2016-09-29 / Life in Leelanau

Early report: Suttons Bay has excellent soil, cedars for fences

Platted to fund university


A MAP of Leelanau County published in the Suttons Bay sesquicentennial booklet shows what is now Suttons Bay Township as part of Bingham Township. A MAP of Leelanau County published in the Suttons Bay sesquicentennial booklet shows what is now Suttons Bay Township as part of Bingham Township. The following story is republished from the book, “Suttons Bay Sesquicentennial Celebration,” that was printed in 2004. The community traces its roots to a lumber camp established by Harry C. Sutton. Thank you to Donna Herman, chair of the Suttons Bay Sesquicentennial Committee, for allowing and encouraging portions to be republished.

Government Surveyors’ Report

The original field notes of the surveyor, dated October 8, 1852, gave an authentic picture of the topography and a glimpse of the inhabitants:

“The southwestern portion of this township is hilly and broken. The northern and eastern portions are somewhat elevated but level on the summit. Soil is generally of excellent quality and timbered with sugar, beech and elm. Nearly every section of the township is well watered with small streams and springs of pure water. The swamp noted in Section 33 is mostly timbered with white cedar, affording a large amount of fencing material. Soil is a rich black loam and would make, if cleared, excellent meadow.

“Sugar groves are numerous and extensive throughout the township and are occupied by Indians in Sections 2, 3, 11, 23 and in 26. Indians are cultivating land in Sections 2 and 11 and are raising corn and potatoes somewhat extensively. The harbor ‘puts in’ past rock point bold to the shores and of anchorage.”

Early Years

Traverse City was a seven-yearold village at the south end of Grand Traverse Bay when Harry C. Sutton came to this region. Northport, at the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula, was already five years old. The Catholic Mission and trading post at Peshawbestown was nine, while at Omena, or New Mission as it was then called, was the Presbyterian Mission, which the rev. Peter Dougherty had moved over from the (Old Mission) Peninsula. Michigan had become a state some few years earlier — 1837.

For the most part, it was virgin country that Mr. Sutton found when he set out over the forest trails to explore the territory. Only an occasional Indian clearing appeared in an otherwise unbroken wilderness.

Historical writings note the early establishment of an Indian Reservation in this territory. Evidently land was thrown open to public sale about 1854 since the Land Office established at Duncan City near Cheboygan issued its first (deed) for property at Suttons Bay at that time.

Cassimere Boischer Dearwood applied for his land in the fall of 1854 and received Certificate No. 1, recorded in Volume 1, Page 1. It was signed in Washington by President Franklin Pierce and dated June 10, 1856.

The opening of vast areas of timberlands and farming country created an era of opportunity in the burgeoning economy of a new country. Pioneers had begun to penetrate the virgin forests with logging camps and sawmills.

It was autumn of 1854 when Harry C. Sutton with a crew of woodsmen settled on the bay and established a camp for the purpose of supplying fuel for the wood burning steamboats that plied the lakes. Later, Mr. Suttons son-in-law, George Carr, built and operated a sawmill, which was the community’s first manufacturing enterprise.

Mr. Sutton built a house and so did Gershon Porter, and the town of Suttonsburg was on its way.

The first store in Suttons Bay was that kept by W.J. Sweet, who came from Sanilac County, Michigan. He cut wood for Sutton the first winter, and in the spring built his store and keep it until both he and Sutton sold out to Father Herbstrit.

Carr and Durbin built the second store and the first sawmill and cut and shipped wood.

Coverage from the Grand Traverse Herald:

 “Homestead Law, March 29, 1861: The Legislature has passed a law donating 80 instead of 40 acres of land to actual settlers.”

 “The organization of the county of Leelanau was petitioned January 29, 1863. There was no opposition. It will come to a vote of the people.”

During its existence the community has borne three different names. In 1867 Sutton platted an area that comprised three or four blocks now included in the southern end of the village, and named “Suttonsburg” by the Register of Deeds.

From the Grand Traverse Herald, dated May 6, 1869, “To those who are looking for a new home, we hereby recommend the fertile lands on and around the beautiful Suttons Bay.”

I n 1871, Father Andrew Herbstrit, a missionary priest and real estate operator, platted six thousand lots and laid out “Pleasant City.” His avowed intention being to establish a “National University” on the bay, endowing it with one-half of the proceeds derived from the sale of 6,000 lots.

Father Herbstrit seems to have remained in the vicinity for a decade during which he sold a number of lots and undoubtedly built the community’s first Catholic Church (after the makeshift pioneer building was abandoned) but the National University was a goal not achieved.

It was sometime during this decade that the name Pleasant City was changed to “Suttons Bay.” An earlier spelling was “Sutton’s Bay.”

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