The City of Frankfort updated its master plan in 2010.

A sneak peek from the Introduction to the Lakes to Land Community Master Plan…

A Michigan Historical Marker on the north side of the channel connecting Betsie Lake with Lake Michigan proclaims a piece of Frankfort’s earliest history: it may have been the site where famed Jesuit missionary and explorer Father Marquette died in 1675. Then again, it may not—a similar marker was dedicated in Ludington that same year, and Marquette’s bones were given a traditional Native American burial at St. Ignace in 1677.

In 1852, Joseph Oliver bought 14 acres on Lake Aux Becs Scies—French for “of sawbill ducks”—to become the first settler of what would become Frankfort. Three years later, a schooner owned by Cleveland investor George W. Tifft blew into the little-known harbor seeking refuge from a storm. After Tifft bought a thousand acres surrounding the lake and sold it to a Detroit development company, agent Louis A. Doby set up a sawmill, dredged a new channel, and built the first hotel and store.

When all of present Benzie County was organized in 1859 as Crystal Lake Township, its first meeting was held in Doby’s store. Frankfort became Benzie’s county seat ten years later, a designation it held intermittently until 1908.

The lighthouse at Point Betsie was lit in 1858, and second settler Alonzo J. Slyfield served for 22 years as its keeper. A life-saving station established in 1874 lasted until the modern United States Coast Guard ordered it discontinued in 1938. Automated in 1983, the lighthouse was the last manned light on Lake Michigan’s eastern shore. Ownership of the light station was transferred to Benzie County in 2004, but it remains under Coast Guard control as an official aid to navigation.

In 1878, Jim Ashley completed a segment of railroad connecting Ann Arbor with Toledo so he could visit his sons at the University of Michigan. Then he kept heading northwest until he had built the Ann Arbor Railroad, a north-south line designed to compete with the powerful east-west Michigan Central railroad running between Detroit to Chicago. In 1892, he bought a small local line that connected the Ann Arbor Railroad to Lake Michigan at Frankfort.

The “Annie” discontinued passenger service in 1950; after waves of bankruptcies and reorganizations overtook the industry, it ended up in the hands of the State of Michigan. The rail bed has been undergoing a revival as the new Betsie Valley Trail, a shared use treasure spanning several communities, since 1992.


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