That’s one old pinky.
The peninsula that makes an aerial view of Michigan look like it’s ready to pick up a glass of pinot officially became a county 150 years ago next month.
Destined to become a wine and sightseeing hot spot, Leelanau joined the roll of state counties just as the nation was in the thick of the Civil War.
Author and historian John Mitchell of Suttons Bay says it was the Homestead Act of 1862 that started bringing large numbers of settlers to the peninsula. That’s the law that populated much of the Midwest, as it offered 160 acres of land for anyone who would tame it and make it home for five years.
“The Homestead Act was a populist law that was embraced by the same people who were abolitionist,” says Mitchell, author of “Grand Traverse: The Civil War Era.”
And in 1863, when state legislators broke Leelanau off from being a township of Grand Traverse County (as was what is now Benzie County), Northport at Leelanau’s tip had a larger population of white settlers than all of Grand Traverse County, Mitchell says.
The town at that time was a busy stop for Lake Michigan shipping traffic, where vessels loaded up on cord wood for fuel.
But the history of Leelanau County is largely the history of its several distinct towns.
Here are some milestones, thanks to the Leelanau Historical Society and other sources:
• 1848-49 – Rev. George N. Smith and others settle Northport.
• 1851 – John Dorsey settles in Glen Arbor.
• 1852 – Missionary Peter Dougherty establishes Omena.
• 1853 – Antoine Manseau and John Miller build water-powered sawmill and dam in Leland.
• 1854 – H.C. Sutton founds Suttonsburg, now known as Suttons Bay.
• 1855 – Simon and Jacob Schaub settle Provemont, renamed Lake Leelanau in the 1920s.
• 1863 – State legislature recognizes Leelanau as a county on Feb. 28.
• 1864 – John LaRue settles in Empire.
• 1874 – Telegraph line installed from Traverse City to Northport.
• 1892 – Manistee and Northeastern railway line built from Manistee
to Traverse City to Leelanau.
• 1892 – Cedar developed along new railroad.
• 1895 – North and South Manitou and Fox islands become part of the county.
Leelanau County government officials are still deciding how to observe the anniversary and hope to schedule events later this year in honor of the occasion. So far, sheriff’s deputies’ badges have been redesigned in commemoration.
The Leelanau Historical Society and Museum is also currently determining what activities it will offer this year, business manager Julie Rhodes says.
And as county officials set their priorities for the year, they’ll be mulling over 21st Century concerns in the coming month, says Administrator Chet Janik. Possible goals for this year include broadband Internet service county-wide; getting something going on again at Sugar Loaf resort after a decade vacant; and alternatives for funding 911 services.