Fife Lake Historical Society
Bringing the past to present for all to see
The museum, schoolhouse, and fire barn are now open on Saturdays 1-4 through August and on Labor Day
Step Back in Time
Fife Lake Historical Society
The purpose of this society shall be to bring together those people interested in history and especially in the history of the Fife Lake area. Understanding the history of our community is basic to our democratic way of life, gives us a better understanding of our state and nation and promotes a better appreciation of our American heritage.
The society's major function will be to discover and collect any material which may help to establish or illustrate the history of the area. It will collect printed materials, manuscript material, and museum material such as material objects illustrative of life, conditions, events and activities of the past and present. The Society will provide for the preservation of such material and for its accessibility, as far as may be feasible, to all who wish to
examine or study it.
The Society will disseminate and arouse interest in the past by holding meetings with topics of historical interest and other activities. The Society will co-operate with the state historical society, the "Historical Society of Michigan," and the "Michigan State Historical Commission" to collect and preserve materials of state-wide significance so that these materials can be available to students and scholars. The Society will operate exclusively for
2020-2021 BOARD OF DIRECTORS
President: Joyce Freiwald
Vice President: Noreen Broering
Treasurer: Rod Larr
Secretary: Pam Wentzel
Curator: Craig Bridson
The Story of Fife Lake
From lumbering camps to resort cottages
Nearly 140 years ago the state of Michigan decided that a road linking Traverse City and Midland was needed. A team of three men set out to survey the route, and the path they selected passed a beautiful lake that was as yet unnamed. After some discussion, it was decided to name it after one of their party, William Fife.
Shortly thereafter, in 1872, the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad was built along the west shore of Fife Lake, and enterprising men of the time recognized that the junction of the state road and the railroad was an excellent prospective town site.
The population of the new community grew to 300 in 1877, and by 1885 the number of residents had grown to 1000. The village was mainly meeting the needs of the many nearby lumbering camps. As the trees were harvested and the industry moved on, farms spread over the area—Fife Lake adapted and became an agricultural center. By 1900 the population had settled to about 600 and the village was diverse: three hotels, two blacksmiths, a woodenware factory, sawmill, hardware store, pharmacy, general store, dry-goods store, shoe store, livery stable, a jeweler, barber, newspaper, and restaurant, plus groceries, meat markets, and saloons.
But agriculture did not prosper in the thin sandy soil, and the population declined to about 250 by 1920. However, in the 1920’s cottages began to appear around the lake, and as farming phased out, the resort character of the village began to grow. This brings us to the town we now see which combines facets of all of its history—timber, manufacturing, and agriculture with a major impact from resort life and tourism, featuring swimming, fishing, boating, hunting snowmobiling, and other outdoor activities.
This is the story of the “modern” development of our community, but of course the subtle history linked to the trails used by Native Americans camping and passing through this area over thousands of previous years is also part of what we are now saving. Our entire land surface reflects its glacial origin, and our lake came about at the front of the glacier.