Manistee Harbor is the seat of Manistee County in the northwest area of Michigan's lower peninsula. Manistee Harbor is about 72 nautical miles (140 kilometers or 85 miles by air) north of Michigan's Muskegon Harbor. Manistee Harbor is about 103 nautical miles (184 kilometers or 114 miles by air) northeast of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It lies on the shores of the Manistee River between Manistee Lake and Lake Michigan. The 2010 US Census reported a population of 6,226 residents in Manistee Harbor.
Manistee Harbor is surrounded by forests and is a popular destination for deer hunters and fishers. The Manistee Harbor economy is largely based on the manufacture of chemicals, machinery, auto parts, wood and wood-pulp, and paper products. Agriculture products and shipping is also important to Manistee Harbor's economy.
Before Europeans entered the Manistee Harbor area, it was peopled by the Odawa (Ottawa) Nation, people of the Three Fires Confederacy with the Ojibwa and Potawatomi. They are the Anishnaabek, a Nation related to, but separate from the Ojibwa Nation.
The prosperous Odawa were traders with routes stretching across the North American continent from the Atlantic Ocean to the Rocky Mountains and from Northern Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Trade was the basis of their first interactions with French and British explorers and trappers.
Explorer Samuel de Champlain met a group of 300 Odawa in 1615. He described them with highly tattooed bodies, painted faces, and pierced noses and reported they were armed with only bow and arrows and a club.
During the French and Indian War, many Odawa fought with the French against the British and the indigenous Nations that were allied with them. After the English drove the French to Canada, the Odawa continued to trade with both foreign nations. In 1763, the Odawa Chief Pontiac led a revolt against the British.
In 1826, a Jesuit mission was located on Lake Manistee's northwestern shore. In 1832, Massachusetts traders constructed a log house on the Manistee River, but they were quickly expelled by the Odawa.
After the American Revolution, the United States Government signed a treaty in 1836 with the Odawa Nation that ceded Odawa lands, including Manistee Harbor, to the new country. In 1837, the State of Michigan was formed from former Odawa lands, although the treaty preserved the Odawa right to hunt, fish, and gather on those lands. From 1836 until 1848, Manistee Harbor and much of the Manistee River Valley were a reservation for the Odawa. In 1849, the Odawa reservation was dissolved, and the land was given to settlers.
In 1841, James and Adam Stronach built a sawmill on the river the Odawa called Manistee (meaning "spirit of the woods"). Although the lumber camp was mostly destroyed by fire in 1871, it was one of Michigan's busiest lumber camps while it operated. After forest resources had been depleted, Manistee Harbor became a leading salt producer and a popular health resort.
An 1855 treaty with the United States ceded more land to the State of Michigan. The United States broke their treaties with the Odawa many times and failed to provide promised services. Between 1855 and 1980, the Bureau of Indian Affairs refused to recognize the Odawa Nation, basing their judgment on the earlier treaties.
At its peak, Manistee Harbor was the center of a booming logging industry. Resident Silas C. Overpack invented logging wheels that were used in the industry from 1875 until the late 1920s. In the late 19th Century, Manistee Harbor was an important shingle manufacturing city.
After it was discovered under Manistee Harbor in 1881, salt became important to the local economy. Today, three factories operate in Manistee Harbor: Morton Salt, Martin Marietta, and Packaging Corporation of America. In the 1880s, in fact, Manistee Harbor had more millionaires per capita than any other US city.
In 1934 and 1943, the Odawa applied for federal recognition and was denied. In 1980, the Odawa Nation was finally recognized as the Grand Travers Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians by the federal government. The newly-recognized tribe formed its own government and, in 1983, established an Economic Development Corporation. Business success followed, and the tribe can provide a variety of services to its members today.
Today, there are about 15 thousand Odawa residing in Ontario, Oklahoma, and Michigan. The Little River Band of the Odawa is just seven kilometers (4.5 miles) northeast of Manistee Harbor. The modern Grand Traverse Indian reservation is located about 41 kilometers (26 miles) north-northeast of Manistee Harbor. The Little Traverse Bay Indian Reservation is on the northwestern shores of Michigan's lower peninsula almost 160 kilometers (100 miles) northeast of Manistee Harbor.