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Little Traverse Bay, Past and Present

Michael R. Federspiel With contemporary photographs by Rebecca Zeiss

Publication Year: 2014

The railroad’s arrival in the 1870s tranformed the formerly sleepy Little Traverse Bay region into a tourist mecca. Victorian resort communities and the growing towns of Harbor Springs and Petoskey provided lodging, dining, entertainment, and supplies to an influx of settlers, speculators, and tourists who visited in the summer or stayed year-round. Over the decades, cars have replaced trains and steamships and many structures have been preserved, altered, or demolished, but Little Traverse Bay, Past and Present shows that the area’s history is still very much a part of the present day. Featuring contemporary images by Rebecca Zeiss, over three hundred historic (most never before published) photos, and historical narrative by Michael R. Federspiel, this volume documents both the development of the tourist economy and also serves as a snapshot of the region today. Little Traverse Bay, Past and Present is divided into chapters by place and topic. Federspiel and Zeiss look at the cities of Petoskey and Harbor Springs; the resort associations of Bay View, Wequetoning, and Harbor Point; and railroads, steamships, and excursions. Along the way, they visit historic hotels, public buildings, residences, commercial districts, and waterfront areas. At many sites, Zeiss’s beautiful and precise photos show that the historic views are still as they were; at others, they are hidden behind facades or structural alterations. Sometimes the historic sites are simply gone, replaced by something totally new or an empty lot. Federspiel also includes an introduction on the making of modern Little Traverse Bay and introduces the leaders and businessmen behind it. Popular tourist regions often boast beautiful souvenir photo books or history books addressing their past. Little Traverse Bay, Past and Present is both, making it of interest to visitors and local residents alike who want to learn more about the area’s nineteenth-century history as well as those interested in its appearance today.

Published by: Wayne State University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

In the movie Somewhere in Time, actor Christopher Reeves checks into a room at Mackinac Island’s Grand Hotel and wills himself back in time. Once transported, he emerges into a place that lives in both the past and the present. In many ways one can have the same experience today wandering the streets in Petoskey or Harbor Springs or admiring the homes of Harbor Point, Bay View,...

Introduction: The Making of Modern Little Traverse Bay

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pp. 3-6

Hiram O. Rose must have been extremely pleased and excited as he walked Petoskey’s bustling streets in 1900. The village was exploding with activity and he was largely responsible for it. Just twentyfive years before, Bear River (as the settlement was known) consisted of only a few white settlers living on the river’s west bank and local...

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pp. 7-11

In 1856 the U.S. government made millions of acres of federally owned land available to states to encourage the building of railroads and to aid the settlement of previously uninhabited areas. The states receiving these grants would in turn award land to individual companies for construction of rail lines from one specific point to another. The government was accurately anticipating that between...

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pp. 12-13

Lest one think that the railroad companies were solely responsible for encouraging and transporting these long-distance tourists, it should be remembered that Great Lakes passenger steamship companies also played an important role in bringing people to the Little Traverse Bay region. There was a long tradition of Great Lakes water commerce, beginning with the Native Americans centuries earlier. But with the post–Civil War growth of tourism and the...

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Local Excursions

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pp. 14-20

Railroad and steamship companies not only promoted travel but also endorsed selected local activities. To address visitors’ curiosity about Native Americans, the GR & I sponsored the Hiawatha Pageant at Wa-Ya-Ga-Mug at nearby Round Lake. Trains took guests a few miles east of Petoskey to Round Lake, where the ...

1. Petoskey

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pp. 21-29

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pp. 30-57

Today, especially in the summer, cars rule the Little Traverse Bay region, bringing people from far away and then allowing them to travel locally to shop and to visit attractions and friends. But a century ago these requirements were efficiently met by the railroads. Two former rail depots remain in Petoskey to remind visitors of that transportation era long past. One is now a history museum...

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pp. 58-79

Motorists traveling on U.S. 131 or U.S. 31 encounter many hotels and motels as they enter Petoskey. All offer guests clean rooms, attractive views and, often, breakfast. A hundred years ago (when those highways were fields and forests) the same amenities—and more—were available at Petoskey’s downtown hotels. The Little Traverse community—particularly Petoskey—provided a wide range...

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pp. 80-109

Petoskey’s waterfront naturally draws visitors. Its ever-changing blue water and those famous million-dollar sunsets pull people to the shore. The green parkland, picnic tables, playground, docks, and walkways make it a perfect place to spend a leisurely day. While its value now is recreational, that is a far cry from its commercial past....

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Lake Street

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pp. 110-139

East Lake Street is at the center of today’s “Gaslight District” and since Petoskey’s creation, it and Mitchell and Howard streets have formed Petoskey’s commercial heart. Lake Street’s early advantage began when the Grand Rapids and Indiana railroad decided to build its first depot on it. This meant that both freight and passengers would unload at that location, and the closer a hotel or business was to the depot, the easier and less expensive it was for customers to reach it. Two hotels sprang up immediately: the Occidental...

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Mitchell Street

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pp. 140-165

Mitchell Street began as a place primarily for local residents to do business, and it has to some extent retained that purpose over the decades. In general, Lake Street was more likely to have seasonal shops catering to summer visitors and residents, but Mitchell covered the basics for year-round residents; it was the home of ...

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Howard Street

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pp. 166-171

Howard Street has long been a connection between Lake and Mitchell streets. In many ways it is one of the most architecturally unchanged streets in Petoskey. Prominently located on its southwest corner with Lake Street is the original First State Bank building, which retains its original look and purpose. This street has housed drug and shoe stores, barbershops, and the Palace Theater, one of Petoskey’s first movie houses. The flatiron building’s unique shape has remained unchanged, though the types of businesses occupying its spaces have varied greatly....

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Pennsylvania Park

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pp. 172-180

The green space that spreads between Bay and Mitchell streets is today known as Pennsylvania Park. Its use as a beautiful leisure spot for picnics, gazebo concerts, and art fairs is a far cry from what formerly was a busy railroad thoroughfare where over one hundred trains a day passed on the three side-by-side sets of tracks. Early on, Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad officials recognized that having ...

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Bear River

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pp. 181-186

Originating at Walloon Lake, the Bear River snakes its way to Lake Michigan through shallows and swamps until it empties into Little Traverse Bay. Native Americans gathered and camped there for centuries before the first Europeans arrived. As early as 1841, land surveyors identified this stretch as the perfect place for mills. In the last mile before its waters enter Little Traverse Bay, the river drops seventy-five feet over its limestone bed, and the aggressive water flow was ideal for generating power. The first mill was erected by Andrew...

2. Harbor Springs

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pp. 187-201

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pp. 202-212

While train service was undoubtedly historically important to the region, so was the influence of passenger ship travel—especially to Harbor Springs. Unlike Petoskey, Harbor Springs is blessed with one of Lake Michigan’s best natural harbors. Protected by the point, its waters are deep and sheltered, so that the lake’s largest ships could easily dock there, buffered from rough seas. By the 1890s steamship companies running between Chicago and Mackinaw were making regular stops here. While it was easiest for railroad travelers...

3. Summer Communities

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pp. 213-215

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Bay View

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pp. 216-237

In 1875 a group representing Michigan’s Methodist Church conferences began looking for a place to hold summer camp meetings. A selection committee visited and considered various sites, eventually recommending land just east of Petoskey. The committee members chose this site because of its beauty and the ease of transportation but also because of the deal they were ...

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Harbor Point

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pp. 238-244

The Harbor Point Association was first known as the Lansing Resort. It was established in 1878 when a group of friends from Lansing camped on the property and then purchased it from a local priest, Father Weikamp. Twenty-two of them bought the fifty-two acres for $1,300, and in 1880 hired John Swift to plat roads, walks, and lots. Space was set aside for around one hundred cottages (most of which were built by 1890), none was to be built for less than...

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pp. 245-256

Wequetonsing (originally known as the Presbyterian Summer Resort Association) began in 1877 when the citizens of Little Traverse (Harbor Springs) donated eighty acres for a Presbyterian summer resort just east of the village. The grounds were laid out and construction of a hotel began that summer. Opened in 1881, the hotel had 109 rooms that were available only for association members. It eventually expanded to accommodate up to four hundred guests and, like the hotel at Harbor Point, it served meals...

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pp. 257-258

Those who happen to be on the waterfront at day’s end invariably pause as the sun drops into Lake Michigan. It’s something of a ritual at this place known for its million-dollar sunsets. For years and years people have done this, and they will continue to do so long after our current generations are gone. These sunsets and the rest of the Little Traverse region’s undeniable natural beauty have and always will ...


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pp. 259-262


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pp. 263-270

E-ISBN-13: 9780814338209
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814338193

Page Count: 280
Illustrations: 346
Publication Year: 2014