History of Petoskey, Michigan

Million Dollar Sunsets: History of Downtown Petoskey

11000 BCE: Glaciers Formed the Great Lakes

Glaciers put Little Traverse Bay on the map, literally. Almost every natural landform in northern Lower Michigan is the result of glaciation during the Ice Age, known by geologists as the Pleistocean Epoch.

10999 BCE: Petoskey Stones Exposed 

The Hexagonaria percarinata, more popularly known as the Petoskey stone, is evidence of a long-ago era. These rounded, gray stones have beautiful hexagonal textures when wet or polished, and they single-handedly give many clues to the geological history of our area. Why do we find them on the beaches? The repeated advances of glaciers over our area eroded the overlying rock layers, removing hundreds of millions of years worth of rocks, and the action of waves broke the larger pieces of bedrock into smaller and rounder pieces. Today, many artisans polish these stones smooth for others to enjoy as a memento of our area. So this little memento that you might take home with you tells of our area over time: shallow seas, coral reefs, ice ages, artisans, and your trip to Petoskey.

1000-1843: Land of the Crooked Tree

The starting date of the Native Americans is given arbitrarily, as they have been in the area far longer than written history remembers. The indigenous people to Northern Michigan, the Odawa, call this land “Wahanakising” which translates to “Land of the Crooked Tree.” Near Middle Village (Goodhart) a massive pine once bent over the waters, and that served as a sign to travelers that they had entered the land of the Odawa. These trees were purposely misshapen to mark significant locations, such as a landing spot, council area, a trail marker, or to signify Odawa homelands. In 1715 the French settled in the area and translated the name to “L’Arbre Croche.” It wasn’t until 1853 when Emmet County officially organized that the Land of the Crooked Tree became a relic of history.

1634: Jean Nicolet Looks for the Northwest Passage

Jean Nicolet was a French explorer, interpreter, clerk, trader, and peacemaker. He is one of the most well-known figures in North American exploration. He spent years living with Indian tribes serving as an interpreter, and public servant while exploring and searching for the Northwest Passage. He is known for being the first European explorer to explore Lake Michigan on his quest to find the Pacific Ocean. 

1715: French Soldiers Arrive

French Soldiers set up a year-round trading post at Mackinaw City, called Fort Michilimackinac. This started a bustling fur trade business in the area.

1761: The Brits Move-In….and Right Back Out….and In Again. 

After the French and Indian War, the French troops left the Mackinac Straits, and the British troops arrived in 1761. The French civilians that remained encouraged the Native Americans to drive out the English. In 1763 The Native Americans distracted the British troops with a game called baggataway, or as we know it today, Lacrosse. This distraction proved to be a successful and deadly one. The Native Americas defeated the British troops while they were distracted. The leader of the Odawa Tribe, Pontiac, was not having success taking over the British in Detroit, the British troops felt unopposed and retook Fort Michilimackinac in 1764. 

1780: Fort Michilimackinac is moved to Mackinaw Island

In 1780 The British moved Fort Michilimackinac from Mackinaw City to Mackinac Island because they believed that they were vulnerable to an American attack if they remained in Mackinaw City. The fort on Mackinac Island is known as Fort Mackinac. The Americans took control of fort Mackinac in 1796, but during the war of 1812, the British were able to overtake the fort.  

1812-1814: The War of 1812

The war of 1812 was a war between the U.S. and Great Britain over British restrictions on the U.S Trade, and America’s desire to expand its territory. Both knew that Mackinac held the key to the fur trade and the loyalty of the Native Americans. During these two years, the U.S. and Great Britain fought for control of Michigan and the Great Lakes. On August 4th, 1814, both sides met on Mackinac Island, where the Americans were defeated, and Fort Mackinac was overtaken by the British. The Treaty of Ghent, ended the war, restored peace back to the area, and the Americans regained possession of Fort Mackinac. 

1830-1911: Hiram O. Rose

Captain Rose, as he was known to many, moved to Petoskey in 1874 and became known as “the father of Petoskey” due to the various enterprises he brought to the area, particularly the construction of the railroad and the construction of the first electrical plant. It is said that Captain Rose had more to do with the development of Petoskey than any other man who ever lived here. He opened a general store, which was known as Fox, Rose, and Buttars, developed a limestone business, build the impressive Arlington Hotel, which has since burned down. Rose was Petoskey’s first village president, established the first dock, and was credited with being the first person to plat the city. Rose led a busy life but was also the patron of the arts and built the Petoskey Grand Opera House. Upon his death, he was described as the best-loved and best-known man in Petoskey and all of northern Michigan.    

1842-1875: Dr. William Little

Although he lived in Petoskey only two short years, Dr. Little’s list of contributions to the area is impressive. He was the first postmaster of Petoskey, first physician, first to build and operate a hotel, first to open a drug store, and first to organize a school board. The contributions to the community ran in the family, as his brother Robert Little, was the first publisher of the Petoskey City Weekly Times. Known for his compassion, Dr. Little traveled wherever there was need, often receiving no pay for his services. He even crossed Little Traverse Bay in the winter by horse. On his way to Cross Village to set the broken leg of an Indian boy, Dr. Little’s cutter got caught in ice, forcing him to trudge through slush and water to free it. He cared for the boy and returned home thoroughly soaked and chilled. Within a few days, Dr. Little suffered chest pains, shortly thereafter suffering a heart attack and passing away. As supervisor of Bear Creek Township, he had purchased the property for the cemetery just weeks prior to his passing. He and his son, Willie (transferred from a burial site in Reed City, where he had died at age one) were the second and third people to be buried in Greenwood Cemetery. The first being Hattie Tracy on October 16.

1855-1879: Originally Called Bear River

When the first missionaries arrived in 1815 Petoskey was known as Bear River, for the river that flowed through downtown. The town was later renamed after the Ottawa Indian Chief Ignatius Pe-to-se-ga, meaning “Rising Sun”. Petoskey was officially granted a charter in 1879. 

1852-1855: The First Missionary Arrives

Andrew Porter, from Pennsylvania, became the first missionary to arrive in Bear Creek, later renamed Petoskey. He was sent here to establish a school for the Native AmericansThe City of Petoskey draws its name from Ottawa Chief Ignatius Petoskey. His birth name was Bidassige, or Pe-to-se-ga, which is said to mean “The Rising Sun.” Today a statue can be found of Chief Petoskey forever looking over the Little Traverse Bay near Stafford’s Perry Hotel.

1873: Named “The Land of the Million Dollar Sunsets”

Petoskey has been called the “land of the million-dollar sunsets” since 1873, thanks to a dazzled reporter who arrived just as the sun was sinking into Lake Michigan. On a late fall day that year, the train whistled to a stop at the new end of its line- Petoskey. Onboard to celebrate was the governor of Michigan, other dignitaries, and a reporter for a Grand Rapids newspaper, who is reporting on the wilderness scenery raved about the area’s “million-dollar sunsets.”

1874: Petoskey Grows

By the summer of 1874, the railroads were making regular runs between Grand Rapids and Petoskey, and the metamorphosis of Petoskey was rapid. It grew into a dynamic, busy village catering to the needs of sightseers. Luxury resort hotels were constructed near the railway depots. Today you can find the Pere Marquette railroad depot surviving as the Little Traverse Historical Museum, keeping the stories of the early days here alive for future generations. Just a short walk from the heart of the Gaslight District, you can visit the museum during the summertime.

1875: Bay View

 Bay View, adjacent to Petoskey, was founded in 1875 by the Methodists and used as a religious campground. It has since grown from a tented community to a community littered with beautiful homes for summer residence to enjoy. Many of the houses were built before 1900. Bay View is registered on the National Register of Historic Places. 

1878: Mineral Well Park Drilled

Mineral Well Park was originally drilled as an oil well, but instead of oil, fresh mineral water was found. Luckily, mineral water was all the health rage, and it quickly became a popular spot for filling jugs of water. Petoskey was hailed as a place to retreat to escape hay fever, allergies and enjoy the healing waters of the artesian well.

1879: Petoskey Granted Charter

Petoskey was growing at a rapid pace, and because of that a public meeting to discuss incorporating the village was held. Some familiar names were part of the first town meeting, Hiram O. Rose being one of them. Honorable Judge Pailthorp granted the charter of Petoskey in February of 1879.

1886: The lights turn on

A well know name by now, Hiram O. Rose, had built a small electric light plant on the Bear River, just south of Mitchell Street Bridge, known as the Edison Petoskey Light Company. On March 5th, 1886, electric lights were turned on for the first time in Petoskey. 

1890: The Gaslight District is Born

By 1890, a substantial number of specialty shops had sprung up along what is now Petoskey Street, creating a unique shopping area originally known as the Midway. These shops catered primarily to affluent resorters and became the start of what is now called the Gaslight District.

Lake Street Downtown Petoskey Gaslight District in the 1920s

1904-1932 Original Michigan Maple Block

Petoskey is proud to be home to one of the oldest manufacturing plants of its kind. Michigan Maple Block, originally Petoskey Block and Manufacturing Co. was an impressive manufacturing plant along the train tracks in Old Town Petoskey. The original plant no longer exists due to a fire, but the company rebuilt and was in operation for more than a century, closing in 2020.

1914-1967 Steam Ships

Long before roads or train tracks, Michigan’s transportation networks consisted of lakes, rivers, and streams, and Little Traverse Bay was no exception. Competing with railroads, the steamships became a luxurious alternative, with smaller bay ferries, such as the Searchlight and the Silver Spray, which provided hourly service back and forth between Petoskey and Harbor Springs. Larger ships such as the Manitou, the North Land, The SS South American, and its sister ship, the S.S. North America, were larger, Great Lakes steamboats. These steamers were built as passenger ships for leisure cruising between major cities to resort areas like Harbor Springs and Petoskey. 

 2016 – Present New Brand

The Downtown Managment Board went through a rebranding process and rebranded Downtown Petoskey as the Light of the North.

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