Little Traverse Bay is a part of Lake Michigan near the tip of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, the Mitten. The distance across the bay is about three miles. Harbor Springs and the resort communities of Harbor Point and Wequetonsing lie along the north side of the bay while Petoskey and the resort communities of Bay Harbor and Bay View are along the south side of the bay. The waters of Lake Michigan lie to the west. As you drive around the bay on the east side you’ll find the Petoskey State Park with its beautiful beaches.
Railroad service into the Little Traverse Bay began in 1873. It was on one of those early excursion trains that a Grand Rapids newspaper reporter, George Gage, wrote about Petoskey’s Million Dollar Sunsets. Thanks to some aggressive marketing by the railroad, tourists started arriving and resort communities sprung up around Walloon Lake, Petoskey, and Harbor Springs. People from throughout the Midwest came to the Little Traverse Bay area to escape the non-air conditioned heat of the cities, or to seek relief from hay fever in the cool, clean air that came off of Lake Michigan.
Trains were not the only means of transportation. Resort goers and tourists also arrived by steamships that plied the waters of the Great Lakes.
Bay View was the first of the resort communities to be built; it was developed by the Methodist Church on land that was provided by the railroad. It was followed a short time later by Harbor Point and Wequetonsing in the Harbor Springs area. Beautiful, grand cottages were built in these resort communities that housed many famous industrial families from the Midwest. The area’s most famous “resorter” was the son of a Chicago-area doctor who built a cottage on Walloon Lake. Young Ernest Hemingway spent the first twenty summers of his life in the area, and then returned as a young adult to do some of his early writing. He immortalized the area in his short stories and first published novel which were set in the Petoskey area.
Many hotels were also built around the area. By 1900 there were 14-hotels that could accommodate more than 2,000 guests per night in Petoskey. The Arlington was the finest of these where up to 700 guests enjoyed daily concerts and dances with music provided by the house orchestra. They also enjoyed fine-dining menus that included fresh oysters and lobster, and they were treated to daily excursions to see local sites.
Vibrant downtowns also grew in Petoskey and Harbor Springs as a result of the tourist industry. With trains arriving in Downtown Petoskey as often as every 15 minutes, many shops sprung up in the community to offer goods and services for the local residents and exotic gifts and trinkets for our guests.
Although the production of the automobile and the development of the US highway system changed the way people traveled, the Little Traverse Bay Area has remained a destination for tourists and resorters. The growth of the ski industry in the 1960’s began to draw people throughout the year.
The newest of the resort communities, Bay Harbor, was started in 1993 when developers reclaimed a former cement-production facility and built a resort community along five miles of Lake Michigan’s shoreline. With upscale housing, world class golf, a resort hotel, a marina, retail and fine dining, Bay Harbor has become the latest of the premier destination sites in the Little Traverse Bay region.