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History of the Grand Traverse Region

In the past the entire region was a fresh-water seabed, but for the past 4,000 years, following the withdrawal of the last glacier, the geology of this region has been stabilizing. Our largely sandy soil and deep bays (600 foot depth off Old Mission harbor) are remnants of past glacial action, and even today land elevations continue a gradual rebound from the weight of the once mile-thick ice. Little is known of early human activity, but it may go back 10,000 years when the glaciers began to recede and hunting began.

The Ottawa Indians (kin to the Chippewa and Potawatomi, and also known as the Odawa) pressed west into the region in the 1600s, centering on the islands of Georgian Bay. By the 1700s a permanent settlement existed north of the present-day Harbor Springs. The Grand Traverse region was largely a hunting and summer garden area for bands of the Ottawa when the first Europeans arrived in the early 1800s, with a Presbyterian mission being established at Old Mission (later at Omena) in the 1840s.

Beyond fur trading, a wooding station on the Manitou Islands, supplying cordwood for the Great Lakes steamers, was the first commercial activity beginning around 1842. The first lumber mill was established by Chicago interests at the present site of Traverse City in 1848, taking timber from the Boardman valley. Tanneries, charcoal kilns and pig-iron smelting were other early activities, all timber related, followed by subsistence farming on the logged-over sandy soil. Cherry trees came with the early settlers and in the late 1800s cherries began to be a serious source of commerce (grape growing for wine did not begin until the 1970s, although they both share the same soil and climatic requirements). By the 1880s lake steamers (and later resort trains) brought summer visitors seeking relief from heat and hay fever. By 1910 the lumbering era was drawing to a close, and the region’s commerce and population went into decline for nearly half a century.

The gradual and beautiful healing of a land ravaged by lumbering, a desire for an invigorated life-style, and the growing capacity to conduct commerce electronically are the bases for the population growth the region witnesses today.
 
   
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