Until the early 1800s, Northern Michigan was a vast, virtually unbroken woodland inhabited exclusively by Native Americans known as the Anishinabek. It was a favorite country with the Indians and the Mound Builders.

First Building Project in Elk Rapids:  The history of Grand Traverse County begins in the year 1839 with the advent of Protestant missionaries and the United States surveyors. These were the first intimations the Indians in this locality received of rival ownership. In May, 1839, Rev. John Fleming and Rev. Peter Dougherty arrived at the little cove, known as Mission Harbor, and landed near where the wharf has since been built. They had come by boat from Mackinac where they had spent the previous v, inter and had now come to the Grand Traverse Bay region for the purpose of establishing a mission, having been sent to this country by the Presbyterian Board of Missions. From Dr. Leach's sketch in the Grand Traverse Herald we now quote as follows: "Of the presence of man there were no signs visible, save a few bark wigwams, in a narrow break in the fringe of forest, from one of which a thin column of blue smoke curled lazily upward. They found only one Indian at the village. He informed them that the band were encamped at the mouth of the river (Elk River) on the opposite side of the bay. The Indian made a signal with a column of smoke which had the effect of bringing over a canoe, full of young men, who came to inquire who the strangers were and what was wanted. The next day, a chief, with a number of men, came over. Messrs. Fleming and Dougherty informed him that they had come, by direction of their agent at Mackinac. and by permission of their great father, the president, to establish a school among them for the instruction of their children, and to teach them a knowledge of the Savior. The reply was that the head chief, with his men, would come in a few days, and then they would give an answer. On the arrival of the head chief, Aish-qua-gwon-a-ba, a council was held, for the purpose of considering the proposal of the missionaries.

At its close, Messrs. Fleming and Dougherty were informed that the Indians had decided to unite the bands living in the vicinity, and locate near the river, on the east side of the bay (Elk Rapids). If the missionaries would go with them, they would show them the intended location of their new villages and gardens, so that they could select a good central site for their dwelling and school. About the 20th of the month, the white men in their boat accompanied by a fleet of Indian canoes, crossed the bay, landing at the mouth of the river, where the village of Elk Rapids is now situated. The Indians proposed to divide their settlement into two villages. After looking over the ground, the missionaries chose a location, something more than a quarter of a mile from the river, on the south side.

The day after the missionaries landed at Elk River, the Indians' came to their tent in great excitement, saying there were white men in the country. They had seen a horse's track which contained the impression of a shoe. Their ponies were not shod. Shortly after, a white man came into the camp. He proved to be a packman belonging to a company of United States surveyors, who were at work on the east side of Elk and Torch Lakes. He had lost his way and wanted a guide to pilot him back to his company.

An Indian went with him several miles, returning in the afternoon with the man's hatchet in his possession, having taken it on the refusal of the latter to pay him for his services. The next day the whole company of surveyors came in and encamped for a short time at the river.  Immediately after deciding upon the location, Messrs. Fleming and Dougherty commenced cutting logs for the construction of a dwelling and school house. Hard work and the discomforts of a wilderness, the latter of which were doubly annoying to the inexperienced missionaries, filled up the next few days. Among other evils from which they could not escape, the sand flies were a terrible torment. Finally, the body of the house was raised, the doors and windows brought from Mackinac were put in their places, and the gables and roofs were covered with sheets of cedar bark purchased of the Indians.

Then an unexpected blow fell upon the devoted missionaries, crushing the hopes and changing the life prospects of one, and plunging both into deep sorrow. A messenger came from Mackinac, with intelligence that Mr. Fleming's wife had suddenly died at that place. The bereaved husband, with the four men who had come with him, immediately embarked in their boat for Mackinac. He never returned to the mission. Mr. Dougherty was left alone. With the exception of the surveyors at work somewhere in the interior, he was the only white person in the country. 

After the departure of his comrade, Mr. Dougherty, with the assistance of Peter Greensky, the interpreter, busied himself with the work of finishing the house, and clearing away the brush in the vicinity. Once or twice the cedar bark of the roof took fire from the stove pipe, but fortunately the accident was discovered before any serious damage was done. The old chief Aish-qua-gwon-a-ba and his wife, perhaps to show their friendliness and make it less lonely for the missionary, came and stayed with him several days in his
new house. 

About the 20th of June, Henry R. Schoolcraft, Indian agent at Mackinac, arrived in small vessel, accompanied by his interpreter, Robert Graverat, and Isaac George as Indian blacksmith. From information received at Mackinac, Mr. Schoolcraft had come impressed with the notion that the harbor near the little island near the peninsula (Bower's Harbor) would be a suitable point at which to locate the blacksmith, carpenter, and farmer, that by the terms of tile recent treaty, the government was obliged to furnish for the benefit of the Indians.

Abandonment of the Elk Rapids Indian Village & Mission:  Looking over the ground, and consulting the wishes of the Indians, he finally came to the conclusion that Mission Harbor was a more suitable place. Accordingly Mr. George was left to commence operations, and Mr. Schoolcraft returned to Mackinac. Soon after the departure of Mr. Schoolcraft, Ah-go-sa, the chief at Mission Harbor, accompanied by the principal men of his band, visited Mr. Dougherty, saying that most of the Indians at that place were unwilling to move over to the east side of the bay (Elk Rapids), and offering to transport him and his goods across to Mission Harbor, and furnish him a house to live in, if lie would take up his residence with them. Convinced that, all things considered, he harbor was a more eligible site for the mission, Mr. Dougherty at once accepted the proposal. Leaving what things were not needed for immediate use, and loading the balance in Indian canoes, he was ferried across the bay to the scene of his future labors-the place where lie had first landed, not many weeks before, and which, under the name of Old Mission, then become famous as a center of development in the agricultural interests of northwestern Michigan.

In the spring of 1840 the log house which had been built at Elk Rapids the previous year was taken down, and the materials were transported across the bay and used in the construction of a school-house and wood-shed. Until the Mission Church was built, a year or two after, the school-house was used for holding religious services as well as for school.

Arrivals In Elk Rapids TownshipIn 1854,  Rev. J. J. McLaughlin, a resident of the area since 1851,  discovered the remains of a log house on the shore of Elk Lake, about four rods south of the county line between Grand Traverse and Antrim Counties. It had been built of cedar logs. Mr. McLaughlin reported that from appearances that the logs had not been removed, but that the building had settled down where it stood. There was nothing left to show of what materials the roof had been constructed of. The door-way was in the south end, and there had been a stone chimney or fireplace in the northeast corner. That it had been inhabited was evident from the coals found in the fireplace. That this structure was not the work of Indians was evident from the fact that the fireplace was built of stones and was in the corner of the building. If built by white men, and if, as Mr. McLaughlin thought, time enough had elapsed for it to rot down previous to 1854, there must have been white men on Elk Lake a generation or two earlier than Mr. Dougherty's arrival at Old Mission in 1839, for cedar timber does not rot readily. Who they were, and why they were here, is a mystery  It is very possible these first settlers to our area were French fur traders venturing well south of the fur trade centers which were already well established in the Mackinaw Straits area.


Abram S. Wadsworth:  That he first visited the Grand Traverse region in 1846, there is no doubt, but as to his movements during the next few years accounts differ. As nearly as can be ascertained, in 1846 Wadsworth came northward from Portland, Ionia County, Michigan, coasting in a small boat, and voyaging as far as the Pictured Rocks in Lake Superior and thence to Mackinaw. From there he went by steamer to Detroit, and thence returned home. The next spring, accompanied by wife Martha, brother-in-law - Samuel Northam, and the Wadsworth's three children - Fanny, Elizabeth & James. They arrived at Old Mission, July 16, 1847.  He remained some time at Old Mission.

In the spring of 1848-1850, every unclear as to which year, Mr. Wadsworth built a small log cabin near the present site of the town hall at Elk Rapids village. There, with Mr. Samuel K. Northam, his brother-in-law, assisted by some Indians, he peeled a quantity of hemlock bark and shipped it to Racine, Wis. About that time he was employed by the government in the re-survey of lands, and with the funds arising from his work and his bark, he erected a log house on his lands, and late in the fall his family settled therein.  In 1851 the Wadsworth family moved to Connecticut and spent some time in that state. Later they returned and spent some three years more in Old Mission; thence they returned to Elk Rapids, and, finally, after various changes in location (a store at Petobego), made Elk Rapids their home until moving later to Traverse City. 

First Settler Families:  The spring of 1850, brought Thomas Hill (Milton Township's 1st Settler), Samuel Rogers, Amos Wood, Alexander McVicar, and James J. McLaughlin searching for work and homesteads.  Abram Wadsworth, with the help of James J. McLaughlin, began to make preparations for building a mill on the east side of the Bay. It was designed for a picket and lath-mill. The picket-mill did not suit Mr. Wadsworth, so he had this mill overhauled and turned it into a sawmill.   Wadsworth then sold this mill to a man by the name of Norris.  A second mill was scarcely completed, when Mr. Wadsworth sold it to M. Craw & Co., of which firm Mr. Samuel Wirt Dexter was the principal partner.

Abram Wadsworth left the Elk Rapids area late in 1851, moving with his family to Connecticut.  The original mill property defaulted the following year and was again sold to James Rankin. 

: In the spring of 1851, James McLaughlin was the first of the earliest area residents to returned south and moved his family (Lydia Case (2nd wife), and two sons Charles A. & Robert both from his first wife Abigail who drowned in 1941) to Elk Rapids thus to become the first permanent and lasting settler family to stay in the Elk Rapids area. 

About the first of November, 1852, a cloud settled over the community, caused by the death of Charles A., youngest son of James & Abigail McLaughlin, a bright boy of thirteen. His death was caused by his swallowing a pin which he had bent for a fish hook. The grave was made in a grove of pines, in a beautiful spot on the first terrace above the bay. For several years afterward the place was used as a burying ground by the inhabitants. The remains of the first occupants were removed at a later date to Maple Grove Cemetery. 

Note:  Some renditions of Elk Rapids history list Charles McLaughlin as being the first white child born in Elk Rapids, but attached historical materials indicate that Charles S. McLaughlin was not born until August 11, 1862.  Historical records indicate that the older brother Charles A. McLaughlin, age 13 years, was in fact the first recorded death in November 1852.  It is possible that Charles A. (born 1839) might be the first birth recorded in Kalamazoo, Mi. not Elk Rapids.  Logic would indicate there would have been other births in Elk Rapids between 1850 -1862.

During the Fall of 1851 the wives and children of Amos Wood (Edith Fraiser/daughter of William Day Frasier), and Alexander McVicar (Charlotte Wood) arrived. A Mormon family named Barnes arrived but remained but a short time.  The Wood & McVicar families became the 2nd and 3rd earliest settler families to permanently relocate and stay in the Elk Rapids area.

ELK RAPIDS THE SETTLEMENTIn 1851 lots for the Stevens (Village of Elk Rapids) were platted and the asking price was $25 per lot. Abram Wadsworth laid out lots in Elk Rapids and sold them for $25, James McLaughlin buying two lots in trade for a bellows where the town hall is currently located.

Up until 1852 there were no cattle in the vicinity of Elk Rapids, except a yoke of oxen at the lumber camp on Round lake. In July 1852, Mr. McLaughlin went out to the south part of the state and drove in from Allegan a pair of oxen and a cow. Of this trip James McLaughlin says: "At Grand Rapids I was joined by William Slawson and Perry Stocking, each with a cow. From Grand Rapids they struck north and though unbroken wilderness, with only a section line to follow. The first day out from the Rapids, Slawson's cow broke away and they lost her being the only serious mishap they had, and after traveling thirteen days they arrived at Elk Rapids. The town was thrown into quite an excitement at the sound of a cow bell, these being the first that had ever been heard in this region. Soon after this Alexander McVicar came up from Canada, bringing with him his father's family and also two cows, which made in all four cows and two yoke of oxen on this side of the bay".  

Among those who also came during 1852, were Michael Gay, John Lake, Jared Stocking and John B. Spencer, with their families. Michael Gay & John Lake being lumber sawyers were already residents of Traverse City prior to moving to Elk Rapids.  The this first white child born in Traverse City being his offspring.

 In 1853, Alexander McVicar returned to Canada and brought his wife's family to Elk Rapids - Enoch Wood, with wife Matilda (Curtis), & his father-in-law Wiliam Day Frasier arrived in Elk Rapids.

James Rankin, a pioneer Michigan lumberman began his Elk Rapids business in 1853, under the name - J Rankin & Sons.  Rankin purchased an existing sawmill from William Wadsworth and did a large and thriving business in partnership with his sons, William and John operating the mill from 1853 until the panic of 1857.  Rankin operating at that time two mills in Elk Rapids. Jared Stocking opened and operated the first hotel in Elk Rapids. 

1ST ANTRIM COUNTY RECORDS:  On April 25, 1853 in a meeting at the Wadsworth home, the Township of Antrim (later renamed Meguzee/Meegisee - an Indian word meaning Eagle, and finally Elk Rapids Township) was officially established.  The Township of Antrim was part of Grand Traverse County at this time.  At this first town meeting 13 votes were cast by John S. Barker, John B. Spencer, Jarret Stocking, Enoch Wood, William H. Chase, Amos Wood, M. W. Slawson, James J. McLaughlin, Jerome B. Stocking, Samuel K. Northam, Orselas Evans, Charles G. Walker and William Wells.

SCHOOL AND POST OFFICE: The school district was organized in May of 1853 with George W. Ladd as district teacher.  Mr. Ladd lived on Old Mission Peninsula and boated to the classroom. The original school house stood a few rods from the red brick school that was later built.  Also, this same year the Post Office of Stevens, Michigan was established with Theron Bostwick as the first postmaster. The office was held successively by H. H. Noble, E. L. Sprague, S. W. Stacy, Cuthbert Parkinson, George A. Dyer and C. J. Holbrook (PM-1883).  When the post office was opened in 1853 the State wished the name of the town returned to Stevens, Michigan.

John Palmer Brand arrived in the Elk Rapids settlement in late 1853, where Amos Wadsworth had started a lumber mill in operation, the other settlers of the town, at the time being Thomas Hill, Samuel Rogers, Amos Wood, Alexander McVicar, and James McLaughlin, who kept the first boarding house in the place.  In 1857, Mr. Brand went to work for James Rankin who had purchased the sawmill from A.S. Wadsworth.  Brand purchased property and platted additional lots for the settlement.  After a period of time, John Brand was employed by Henry Noble, foreman and general manager of Mr. Craw & Company's large lumber and mercantile as a bookkeeper.  The Elk Rapids "Brand Street" was named for J.P. Brand.

Arriving in 1853 were the families of  - John Denahy, E. L.Sprague, J. W. Arnold, David F. Parks, Alexander Campbell (Milton Twp) and Hiram Robinson.  The clearings of farmers began to dot the shores of Elk lake.

The year 1855 brought John Milton Goddard to homestead on property south of Elk Rapids,  Mr. Goddard was originally a map maker and then a farmer,   Goddard's Point on Elk Lake carries his name.


Elk Rapids received its first decided impetus as a business place when Henry Horbart Noble located there in September, 1856, as an employee of M. Craw & Company. He came from Washtenaw county, and in the fall of 1856 when his employers dissolved partnership he associated himself with Samuel Wirt Dexter in the establishment of the firm of Dexter & Noble. For several years after 1861 their lumbering and mercantile operations monopolized the business of Elk Rapids. 

The Village of Elk Rapids was then known as Stevens, Michigan until it was changed in 1858 to its present name.  Stevens, Michigan was the first town in the county of Antrim.  Elk Rapids was the county seat until 1879 when the county started to grow.  The population of the entire Antrim County in 1860 was 179 (including the attached territory), and in 1864 - 882.

NEWSPAPER: In 1864 the first newspaper - the Traverse Bay Eagle, was established.  The population of the County in 1864 was 882. 

May, 1865 mention was made of the village as follows: "Elk Rapids is a village of about 300 inhabitants. Here reside all the county officers.  In 1864 Samuel W. Dexter & Henry Noble built saw mills, a lumber yard, grist mill and a boat dock on Lake Michigan. The village by this time contained several saw-mills and lumbering establishments, a dock in Grand Traverse Bay which will admit of any propeller receiving and discharging freight, a grist-mill, and also a good run of burrstones all owned by the Dexter & Noble Company.  Also in the village at this time was one hotel ("The Cottage" owned by E.W. Filer), one store, one grocery, one blacksmith shop, one school, and two organized churches, the Methodist and Congregationalist. There were no doctors or lawyers in the area.  The primary shipping exports from the village were lumber, lath, shingles, wood, bark, & cedar-posts.


March, 1866, the first number of the Elk Rapids Eagle was published by Elvin L. Sprague. It was a three column folio, the size of the page being 10x18 inches. The Elk Rapids advertisers in the first number were as follows: Dexter & Noble, dealers in lumber, lath and shingles, dry goods; groceries and provisions; James P. Brand, notary public; S. Edwin Wait, architect and builder; George Goodhue, manufacturer of boots and shoes; Lemuel R. Smith, who offered 8,000 apple trees for sale; and Ada R. Sprague, milliner. It was also mentioned that a dock would be completed at Elk Rapids during the following season.  The Eagle was afterward removed to Traverse City and under publication of Mr. Sprague.

In June, 1866, the following notice of local improvement was made in the local paper. "Messrs. Dexter & Noble have commenced excavating for a new store, which is to be completed this season.. The building is to be 82 feet wide by 100 feet long, two stores high, and stone or brick basement.  1866 also brought Mr. Edwin S. Noble, a brother of Henry Horbart Noble, came here from Albion, Mich., where he had been engaged in the mercantile business. He was born in Dexter, Mich., in 1838, and in 1860 engaged in the mercantile business at Albion. Upon coming to Elk Rapids Edwin S. Noble entered the employ of Dexter & Noble, and continued in that capacity until 1869, when he became a member of the firm.

By 1867
The town library contains over 200 carefully selected books and there were now seven saloons and seven churches.

Masonic Lodge Chapter #275 F & A.M. was established with meetings held in the court house.  In the spring of 1870 the lodge fitted up a new hall in the upper story of Mr. Cooper's building. The room was 20x85 feet in size, and its finishing and furnishing was greatly admired at the time, and was thought to compare favorably with anything of the kind in northern Michigan.

1870 - Among the arriving Settlers were: Fitch Rorberts Wiliams, an attorney, George E. Steele & Archibald K. Dougherty.  1871, brought the first Medical Doctor to Elk Rapids,  George H. Bailey, MD worked in partnership with Richard W. Bagot until 1881 when he opened his own medical practice with pharmacy.

NEWSPAPERS:  The Elk Rapids Progress was established in 1872 by Elvin L.Sprague, who sold it to H. E. Gemberling, and then Mr. Gemberling to B.F. Davis. The editors have been Fitch R. Williams, James Parkinson, E. L. Sprague, Giles Daubeny, H.E. Gemberling and B. F. Davis.  The Progress was first published as a six-column folio, was changed to a five-column quarto, and then back again to its original size and form. It was independent in politics and is printed entirely at home.

1872 - Flour Mill Opened:  The next important improvement made by the Dexter & Noble Company was the building of a large flour-mill in 1872. The mill was 40x60 feet on the ground, three and a half stories high with a stone basement ten feet high, and cost at the start $25,000. In the winter of 1884 it was changed to a roller mill with a capacity of one hundred and twenty-five barrels in twenty-four hours.

1873 - Elk Rapids Iron Company (located on the east side of Elk River above the rapids), with Henry Horbart Noble in charge of the operative and executive affairs. Mr. Dexter became the owner of extensive landed and timber interests in northern Michigan, and in association with Henry Horbart Noble established large sawmills and conducted extensive lumbering enterprises in Antrim and adjacent counties, while the firm also established a large general store in Elk Rapids, of which town they were numbered among the founders.

They also erected a gristmill in this place and promoted many other enterprises which aided materially in bringing about the growth and material advancement of this section. They were associated with Wilbur F. Storey, a well known founder of the Chicago Times, in the organization of the Elk Rapids Iron Company, whose furnaces here were erected in 1873, being the largest charcoal furnaces in the United States. This enterprise was inaugurated in order to utilize the hard wood timber in this section, where the pine timber had been practically exhausted. Mr. Story was later succeeded by N.K. Fairbank, another prominent citizen of Chicago, and Edwin S. Noble, sold his interest to Mr. N.K. Fairbank, in 1891. The furnace was forty-eight feet high, twelve feet wide and was blown by an engine 60x72 with an 18x72 steam cylinder.

1874 AMES STREET SCHOOL:  The school building of red bring was a building of which a much larger village might have justly felt proud. The Ames Street school was built in 1874 at a cost of $10,600, and at the school meeting in the fall of 1878 the school was divided into grades.

School District Report for the month ending May 80, 1884:
Entire number enrolled:
High school..................................... 43
Second intermediate........................ 84
First intermediate............................. 57
Primary......................................... 102
East primary................................... 83
South primary................................. 16
Total............................................. 285
Average daily attendance:
High school..................................... 30
Second intermediate........................ 25
First intermediate............................. 50
Primary........................................... 75
South primary.................................. 13
East primary.................................... 21
Total.............................................. 214

AREA SETTLERS - 1881 - 1900

1878 COUNTY SEAT MOVED TO BELLAIRE - As the country developed and the eastern part of the county became settled, the question of removing the county seat to a more central point than Elk Rapids was agitated. In October, 1878, there were thirteen organized townships in the county, and at the meeting of the board of supervisors held that month it was voted to remove the county seat to the "south fractional half of the southwest fractional quarter of section 19, in town 30 north, range 7 west."  The question was voted upon at the spring election. The whole number of votes cast was 1,020, of which 574 were for removal and 446 against- removal. The vote of the several towns was a follows:

Banks, 35 for, 75 against Central Lake, 35 for, 35 against
Chestonia, 52 for; Custer, 71 for;
Echo, 90 for; Elk Rapids, 6 for and 145 against;
Forest Home, 43 for and 3 against Helena, 66 for and 4 against;
Jordan, 29 for and 34 against Kearney, 60 for and 1 against
Mancelona, 74 for and 1 against Milton, 12 for and 122 against
Torch Lake, 1 for and 28 against  

Dec. 31, 1880, the Bangor Chemical Co. was organized with the following officers: President, N. K. Fairbank; vice-president, F. H. Head; treasurer, H. H. Noble; secretary, E. S. Noble; general manager, H. N. Pierce. The works cost $100,000 and were put in operation in November, 1881.  The various enterprises of this firm gave employment to an average of 350 men at Elk Rapids. They had three tugs and twenty-one barges employed in their wood business, the steam propeller " Leland" on Lake Michigan, and the side wheel steamer Queen of the Lakes."  The Lake View House Hotel was also the property of Dexter & Noble, having been purchased by them in 1878 and rebuilt.  Elk Rapids had now become a resort for tourists, and particularly those in pursuit of the sport of fishing. In the vicinity of Elk Rapids were the finest trout streams in the country, while at the mouth of the Elk River bass fishing was exceptionally fine.

1888 RIVER STREET TOWNSHIP HALL:  The town hall was a public buildings of which a much larger village might have justly felt proud. The Township Hall is a handsome brick building erected in 1888.  The location of the village is decidedly picturesque and attractive, and the people appear to be proud of their surroundings and liberal in matters of local interest.

1897 - Spring & Amerson Mercantile Company opened by L.N. Spring & H.S. Amerson in 1897.
A cement plant was erected in 1890 and later moved to Petoskey. 

Elk Rapids was incorporated as a Village in 1900. 
By 1910 the hardwoods had been logged off and the industry died out.
Population sank to 684 during the depression in 1930.  

For More Detailed Information on Elk Rapids Township Early History
See: Elk Rapids Area Historical Society Website