This visually dramatic land, created by the forces of the ice age, continues to be sculptured by nature. The Sleeping Bear Dunes were a landmark for early Indians and sailors as well as today’s astronauts on their space flights.
Native Americans were the first inhabitants of the area. The Ottawa and Chippewa tribes flourished off the fertile farming land, fishing and hunting. Local author Kathleen Stocking recounts that as a girl in the 1950s, it was not uncommon to find birch trees clearly marked by the Native Americans gathering bark for their baskets. These trees can still be found.
French fur traders inhabited the area in the 1800s. In the 1800s, the Great Lakes became major avenues of commercial shipping. Docks were built on the Manitou Island to furnish cord wood to fuel the ships. The first mainland Leelanau County settler established a trading post in 1847 near the mouth of the Crystal River. The wife of one of the early settlers admired the trees covered with grape vines and named the community “Glen Arbor.”
In 1886, D.H. Day bought large tracts of land, including all of Glen Haven. He fervently believed in and promoted the area’s future. He produced lumber at his Glen Lake sawmill, replanted trees for second growth, planted fruit orchards and established a cannery at his dock in Glen Haven, which has become an iconic area image preserved today.
By the 1900s, the new growth was in tourism. A handful of resorts becan along the shores of Glen Lake with visitors arriving by steamship in Glen Haven. Wives and children would often stay the entire summer, with the men arriving from Chicago by steamer for the weekends. Glen Lake had two golf courses and a passenger excursion boat which stopped at resorts and cottages.
People have been drawn to the beauty of the area for many years, including many writers and artists who have established homes and galleries here. The creation of the 72,000 acre Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in 1971 assured that future generations would also be able to experience and enjoy the unique, pristine beauty of this land.