Camp Lakewood   -   WWII   -   Prison War Camp


The sign above, dedicated on August 30, 2007, is on the 122-mile loop Allegan County Heritage Trail
where there are 13 interpretive signs on 28 sites along the trail. For information about the trail visit.
Photo by Vern Bouwman 2008

This is a 1944-1945 Camp Lakewood image from an Allegan history book.


When the prisoners were first brought to the site in 1944, there was nothing but bare land. There was no barbed wire, no fence, nothing. they had to fence it them self's. Together they organized building projects and set up a staff and kitchen crew in addition to working on various farms and projects in the area, including work at the Heinz 57 pickling plant in Holland and Michigan Fruit Canners in Fennville. Orchard farmers drove prisoners from and and back to the camp.

They earned 5 cents an hour which was used to buy necessities like toothpaste and underwear.

The camp officially closed in 1945 and was turned over to the state in 1946. The land and buildings went on to be used as a rehabilitation camp for trustees and non-violent inmates at the county jail and by various groups and clubs including the local rod and gun club, the conservation club, the girl and boy scouts and eventually Allegan Public Schools as a sixth-grade camp.

Unfortunately, the state didn't have enough people to properly police the camp. Thieves stole wiring and plumbing and lighting fixtures. The buildings fell into a sad state of disrepair



Heritage Trail Unveils sign at old POW Camp


Gerd Linderman, a former POW at the Lake Allegan prisoner of war camp, spoke of his experiences during World War II at the camp at the unveiling ceremony for the Heritage Trail interpretive sign on the camp’s former site Aug. 20. (Photo by Sara Ramaker)
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Students from Allegan High School recorded a documentary

It's about the German World War II prisoner of war camp in Allegan. This is a Picturing Your Community in America program developed by the Michigan Humanities Council in partnership with the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Michigan Television.


Vern Bouwman Memories (LaVerne)

While living at Hutchins Lake, LaVerne at times would be playing with his classmates in town around the canning factory. Early in 1945 he remembered seeing soldiers carrying guns by the railroad box cars. The soldiers were guarding German War Prisoners.

There was an emergency farm labor program at this time and the prisoners helped solve the problem. Other programs, such as the “Victory Farm Volunteers” utilized youngsters aged 11 to 14 to weed onions, pick beans and harvest cherries and paid them $3.65 an hour.

On May 19, 1944, it was reported that work was underway to convert a Depression-era National Youth Administration camp on Lake Allegan into a compound for 250 POWs who would arrive the next day from Fort Custer. Very little preparations were made, just airing out, adding food stores and a little barbed wire. That was it.

There were no public protests, the prisoners were welcomed. Most of them had been captured after Rommel’s defeat in North Africa 18 months earlier. See "Irwin Hutchins In Africa". They were well-behaved, disciplined and good workers. Those that didn’t fit in were sent back to Fort Custer.

 

Gerd Lindemann, a former officer, is the only known surviving prisoner to return to Michigan. He recalls that he was given the job of assigning POW crews to various jobs. Some would be Heinz pickle factory in Holland, Pet Milk in Wayland, Michigan Fruit Canners in Fennville or the Todd Farm south of Fennville plus many other locations.

 

There are many articles printed about Camp Lakewood which at this writing is used for picnicking with no camping allowed. There is a plaque noting the site being along the Allegan County “Heritage Trail”. Albert Crane, Page 49, used prisoners from this camp in his orchards and gave a talk at the opening of “Heritage Trail”.

 


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