Unlike several of the other communities that sprang up in upper northwest Michigan more than a century ago, Boyne City did not gain popularity as a resort destination until many years after it was settled.
In our fourth and final part of our series on the towns that make this area so desirable we take a closer look at Boyne City's industrious start.
Straight Out of a Dream
The story of Boyne City's first permanent settlers is legend. Harriet Miller, an immigrant living in New York, dreamt of a cabin on a lake shaped like a bear. She and her husband, John, promptly set out to find her "dream cabin" and amazingly, found it on the northern shores of Lake Charlevoix on November 14, 1856. The area reminded the Millers of their home in Ireland, notably the river that flowed to the south of their cabin, and named it the Boyne River.
The Lumber Boom
Because of Boyne City's prime location on the lake, yet close to the big lumber camps, the community grew at an astonishing rate. It's estimated at one point nearly 6,000 people called Boyne home, twice the number of people living there now. The industrial revolution had arrived and it centered around the logging industry. It's estimated that the lumber produced in Boyne City would have easily been enough to build at least an eight-foot-wide boardwalk around the equator. Smoke from the five lumber mills often obscured the lake completely.
The tannery, which operated until 1969, made shoe leather. By 1906 the tannery was producing six million tons of shoe leather annually. Boyne City Clay Products made bricks, and many buildings still standing in town today are made from those red bricks and Boyne Chemical Plant produced charcoal along with many other wood by-products. The first train arrived in 1893 and in less than 15 years there were 15 miles of track laid within the town and at least 25 cars arrived daily to pick up board lumber.
The train depot still stands in the center of town. But by the 1920s the lumber boom was over.
City on Ice
In the winter of 1929, the Depression had arrived and things looked bleak, but the smelt were running in Lake Charlevoix. Unemployed fishermen were able to sell the small fish for a penny a piece and Smeltaina was born. Smeltania was made up of 300 ice shanties, it had a mayor, taxi service (15 cents a ride), the Smeltania Trading Post served food and a road lined with discarded Christmas trees was constructed, complete with road signs. There was even a city hall and jail. In the late 1930s Smeltania gained nationwide attention and people would come to rent shanties, some staying a week-much like people do now in the summer. Ten thousand smelt were shipped from Boyne City a day, but the smelt stopped running in masses .
A New Industry Arrives
In what can only be described as another legendary beginning, Everett Kircher moved north and purchased what would become Boyne Mountain for just one dollar. In 1948 he installed the Midwest's first chairlift. Skiing had officially arrived in northern Michigan and a resort legacy was born.
The influence of tourism is evident in Boyne City. With more than 11 miles of shoreline available to the public, it truly is a beach town. Proximity to inland lakes, streams and rivers make it the ideal spot for fishermen, or people wanting to explore by canoe or kayak. In the winter those same trails and paths are enjoyed by cross-country skiers and snowmobile enthusiasts. While each spring people flock to the area in search of the famed morel mushroom, celebrating the sought-after delicacy with the National Morel Mushroom Festival.
The Other Bear Shaped Lake
Just a few miles to the north of Boyne City on your way to Petoskey you will discover Walloon Lake and Village. Notable for its serene surroundings and grand lakeside cottages, Walloon Lake is famous for another reason. It's where Ernest Hemingway spent many summers of his youth. The presence of Hemingway can be felt most in Petoskey where as a young man he spent much of his time. But he also spent time hunting and fishing the woods near Horton Bay. He wrote about it in his Nick Adams stories, and described the Horton Bay General Store with its "high, false front" in his story Up in Michigan and used it as inspiration for Mr. Packard's store in The Last Good Country. In 1921 he married and honeymooned with his first wife in Horton Bay. The Red Fox Inn and General Store have become must see attractions for any Hemingway enthusiast.
Thus concludes our history tour of northern Michigan. The next time you visit the area be sure to take some time to get a little lost.