Step Back in Time
Unfortunately, the museum and other Fife Lake Historical Society locations are closed for 2020.
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.
About the Historical Society
It is the goal of the Fife Lake Area Historical Society to save and interpret this rich history, to engender an appreciation of our unique heritage, and to honor our past as we build our future. We hope that you find what you are looking for here on the site. If you don't, please use the Contact Us page to ask us any questions you may have on our area and its history.
2019 - 2020 BOARD OF DIRECTORS
President: Joyce Freiwald
Vice-President: Noreen Broering
Secretary: Pam Wentzel
Treasurer: Rod Larr
Curator: Craig Bridson