Empire, Michigan

Empire Beach

Empire is the southernmost town in Leelanau County and is approximately 25 miles due west of Traverse City. Empire is located in the center of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, on the shore of Lake Michigan. Empire is well know for its breathtaking views of Lake Michigan, the dunes, and the Manitou Islands. Two nearby inland lakes, North and South Bar, offer enjoyable swimming for children.

Empire was founded in 1864 when John LaRue, who founded Glen Arbor, moved down the shoreline to what is now Empire. The new community soon built a mill and started harvesting lumber. Lumber was sold to passing steamers for use as fuel. In 1849 the steamer Empire went around nearby what soon became the town of Empire. In 1865 the schooner Empire was icebound off shore and the village was named after the two ships. In 1887 the Empire Lumber Company was established, it turned the small mill complex into one of the largest hardwood mills in the state, and led to the economic growth of Empire. As forests were cleared farming was soon established. Local farmers soon realized that the Leelanau Peninsula soil was perfectly suited to fruit, and orchards sprang up. Empire was also a stop on the Empire and Southeastern Railroad, which transported passengers, lumber, and produce.

Almost 60 years after the heyday of lumbering in Empire, the Empire Air Force Station was built, in 1951, as a norther outpost to detect Soviet action. The Station was used to alert the Air Force of any imminent attack. The Station is now closed, but many of the veterans of this site still live in Empire and Leelanau County. Empire Area Museum Center houses many artifacts from the station. The museum complex includes a main museum, a one-room school house, a barn with horse-drawn equipment, Taghon’s Corner Museum (Gas Station), and a 1911 vintage hose house (fire station). Empire is also home to the headquarters of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Empire, Michigan Links

Please feel welcome to suggest any links for Empire in the comments!

Photo: Empire Beach by Andy McFarlane

3 replies
  1. bruceschaub
    bruceschaub says:

    this summer i drove past a red and white one room school on the way to lower leelanau…it was out in the middle of the
    workaday landescape. A museum i think. was this on m22?

  2. sandy
    sandy says:

    Empire is hosting …yet again…the Kelly Miller Circus which has been citing many times over for animal abuse. The Kelly Miller circus is notorious for its cruelty to animals. This is the last place you want to take a child. Hosting this cicus reflects poorly on the town that does it.

    check out the youtube footage….

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