Manistee’s historic downtown and nearby residential district lie along the navigable river connecting Lake Manistee to Lake Michigan. In 1841 the first permanent European settlers opened a sawmill in Manistee Lake. With a natural harbor and access to northern Michigan forests, the city became a logging and lumber boomtown that by 1885 had forty operating sawmills that shipped logs to markets in Grand Rapids, Milwaukee and Chicago.
In 1881, salt deposits were found under the city and another profitable industry was born. Manistee’s lumber, salt and shipping business were so successful that Manistee claims to have had more millionaires per capita than any other city in the USA.
In 1871 on the same day as the great Chicago fire and similar fires in Holland and Port Huron, much of Manistee burned to the ground. Manistee was rebuilt with brick and stone structures that still stand and tell of Manistee’s wealth and status in the late 1800s.
Manistee’s lumber, logging, and shipping businesses have declined and have been replaced by diverse industries, fruit growers, and tourism. Its riverside downtown includes good restaurants and retail shops, but – sadly – many historic downtown commercial buildings are empty today.
We stayed two nights at the very nice Manistee Municipal Marina, located just inside the Lake Michigan channel and adjoining the main downtown street. It was an easy walk to downtown restaurants and shops. In a short bicycle ride from the marina I found provisions at a nearby grocery store and marine supplies at a downtown auto parts store.
We enjoyed our introduction to Manistee and may return to learn more about the city, its history, and its architecture.