Fur trappers, farmers, lumbermen and sailors were the first white settlers to call home the region now known as the Sleeping Bear Dunes. A number of local organizations are dedicated to preserving that history by providing visitors a unique look back at how these turn-of-the-century pioneers lived and worked back in the days when the land was young.
Here’s a shortlist of the summers best local events and historic attractions for families maritime buffs and anyone else interested in the history of “America’s Most Beautiful Place.”
Port Oneida Fair
August 9th and 10th
Held at six of the historic farmsteads in Port Oneida every year, the Port Oneida Fair lets visitors experience what Leelanau County life was like in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Learn more about basket weaving, soap making, butter making, candle dipping and fur trapping. Listen as park rangers and local history experts share the area’s history. Watch as teams of oxen and horses cut, load and haul hay and artists and craftsmen demonstrate their skills.
On Friday, August 9th, Preserve Historic Sleeping Bear is planning a Chicken BBQ. For more information, contact Preserve Historic Sleeping Bear at www.phsb.org.
The year’s “star party” will close out the two-day fair on Saturday, August 10th, from 8:00 – 10:30 p.m. at the Thoreson Farm. Join park rangers and the Grand Traverse Astronomical Society to experience a form of recreation that has been enjoyed by many generations and continues today. GTAS members share their telescopes and knowledge while viewing Mars, Saturn and Perseid meteor shower. Learn more about astronomy as it was in the 1900s. Remember to bring a flashlight for the walk back to your car.
Empire Museum Center
Open daily during July and August (1:00 – 4:44 p.m., Closed Wednesday)
Portraying over 100 years of Empire area history, the Empire Museum Center features a unique complex of four historic buildings (a schoolhouse, fire house, barn and gas station) preserved exactly as they were 100 years ago. The main museum gift shop offers a fine selection of 40 local history books and audio/visual presentations.
Glen Haven Maritime Museum and General Store
Open daily from 11:00 – 5:00 p.m., Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day
Located along the newly established Sleeping Bear Dunes Heritage Trail, the Sleeping Bear Point Coast Guard Station Maritime Museum is located just west of Glen Haven. Exhibits cover the U.S. Life-Saving Service, the U.S. Coast Guard and Great Lakes shipping history. A room on the second floor is outfitted as steamer wheelhouse with a panoramic view of the Manitou Passage shipping channel.
During summer at 3:00 p.m. every day, there is a re-enactment of the breeches buoy rescue drill using Raggedy Ann and Andy as the shipwreck victims. Needless to say, this particular program is especially enjoyed by children, who are encouraged to participate in the drill exercise. Visitors should also check out the blacksmith and the Glen Haven General Store, two attractions preserved to their 1920s appearance. The Glen Store offers merchandise related to the history of the area, including kitchenware, food, toys and maritime-related items and books.
Leelanau Historical Society
Open Wednesday – Friday 10:00 – 4:00 p.m. from June-October. Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Preserving the logging, maritime and cultural history of the county home to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the Leelanau Historical Society offers visitors an extensive collection of archival information, period photographs and historic exhibits depicting over 130 years of local history.
Two of the best exhibits on display right now are “Shipwrecks of the Manitou Passage” and “Life on Manitou Island: 1895 – 1930.” Learn about the shipping channel once regarded as one of the most dangerous on the Great Lakes – everything from the North Manitou train that ran from 1909 – 1915, to the small cottage rumored to be designed by the legendary Frank Lloyd Wright.
On August 20th (rain date Aug 2nd), the LHS is also hosting a North Manitou Island daytrip. Travel to the island and enjoy a day exploring North Manitou’s natural beauty while you learn about the farmers, loggers, fishermen and, later, steamboat traveling vacationers who traveled from Chicago to spend summers on Manitou idyllic Cottage Row.