Area History

Part I: Three Fires Confederacy

The "first people" of the area were the Odawa (Ottawa) , Ojibwa (Chippewa) and Bodowadomi (Pottawatomi) who were known as the people of the Three Fires Confederacy. They came to the area because their spiritual leaders told them to travel west until they found food growing on the water. When they found rice, they settled.

The people of the Confederacy were traders who traded as far east as the Atlantic, as far west as the mountains, as far north as Northern Canada, and as far south as the Gulf of Mexico. They were a wealthy, peaceful people who were respected by their neighbors. When the French and English arrived, the people of the Confederacy traded with both but wars between newcomers unfortunately followed. In the first, the English defeated the French and the French moved north. In time, the Americans arrived and a second war with the British followed.

The Americans defeated the British and soon looked to take over the land of the Confederacy. In 1836 and 1837, treaties were signed and two-thirds of what is now Michigan was ceded by the people of the Confederacy. Fishing, hunting, and gathering rights were reserved by the people of the Confederacy. More land was ceded in an 1855 treaty. The treaties were not honored by the Americans and services promised were not given from shortly after the treaty of 1855 until 1980. At this time, the people of the Confederacy became recognized as the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. 

Part II: The Settlers 

Much as they had attracted the first people, the natural resources attacted those who followed. Some wished to use the resources to make a living, others for recreations, still others for conservation. Those different interests sometimes led to controversy. 

The first to follow to the Dunes is believed to have been Gurdon Hubbard, the head of an American Fur Company fur brigade. Hubbard visited the Sleeping Bear Dunes in the summer of 1823. Although he was sent to supply a score of trading posts, Hubbard and his companion climbed the face of dune, enjoyed the vistas, and jumped and tumbled down the 400 feet of sand on the face of the dune, becoming perhaps the first tourists to visit!

An entreprenuer by the name of John LaRue, who came from South Manitou Island, is believed to be have been the first non-native to settle in the area. In about 1848, LaRue set up a trading post at the mouth of the Crystal River and began trading with the Native Americans.

In 1854, more settlers - the Fishers and John Dorsey - came to the area. The Fischers speculated on land buying more than 1,000 acreas on the north shore of Glen Lake. They named the community and its lakes and river. The Dorsey's established a copper shop making fish barrels for outside markets.

About a year later, Mrs. Fisher's brother, Charles McCarty, established a cordwood station at Glen Haven and built a 300 foot dock to service the steamships. McCarty also built a dormitory as a residence for the immigrant workers who cut and hauled his wood. But a few miles away, saw and grist mills were established by W.D. Burdick and lumbering - first for cordwood and then for hardwood - became Leelanau County's first "industry".

Part III: D.H. Day

In 1870, the Northern Transportation Company bought Glen Haven and the cordwood operation to serve its fleet of 24 steamships. Eight years later, D.H. Day a land developer and agent for Northern Transportation, found his way to Glen Arbor. Day was smitten and had, within three years, purchased the Northern Transportation Company's properties.

The core of his business was lumbering but Day was an early proponent of tourism and agriculture. He operated two passenger and freight steamers form the little towns of Glen Haven and Glen Arbor to Milwaukee and Chicago. And, his farm boasted 5,000 acres of apple and cherry trees, as well as, a large dairy. To enhance his tourism and farming interests, Day converted the dormitory at Glen haven to the Sleeping Bear Inn and built the Glen Haven Canning Company. 

Although Day's business activities benefited the area in many ways, Day's work in the field of conservation may have had a more lasting, even if long-delayed, impact. Day served as Chairman of Michigan's first State Park Commission and, in 1919, donated 32 acres on the shore of Lake Michigan as the D.H. Day State Park. That park is now a part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and serves as one of its two campgrounds. 

With increased maritime traffic in the part of Lake Michigan which lies between the Dunes and and Manitou Islands (called the "Manitou Passage"), and the large number of vessels visiting Glen Haven and Glen Arbor, risks increased as did tragic accidents. Thus, a Coast Guard station was established at Sleeping Bear Point in 1901. It was moved to its current location sometime thereafter. The Life-Saving station followed in 1931. Both remained in operation until 1944.

Part IV: The Sleeping Bear Dunes Park

In later years, Pierce ("Pat") Stocking had a profound influence on the area. Stocking was a controversial land speculator, lumberman, and developer who bought and sold thousands of acres of land. In anticipation of the National Lakeshore's creation Stocking purchased the Sleeping Bear Dunes. When legislation authorizing it was delayed for more than a decade, Stocking built his own "park," within which he created the first scenic drive that opened the Sleeping Bear Dunes to all Americans. At its entrance, a small, handmade sign said:

"Take only pictures, leave only footprints."

Today, the mouth of the Crystal River is part of The Homestead. So, too, is the site on which John LaRue had his trading post. "Fisher Lake", "Dorsey's Corner", and "Burdickville" seem more like neighbors than parts of history. Remnants of Mccarthy's dock, though visible, barely tell of the raly days. D.H. Day's farm - which is right across from the Dune Climb - is no longer active but still very beautiful. The National Park Service now owns the Sleeping Bear Dunes, D.H. Day Park, and Glen Haven and the buildings within it. A number of the buildings - notably, the Coast Guard Station, Life Saving Station, Glen Haven Canning Company, and D.H. Day Store - have been restored and are open to the public.

To bring this history to life, be sure to see D.H. Day's farm, the park he donated, and the buildings he built in Glen Haven. Also see D.H. Day's store and Glen Haven Canning Company, the remnants of McCarty's dock, the Coast Guard Station, and the Life Saving Station at Glen Haven. And, drive the Pierce Stocking Scenic drive, being sure to to stop at all of the scenic overlooks! 

About a hundred years after the first non-native visitors came into the dunes, another person who would have a great influence on the area arrived in a little town to the south. He was Dr. Joseph Maddy, the educator who founded the Interlochen Center for the Arts as a permanent, year-round training center for young musicians, dancers, actors, visual arts, and writers. During the summer, the Interlochen Center for the Arts  presents more than 750 programs of chamber music, orchestral works, instruental and vocal recital, opera, jazz, band music, and dance. Performers include students, staff, faculty, and world-renowned talents ranging from Willie Nelson to Itzhak Perlman. 


You can get away to a place where the common pressures of everyday life give way to the…