Onekama Township and the Village of Onekama adopted a new Community Master Plan in 2010.
Now, a sneak peek from the Introduction to the Lakes to Land Community Master Plan…
When Adam Stronach sought a place to build a sawmill in 1845, he knew the wooded acres along Portage Lake would be ideal. The area was known to settlers as early as 1840 by its Odawa name, onekamenk, or “portage.” In its early days, the little town’s inhabitants called it by its English name, but since there was another Portage in Michigan, they voted for a reversion to Onekama in 1871.
N.P. Pierce, J. Daily, and P. McCabe were among the earliest inhabitants creating farms from the ancient forest by 1856; John Wright began a commercial fishing operation. The area boomed after the Homestead Act of 1862, and Onekama Township was established in 1866. The first post office opened in 1871 with respected town leader Augustine W. Farr as its first postmaster. By 1882, a second post office had been added, and the township boasted four schoolhouses.
Though the lumber industry was crucial to early development, sawmills and citizens didn’t always mix. In 1871, Onekama residents were fed up with the unnaturally high water levels in Portage Lake, which had been raised to power the sawmill. By one account, a reveler at a celebration of the new post office took the occasion to hitch his ox to a log in the dam and pull it out, lowering the level of Portage Lake within a few hours and washing much of old Portage out to Lake Michigan. Portage Creek dried out, previously submerged areas were now open to settlement, and the town largely relocated.
In 1888, railroad expansion reached the burgeoning community and it sported a station on the Manistee & Northwestern Railroad. Onekama, the population center of the township, officially incorporated as a village in 1891. That was also the year a lighthouse was built, manned by lighthouse keeper John Langland until 1917. The Northern Michigan Transportation Company frequently brought passengers from Chicago and Milwaukee to the busy harbor tucked into the bluffs of Lake Michigan.
Life in Onekama Township today often centers around its shorelines. The Portage Lake Yacht club, established in 1893, continues its long history of recreational boating. Commercial and recreational fishing create the framework for economic stability through industry and tourism. Resort communities and summer camps mesh seamlessly with cottages and lakeside homes. Onekama Township, the place where settlers came to achieve their dreams, has become a place where residents create their own destiny.