand dunes, the performers relaxed and unwound in the setting, preparing for another season on the road. Baseball, fishing, parties and pranks filled the days.
For young Buster, the chance to step away from the stage made it his favorite place on earth. “The best summers of my life were spent in the cottage Pop had built on Lake Muskegon in 1908,” noted Keaton in his autobiography. The surroundings were a huge influence on the future star.
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