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New Traverse City Historical Tour Available!
During your time in Traverse City we encourage you to become familiar with all that our area has to offer, which includes knowing how our town came to be! The History Center of Traverse City recently partnered with The Pathfinder School, a local independent Pre-kindergarten through eighth grade school, to provide our area with a self-guided app based tour for smart phone and tablet users. But this is not your average historical tour!
The tour showcases a number of historical facts but the students have added their own findings to the information - making it full of fun and quirky information that people of any age will appreciate! At each History Center history tour site is a window decal or sign announcing “Spot History” with the web address and a QR code to access the tour. The app information about the site tells the history of buildings, events, people and what life was like back then - and pictures, videos, and music only amplify the experience!
Ancient glaciers carved the long deep lakes and dramatic hills that give Traverse City and its surrounding communities their splendid natural setting. But this beautiful region is much more than the sum of its scenic and recreational qualities. It is a place rich with human history, where generations of Native Americans and missionaries, lumberjacks and fishermen, mariners and farmers all left their imprint on the landscape and helped create a colorful and vibrant culture that can still be experienced today.
Indian hunters and French traders were the first people to spend time here, and it was they who gave the region its name – La Grand Traverse, because of the “long crossing” they had to make by canoe across the mouth of the bay. But even the native Ottawa and Chippewa people didn’t settle here permanently until the early 18th century.
In 1839 the Rev. Peter Dougherty established the area’s first permanent settlement, an Indian mission at the tip of the Old Mission peninsula, and soon other settlers followed.
By 1847 a small sawmill operation had been established on the banks of the Boardman River, and soon it became the nucleus of a growing company town led by Chicago businessmen Perry Hannah and Tracy Lay. In 1852 the new settlement was christened Traverse City -- but until the first road through the forest was built in 1864 it remained a remote outpost, accessible only by water.
The development of manufacturing and agriculture – potatoes, apples, and eventually cherries – spurred the community to press for railroad service, which came to Traverse City in 1872. In 1885 Traverse City was designated as the site of the Northern Michigan Asylum, which became one of the city’s major employers and eventually housed a population several times larger than that of the town itself.
By the end of the 19th century, Traverse City was also attracting large numbers of summer visitors, who flocked by train and steamship to enjoy the region’s cool temperatures, clean air and water and scenic beauty. They are still coming today, and tourism has grown to become the area’s main economic mainstay.
But reminders of the past are everywhere, from lonely lighthouses and humble mission churches to grand homes whose owners made their fortunes shipping timber from the region’s vast forests.
Here’s a small sampling of historic sites in the area:
Old Mission Village
From 1839 to 1852, this idyllic site on East Grand Traverse Bay was the site of a unique experiment created by Presbyterian missionary Peter Dougherty: a small colony of teachers, artisans and farmers – Indians and non-Indians alike – who lived and worked side by side. Although the village of Old Mission is a thriving community to this day, it seems a place that has been frozen in time. Some of its original structures, including the broad frame mission house, the general store, the trim Old Mission Inn and the New England-style Congregational church with its tall white spire, are still standing and still occupied. Three miles to the north is the Old Mission Lighthouse, built in 1870 to warn ships away from the rocky shoals of Old Mission Point.
Old Mission General Store, 18250 Mission Rd. Traverse City, MI 49686 (231) 223-4310
Downtown Front Street
After decades of neglect, Traverse City’s Front Street shopping district has been transformed into a picturesque and pedestrian-friendly reminder of the city’s historical roots. Its tree-shaded sidewalks now lead past shops, restaurants and galleries that have made creative use of the Victorian buildings they now occupy. One special landmark is the beautiful City Opera House, built in 1891 and recently reopened after more than $8.5 million in exquisite restoration work. 106 E. Front Street Traverse City MI 49685 (231)941-8082
Park Place Hotel
Built by Henry D. Campbell on park land purchased from the city in 1873, the Park Place Hotel started as the Campbell House Hotel. Five years later, lumber barons J. Perry Hannah and A. Tracy Lay bought and upgraded the property to levels of opulence and service equal to the era's world-class hotels. Appropriately, they re-named it Park Place. In 1930, completion of a 10-story tower made it Traverse City's tallest building. Atop the tower, a 25,000 watt symbolized its far-reaching hospitality. Today, the Park Place Hotel is a designated Michigan State Historic Site.
Location: 300 East State Street, Traverse City, MI 49684 (231) 946-5000
Historic Neighborhoods The Boardman Neighborhood along Boardman Ave. and Washington St. area preserves some of Traverse City’s oldest and most ornate homes, many in the fanciful Queen Anne style. To the west, the later turn-of-the-century mansions of Sixth Street (known as “Silk Stocking Row”) include the immense 32-room house built by Traverse City founder Perry Hannah and dozens of other elegant homes.
History Center of Traverse City
Step into the "Time Machine" on Sixth Street to see ice age artifacts and native craft exhibits, logging, railroads and cherry crops trace the history of Traverse City and its people. Young visitors will be engaged with hand's-on fun and don't forget to take a ride on the Magical History Bus through town during the summer. Special exhibits change frequently throughout the year.
Location: 322 Sixth Street Traverse City MI 49684 (231) 995-0313
Sleder’s Family Tavern
This 123-year-old Traverse City landmark was built by Bohemian immigrants who worked in the city’s thriving 19th-century sawmills. It has been lovingly preserved, and is still a favorite hangout where locals and visitors can enjoy lunch and dinner seven days a week.
Location: 717 Randolph Street Traverse City, MI 49684 (231) 947-9213
Grand Traverse Commons The former home of the Northern Michigan Asylum is now being redeveloped into a unique “village” of shops, restaurants, apartments and galleries in what may be the country’s largest historic re-use project. Developers are preserving both the castle-like 19th century buildings that once housed staff and patients, as well as the 480-acre wooded campus that surrounds them – now a favorite place for hikers and cyclists.
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