Leland is on the western shore of the Leelanau Peninsula, between Lake Leelanau and Lake Michigan. The Carp River (known to locals as the Leland River) connects Lake Leelanau to Lake Michigan and runs through the village. Leland is well known for its 140 year old historic fishing village, Fishtown. Fishtown is popular because of its rustic shanties that are reminiscent of commercial fishing life one hundred years ago.
The town of Leland was originally the site of the oldest and largest Ottawa village on the Leelanau Peninsula. A village on the top of the hill was supported by fishing out of the mouth of the Carp River. White settlers first arrived in 1830 and used the area as a fishing settlement. It was not until Antoine Manseau built a dam and sawmill on the river in 1854 that the town began to grow. Wooden docks were soon built to allow steamers and schooners to dock in order to deliver new settlers and supplies and pick up fuel and provisions.
The village became the county seat in 1882, because of its thriving economy. The village had a booming fishing trade, a canning factory, and shingle and sawmills. Many families moved to Leland from both North and South Manitou Island. Many of the descendants of those families are still around and now own many historic establishments in town.
The Blue Bird Restaurant & Bar, Manitou Island Transit, and Carlson’s of Fishtown are all owned by three of the historic families. Leland’s beautiful sand beaches along Lake Michigan have been attracting visitors for generations. Lake Leelanau also draws many visitors who enjoy fishing, boating or just relaxing on the inland lake. The Leelanau Historical Museum is a great place to go to learn about the history of Leelanau County, where fantastic displays tell the stories of Leelanau County.