In 1850 a new Michigan Constitution declared the Native Americans to be eligible for Michigan State citizenship, which would allow them to purchase lands and make their children eligible for education.
The Omena settlement had its beginnings when a band of Ottawas and Chippewas led by Chief Ahgosa began arriving from the present day Old Mission Peninsula in 1850. They found that Chief Shabwasung and his Ottawa band were already encamped on the point to the north of the bay, on land Chief Ahgosa and his families had purchased. The Ahgosa band then settled a little to the north, and the village became Ahgosatown.
In 1852, the Reverend Peter Dougherty followed the Ahgosa band from Old Mission to the beautiful little bay on the Leelanau Peninsula’s eastern side to establish a New Mission, soon to be called Omena. The importance of the agricultural potential of the Omena area cannot be overstated. The raising of food crops in the area had taken place for centuries. When the missionaries arrived they found mature apple and plum orchards, as well as corn, beans, squash and potatoes. The availability of agricultural land for his Native American followers was an important consideration for Dougherty’s establishment of the school at New Mission, and instruction in up-to-date American agricultural practices was a fundamental of mission life.
Rev. Peter Greensky, a Chippewa teacher and interpreter came with Dougherty from Old Mission, as did young George A. Craker, who taught farming to students in the mission school. Rev. Greensky founded Greensky Hill Indian United Methodist Church at Susan Lake near Charlevoix. Craker and his descendants became active workers in Dougherty’s Grove Hill New Mission Church, now called the Omena Presbyterian Church. The Ahgosa family was very active in the church for generations, and many family and band members are buried in the mission cemetery adjacent to the church. Dedicated in 1858, It is the oldest Protestant Church in Leelanau County and one of the oldest historical landmarks in Northern Michigan.
In 1884 a group of Cincinnati businessmen purchased the mission school, and it was remodeled to become the Leelanau Hotel. Omena blossomed into a tourist haven, with the Omena Inn, the Shabwasung, the Clovers, the Oaks, Freeland Resort, and Sunset Lodge, together with many resort cottages on Omena Point. Omena Bay provided a rare safe deep harbor in the Great Lakes, and over the years had at least four commercial docks and a commercial fishery. The Omena Pavilion, now the Omena Traverse Yacht Club, was built in 1911 as a social center for the community.
For several decades, produce, goods, and the growing number of summertime visitors were served by steamers, including the Illinois, Manistee, Manitou, Missouri, Puritan, Kansas, Crescent, and Columbia. In 1903 The Traverse City, Leelanau & Manistique Railway line from Traverse City to Northport was completed with two stations in Omena, and limited passenger service continued until 1948.
The A. F. Anderson Store benefited from the activity and operated in Omena for 47 years, beginning 1883. Since 1976 this landmark has been the location of Tamarack Craftsmen Gallery. Nearby, Paul Barth’s general store, established 1889, remains as the Omena Bay Country Store. Omena preserves as well the c.1890 building, which housed an ice cream parlor, and which has served solely as the U. S. Post Office since 1959.
John Putnam’s fruit stand in the 1930’s became a Texaco station, and later, the Harbor Bar. It is now the home of Leelanau Cellars and Knot Just a Bar Restaurant.
The early discovery of Leelanau County as a resort haven helped to sustain pioneer families by providing commerce and income, just as it does today.
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