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History

The first pioneers of Almira Township came mostly from eastern New York State. These people were confronted in every public place in the East with advertisements telling of the great West. These ads all boast of how a large family could live and thrive and just how much 40 acres could produce. People also drove to the West at the beginning of the Civil War in the hopes that their boys could remain home and care for their family. Almira Township was first platted and surveyed by government surveyors in about 1860 and it was in the next five years that people began moving here. Those who moved here had to live on the government-surveyed property for five years. If they “proved up” (as the attempt of living in this wilderness was called), they were given a government deed to their farm.  The first settlers in Almira were believed to be John and Alec Heather who came from Canada in 1862. The first family to make a house in Almira Township was the Burrell family.  Andrew Burrell and his wife, Almiral—the township’s namesake –lived on the North side of Sancrainte Creek. The next family was the Addison “A. P. Wheelock family who settled on Ann Lake, the lake being named “Ann” after his estimable wife.  A. P. Wheelock was an influential man. He spoke five different languages and, because of his unique ability, was given a position in Hannah Lay’s old store because many foreign people were settling in Traverse at this time. He left his family at the edge of Ann Lake to prove up on his homestead. Wheelock also served as the first sheriff of Benzie County. The settlers arrived quickly and made an earnest effort to make themselves a home here. An unbroken and heavily timbered wilderness challenged the settlers, who were content to live in rudely constructed hovels, many of which were often covered with bark stripped from trees. It took many years of hard toil before the land held out promise of any material returns. The first couple who was married here was Susan Pettis and Judson Pratt who went to live on a farm south of the present Lloyd Bates farm (Corner of Pratt Road and County Road 669). The ceremony was performed by the first Justice of Peace, William Rosa. The first white child born here was William Rosa, Junior. The brothers from Chicago named Shirtliff came here and built Almira’s first road called State Road. They were paid in government land, but much of it was swampland and worthless at that time. State Road ran from Manistee through Benzonia and this township through Traverse City. All other roads were mere trails through the wilderness that were beaten into paths and finally roads, paying little attention to section lines. The residents recognized the importance of religion and education and took early measures to establish institutions reflecting their values. Mrs. Elihu Linkletter (Nee Burnett) taught the first term of school, which was held in a primitive log house, about 12x16 feet inside. These were temporary quarters while the township built a schoolhouse in its first school district—School District No. 1—formed in 1862 and called the Black School.  It was situated where the Lake Ann Cemetery is now located.  Its first teacher was Mr. Duryea. The next schoolhouse was District No. 2, which was first taught by Alice Spafford in a barn on Horace Lake’s place near the barn owned by Birney Lake now (Corner of County Road 669 and Almira Road). During the lumber era later in the century, Almira Township boasted six school districts. Of the 356-resident population of 1880, 121 were school children.  The first church was established by the Rev. George Thompson in 1864; it was composed of Christians of several denominations and was practically Congregational in character, although it did not assume that name at its organization. It was simply called the First Church of Almira. The Township, with more than 30 bodies of water, was formally established in 1864. The first township meeting was held at A. P. Wheelock’s home at which Harrison Abbe was elected as supervisor, Andrew Rosa as clerk, and A. P. Wheelock as treasurer. One point of business at that first meeting was to dedicate the first schoolhouse. Dr. Wilson was Almira Township’s first physician, although when he first came to this country, he hid his identity. When it was discovered, he was kept galloping on horseback as needed from one homestead to another. A Native American brought mail on the back of an Indian pony in summer and on snowshoes in winter once every week. The Post Office was in a building on Hiram Boman’s place just east of the large Malnory house, on Ransom Creek, where Mr. George Griffith lived. Later the Post Office was moved to the Linkletter place, now known as the William Morse farm. The first grocery store was owned by Matt Burnett on the A. J. White farm at the corner of Ole White Drive and Fowler Road, also called Almira Corners. In terms of social activities, there were barn-raisings, sugaring-off parties, logging bees, and get-togethers to husk beets. Any help one neighbor could give another was freely and gladly given. Lake Ann grew into a thriving lumber town.  R. J. Ransom owned a saw and gristmill at Ransom Creek. In 1892, the first railroad (the Manistee & Northeastern) threaded its way through the eastern part of the township and the village of Lake Ann sprang up. Lake Ann was organized in 1893 and incorporated in 1914. In a few years it had more than 800 residents and 100 buildings. By 1897, Lake Ann consisted of a general store, restaurant, hotel, drug store, meat market, saloon, livery barn and a depot. Activities centered around the Habbeler sawmill on the lakeshore (which employed 125 men) and the MNE railroad. The Grand Traverse Illustrated described Lake Ann as “a bright little town. Many chances are yet open and money is waiting to roll into the pockets of some more who get there quick… The people of the little burg are wide awake and energetic.” Timbering and agriculture were the economic base of the Township for the first fifty years. After the collapse of the timber industry, many of the offspring of the early settlers were forced to leave the community to find employment and for the next fifty years or so very little recruitment occurred. Lake Ann Village was virtually destroyed by fire three times. The first fire occurred on July 4, 1897 when Lake Ann was in competition with Traverse City as the metropolis of this area of Michigan with 1,000 inhabitants. It is not known whether the fire began in the engine room of William Habbeler’s sawmill or by a spark from a tug anchored near the shore. The local fire fighting equipment and water supply were inadequate and Traverse City was summoned by telegraph. Fifty-four minutes and two water stops later (that came by rail), and the Traverse City Fire Department was on the scene. Over a dozen businesses, freight and flatcar, the depot, endless homes and nearly a half-mile of track were all destroyed. Many of the businesses rebuilt only to be wiped out again by another fire in 1914. The third fire erupted in 1918; it was almost too much for the Village and Lake Ann was never rebuilt to its former status. The history of the area is relatively sparse for more recent years. One of the locally noteworthy periods during the last seventy-five years was during prohibition when some prominent Chicago families, operated whiskey distilleries in the Township. Some known “gangster” families had property at Harris Point and at what is now the Lake Ann Baptist Camp during this period. Lake Ann is now a tiny, beautiful resort town with 278 residents. Almira Township, with a population of approximately 3,087 persons (including the Village), is now the largest municipality in Benzie County largely due to its proximity to Traverse City. 

[1] Excerpts from:

          Carmien, Vera, Lake Ann Homecoming.

          Linkletter, C.S., 1901 Annual Meeting, Township History of Almira in Benzie County.

          Gray, Lillian, The Township of Almira, 1922.

 

 

 
 

Almira Township | 7276 Ole White Dr | Lake Ann, MI 49650 | 231-275-5862