History

Historic map with areas of historic interest labeled Map text: North Manitou IslandMap text: South Manitou IslandMap text: Us Life-Saving ServiceMap text: Glen HavenMap text: D. H. DayMap text: Port OneidaMap text: Park HistoryMap text: Anishinabaabe
 
Arrowhead made of chiseled white rock

Anishinaabe

Anishinaabe played a big role in the history of Sleeping Bear Dunes. We have them to thank for the story behind Sleeping Bear Dunes’ name.

11,000-8,000 B.C.E.
The Native Americans used what is now known as Sleeping Bear Dunes as a seasonal hunting ground.

8,000-600 B.C.E.
As the glaciers began to disappear Native Americans adapted to the changing landscape and settled the Sleeping Bear Dunes area as their permanent home. Scientists have found evidence the Native Americans exchanged or traded high status items such as flint, copper, and even conch shells from as far away as Florida.

600 B.C.E. - 1620
Pottery found near Glen Arbor shows the Native Americans lived in the area throughout most of the next 2,200 years. Many additional short-term sites were used primarily for seasonal hunting, fishing and gathering of *corn and berries.

1620 – Present
French explorers arrived, observed, and imitated Native American agricultural techniques. The Native Americans shared maize, exposed ways to penetrate wilderness barriers, and created “the most perfect vehicle of its kind” the birch bark canoe. Without this canoe the French would not have explored and discovered the remaining Great Lakes region as quickly. Disputes and invasions between tribes was common place as presence near the Lake Michigan shoreline was highly prized for food, trade, and transportation. The two largest remaining tribes, the Chippewa and Ottawa, ceded to the United States following the 1936 treaty, but were quickly removed from the woodland environment by the new settlers. A small segment of this land is now referred to as Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

 
Black and white photo of a man standing on large dock smiling at camera

D. H. Day

D. H. Day is most well-known for his work at Glen Haven. When he became master of all of Glen Haven in the 1800’s he purchased large ships to move goods and people to and from many cities on the Great Lakes including: Chicago, Milwaukee, and Glen Haven. This increased the number of tourists that came to the area.

Besides running Glen Haven he also owned 5,000 acres of forest and a massive farm which had 5,000 cherry and apple tree, 400 pigs, and 200 cows. Even though he owned the lumber mill in town he also was an early promoter of the reforestation movement in northern Michigan.

When lumbering started to decline he decided to diversify the economy of the town. He started the Glen Haven Canning Company and had plans to transform Glen Haven into one the biggest and most exclusive resorts in the United States. Unfortunately, the Depression began shortly after the plans for this resort had begun, so only a golf course, air strip, and clubhouse were created.

When D.H. Day died in 1928 the state of Michigan mourned the loss of the “King David of the North.” Before he died he had gained achievements in lumbering, shipping, forestry, conservation, road-building, tourism, and growing/canning cherries. Today you can still visit D.H. Day campground and see his farm, which is privately owned, from afar.

 
Looking down the main street of Glen Haven during winter

Glen Haven

Glen Haven was founded in 1857 by C. C. McCarty. McCarty built a sawmill and an inn, and named his new town Sleeping Bearville. Later he also built a dock so he could sell the wood that he produced in his sawmill. After the Civil War the town started to grow. More ships started to use the dock at Glen Haven and times were good.

In the 1920s, however, fewer ships started to come to the area, and the town started hurting. In response, some locals decided to open a company that gave people rides on the dunes in their specially made “Dunesmobiles.” Tourists started to flock to the area.

Soon after the area became a National Park in the 1970s, the dune rides stopped because the cars driving over the dunes eroded the dunes. Instead, the town was turned into a historical area.

Today you can visit Glen Haven and visit the cannery, blacksmith shop, and general store to learn more about the history of the town.

 
White boat with dark blue trim inside a wooden boathouse

Life Saving Station

Before the Coast Guard the United States had the Life Saving Service. The Life Saving Station near Glen Haven was built in 1901 with stations also being built on North and South Manitou Island.

The crew at the Life Saving Stations used two different means to rescue people in need of help on Lake Michigan. The first was by a rescue boat. The boat, either 23 or 26 feet long, was used to row to those trapped out on the lake. The second, and better, way to rescue people was by using a canon called the Lyle Gun. The Lyle Gun shot a metal projectile attached to a line of rope out to the boat that was in trouble. The crew from the Life Saving Station and boat could then work together to pull a life ring to and from the boat to rescue people.

The captain and crew that lived and worked at the Life Saving Station spent their day in their station looking out for ships that could be in distress. When the weather got bad they would walk along the beach watching out for ships and would shoot flares to let the boat know not to get too close to the shore.

Although the station closed in 1944 you can still visit the Sleeping Bear Point Life-Saving Station today. It is now known as the Maritime Museum and visitors can see where the crew and captain lived and, when conditions allow, get to see rangers shoot the Lyle Gun.

 
Red, horse-pulled wagon making its way in a yellow-green farm field with green bushes in the foreground

Port Oneida

Like most of the towns in Sleeping Bear Dunes, Port Oneida began as a logging village. Several immigrants from Germany moved to the area in the 1840s and 50s and built houses to live in.

When Thomas Kelderhouse moved to the area he used his knowledge of business to build a dock and welcome logging ships into the area. The town is actually named after the SS Oneida, one of the first ships that stopped in the town.

Logging continued in the area until the 1890s when most of the wood in the area was gone. Once logging in the area was gone, people turned to farming. Although the sand didn’t make the area good for farming, people were still able to plant a few crops, like potatoes, for money. Between working their farms and taking a second job, people were able to continue to live in Port Oneida until the land was made a national park in 1970.

Today you can visit Port Oneida to see some of the farms that used to operate in the area and get a chance to experience what it might have been like to live in the 1800s.

 
Island beach with old pilings sticking up from the blue-green water of Lake Michigan

North Manitou

In the early days of North Manitou Island (from 1,000 B.C.E to 1620 C.E.) Native Americans were the occupants of the island. In fact, the island is one of the richest sources of archaeological sites in the Great Lakes.

When Europeans moved onto the island they did so because of the big forests that made up the land. They came to log the forests and built a sawmill and docks on east side of the island in order to quickly move their goods.

As the population on the island grew, so did the diversity of the people there. Immigrants from Norway, Germany, Sweden, Poland, Ireland, Denmark, Canada, France, and England called the island home by 1860.

As immigrants continued to come to the island they changed the land. They started clearing land for farming while continuing to log the island. They also built a school and many homes for the island’s residents.

Deer were also brought to the island in 1925. The deer thrived on the island and now there are so many on North Manitou that people are allowed to hunt them during the fall. This keeps the deer population under control so they do not eat all of the plants on the island.

 
Island beach with cedar trees creeping toward the crystal clear lake water

South Manitou

During the island’s time as part of the logging industry, South Manitou was where most ships and people stayed at. South Manitou has a harbor that is deep and protected which ship captains liked.

Last updated: March 26, 2021

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9922 Front Street
Empire, MI 49630

Phone:

(231) 326-4700

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