Leelanau County turns 150 years old

Courtesy of Leelanau Historical Society

Courtesy of Leelanau Historical Society

From staff reports

This week, under little fanfare (it’s a gray February, with relatively few tourists), Leelanau County celebrated it’s 150th birthday. That is, on Feb. 27, 1863, the Michigan State Legislature create the county of Leelanau with three townships — Centerville, Glen Arbor and Leelanau. The peninsula that looks like the mitten’s pinky finger had previously been part of Grand Traverse County (along with what is now Benzie County).

Of course, in those heady days, the region’s attention was justifiably focused on the bloody Civil War, and on President Abraham Lincoln’s crusade to free the slaves after he issued the famed Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863.

According to Suttons Bay author and historian John Mitchell, the Homestead Act of 1862 started bringing large numbers of settlers to the peninsula. That law populated much of the Midwest, as it offered 160 acres of land for anyone who would make it home for five years.

“The Homestead Act was a populist law that was embraced by the same people who were abolitionist,” Mitchell, author of Grand Traverse: The Civil War Era, told The Ticker earlier this winter.

When state legislators broke Leelanau off from Grand Traverse County, Northport at Leelanau’s tip had a larger population of white settlers than all of Grand Traverse County, according to Mitchell.
At the time, the town was a busy stop for Lake Michigan shipping traffic, where vessels loaded up on cord wood for fuel.

But as the Ticker reports — with thanks to the Leelanau Historical Society — the county’s history centers around several distinct towns:

• 1848-49 – Rev. George N. Smith and others settle Northport.
• 1851 – John Dorsey settles in Glen Arbor.
• 1852 – Missionary Peter Dougherty establishes Omena.
• 1853 – Antoine Manseau and John Miller build water-powered sawmill and dam in Leland.
• 1854 – H.C. Sutton founds Suttonsburg, now known as Suttons Bay.
• 1855 – Simon and Jacob Schaub settle Provemont, renamed Lake Leelanau in the 1920s.
• 1863 – State legislature recognizes Leelanau as a county on Feb. 28.
• 1864 – John LaRue settles in Empire.
• 1874 – Telegraph line installed from Traverse City to Northport.
• 1892 – Manistee and Northeastern railway line built from Manistee
to Traverse City to Leelanau.
• 1892 – Cedar developed along new railroad.
• 1895 – North and South Manitou and Fox islands become part of the county.

For more information, pick up Mitchell’s book Grand Traverse: The Civil War Era. According to Josephine Arrowood at Glen Arbor’s Cottage Book Shop, page 181 offers specifics of Leelanau as a proposed new county, and mentions Rev. George Smith of Northport as a leader behind the movement. Smith, of Gill’s Pier, was reportedly a missionary to the Native American community; he recruited young men to fight in the Civil War; and he later became the County’s first probate judge. Page 184 offers a helpful map illustrated by Tom Woodruff.

Grace Dickinson’s The History of Leelanau is another helpful read for tidbits about the Centreville and Leelanau townships before 1863. A copy of that book is available at the Glen Lake Library in Empire.