The first known inhabitants of the Grand Traverse region are the People of the Three Fires Confederacy; the Ottawa, Chippewa, and the Pottawatami. These nations trace their origins to the east coast near Turtle (Mackinac) Island and are part of the Anishinaabek language group.
Local bands endured European colonialism, wars between European powers, westward expansion, broken treaties, and battles over tribal recognition. Today two area bands have regained federal recognition. The Grand Traverse Band of Ottowa & Chippewa regained their status as a federally recognized sovereign Indian Nation in 1980. The Little River Band of Ottowa Indians regained their federal status years later, in 1994.
Early European settlement and commerce was limited to the Lake Michigan shoreline well before it penetrated to inland areas of the region. Communities were established on the OId Mission and Leelanau peninsulas, while North and South Manitou Islands were to become regular trading ports for ships traveling to and from Chicago and points east.
As settlement continued and populations grew to meet the demand for harvesting timber in the region, villages and town arose to serve burgeoning growth in agriculture. The opening of the Erie Canal in 1826 created access to other markets and other people, as the expanding immigrant populations of the eastern United States began to move westward.
Steam ships soon replaced sail for moving goods to market and the coming of the railroads eventually ended lumber production in the region, as timber producers could more quickly and easily move their product to markets throughout the Midwest, exhausting the seemingly inexhaustible forests. Commercial fishing, farming and manufacturing attracted more people to the region, and ships and trains began to introduce a new kind of commerceas as vacationers discovered the Grand Traverse Region.
Eventually the automobile became the main transport for visitors to access the area, and the natural beauty of the region and the cool summer climate attracted (and still attracts) seasonal residents, resorters, and campers. As the Grand Traverse region became a vacation destination, providing quality hotels, stores, and restaurants became a priority.
As transport and market access continued to evolve, so did the region’s agriculture interests. What had been a few scattered farms became major producers of potatoes and other vegetables, and as we moved into the 20th century, cherries and other fruits became the region’s most identifiable agricutural commodity.
Today’s region is home to more than 200,000 year round residents but often doubles during the summer season. In what used to be a tourist economy many residents now find year round or work from home employment, enabling residents the opportunity to reap the natural beauty of the region year round. The fruit industry has created a thriving wine industry, hop farms are sprouting up to support the Michigan craft beer movement. Boats are stored away and snowmobiles dusted off, trade the flip-flops and water shoes for boots and snowshoes. Winter festivals melt into spring cleanup and we rejoice as the sun returns. We’ll shop at farmer’s markets and stop to watch a small town parade until the leaves fall again.