SOUTH HAVEN — From the late 1800s through the mid-1900s, South Haven lured in many commercial fishermen. Those days have all but been forgotten, the only reminder being two old warehouse buildings on the Black River built by the Jensen family for their fishing enterprises.

But that will change when the Michigan Maritime Museum undertakes an ambitious $8 million expansion next year.

“We're close to halfway (to the fundraising goal),” said Patti Montgomery, executive director of the museum.

The expansion will include a permanent commercial fishing exhibit located in a waterfront building once used by the Jensens.

“This has been a long time coming,” Montgomery said.

The expansion is being made possible by the museum's purchase of prime waterfront property located next to the Dyckman Avenue drawbridge.

The property has belonged to the Jensen family for years and contains two metal two-story buildings once used for their fishing business.

“Those two marina buildings are historic, put up in the 1940s,” Montgomery said. The museum intends to restore the structures. One will house a permanent display focusing on South Haven's commercial fishing days, while the other will be refurbished into a one-story facility to house the museum's historic small craft collection.

“It's a beautiful collection but we have no place right now to display it,” Montgomery said.

A third building on the site the family used for its charter boat business will be torn down to make way for a new two-story building and observation point that will give people a prime view of the city's harbor.

“It will be a multi-functional building,” Montgomery said. The first floor will contain restrooms, a catering kitchen and space for the museum's excursion ship captains to use during the summer months, while the second floor can be used for conferences or other gatherings for up to 80 people. The second floor will also have outdoor viewing areas.

The Jensen property also has docks on the city's harbor. Those finger docks will be removed and replaced with one long dock parallel to the riverfront that can be used for the display of older, wooden boats.

“We've asked people to imagine a view of the river from the bridge if you take away the old finger piers and replace them with historic craft,” said Brian Bosgraaf, a member of the museum's board and chair of its capital and building campaigns. “I think it (the former Jensen property) will become an iconic view.”

Purchase of the Jensen property will nearly double the size of the museum grounds, nearly quadruple its water frontage and allow the museum to undertake even more improvement projects.

The biggest of those changes will be construction of a new two-story museum to replace the current one-story structure.

“We've maximized this space to its highest capacity,” Montgomery said. “We have 50,000 people who go through the museum from May through September. We've just run out of space.”

The new museum will house a much larger exhibit area on the first floor, a two-story atrium with more exhibit space, an indoor and outdoor learning center for students, restrooms and a larger souvenir shop.

The second floor will house a large room that can be used for exhibit space or for gatherings of 200-300 people, a catering kitchen, conference rooms and offices.

“The main museum building allows for flexibility of use,” Montgomery said. “First and foremost, we're a museum, but we can also use some of the space for conferences, educational uses or reunions. It gives us the opportunity to generate additional revenue to help keep our admission prices affordable and for better quality exhibits."

Other improvements include:

• Replacing the Jensen parking lot with grass for outdoor events and workshops.

• Constructing two new docks for longer ships that visit the museum, such as tall ships.

• Constructing an outdoor patio that will include a three-season tent for outdoor events.

• Improving the museum grounds by making them more easily accessible for walking to the museum's other historic boat buildings and its excursion boats.