“Pleasantly situated on a safe and capacious harbor of the bay,” Northport is located near the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula. The surrounding area is filled with cherry and apple orchards, as well as many terrific vineyards. Northport was one of the earliest settlements in Leelanau County. In 1849 Reverend George N. Smith, a minister of the Congregational Church, settled near Northport’s current site. When Rev. Smith’s settlement was just begining it was composed of 15 Anglo-Americans and 50 families of Native Americans.
In 1854 when Deacon Joseph Dame and his son Eusebius platted the area that is now the village and named it Northport. Deacon Dame built a dock in the Northport harbor, and wrote about the area in the New York Tribune. He wrote so glowingly about Northport that many settlers moved to the area after reading the article. H. O. Rose built a sawmill and began to sell wood to steamers for fuel. Soon they had a regular contract to supply the boats of the Northern Transportation Company between Ogdensburg and Chicago. By 1858 they were handling from 13,000 to 15,000 cords of wood on their Northport docks.
In 1855 Northport was organized into the first school district in Leelanau County, and acquired a post office. Like so many other towns in Leelanau County, the area was made up of farmers, lumbermen, and fishers. Because Northport harbor is one of the best harbors in the Grand Traverse Bay and the town had railroad facilities from the Grand Rapids and Indiana Line, it became the focal point of development and government in the County.
When Leelanau County was formed in 1863, Northport served as the first county seat. It continued as such until 1883 when the county seat was moved to Leland. Although Northport was no longer the county seat, it remained a thriving village with active flour and lumber mills, and producing fruits, vegetables, seeds, and grain, and bringing in large catches of fish. The area soon became a popular destination for families from large Midwestern cities. Northport Point (located a few miles north of Northport) soon became a permanent summer mecca for many of the wealthier of these families. Another historical area was the Grand Traverse Lighthouse which stands guard over the mouth of the Grand Traverse Bay. The lighthouse was built in 1852 by the U.S. Lighthouse Service. In 1858 the present lighthouse was rebuilt in a more visible location for the passing ships. Today the lighthouse is open to visitors and is located in the Leelanau State Park. Two of The Leelanau Peninsula Vintners Association vineyards are near Northport are well worth the visit. The Kehl Lake Natural Area is also a great place to visit. At the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula, the Natural Area “combines the best of Leelanau, with everything from shoreline to towering mixed forest to important wetland habitat.”
photo: Northport Docks, by Andy McFarlane