History of Petoskey

The picturesque town of Petoskey, located on Little Traverse Bay, was known as Bear River when the first missionary arrived in 1855. The town was later renamed after the Ottawa Indian Chief Pe-to-se-ga. Petoskey was officially granted a charter in 1879.

The Petoskey name was also adopted for Michigan’s state stone, a fossilized coral found in abundance here. Its marking resemble the rays of the sun shining.

Petoskey has been called the "land of the million dollar sunsets" ever since 1873. On a late fall day that year, the train whistled to a stop at the end of its line – Petoskey. On board was a reporter for a Grand Rapids newspaper, who in reporting on the wilderness scenery, rhapsodized about the area’s "million dollar sunsets." And remember, that’s when a million dollars was really a lot of money!

By the summer of 1874 the railroads were making regular runs between Grand Rapids and Petoskey. The metamorphosis of Petoskey was rapid. It grew into a dynamic, busy village catering to the needs of sightseers. Luxury resort hotels were constructed near the railway depots.

Along Bear River, water power was harnessed to run sawmills, flour mills, hardwood flooring industries, butter bowl factories and furniture-making industries.

Little steamers plied the bay, and as quickly as rails could be laid, “dummy” trains ran routes between Petoskey and Harbor Springs at 15-minute intervals. Other regular routes took resorters to Alanson, Walloon Lake, and Charlevoix.

By 1890, a substantial number of shops had sprung up along what is now Lake Street, creating a very unique shopping area originally known as the “Midway.” These shops catered primarily to affluent resorters, and became the core of what is now called the “Gaslight District.”

The Downtown Gaslight District has evolved into a year-round shopping area. Several businesses thrive in Downtown today that have done business for 50 years or more. They include: The Circus Shop, J.C. Penney’s, Grandpa Shorter’s, Jesperson’s, Meyer ACE Hardware, and Reusch Jewelers.

In the midst of growing civilization, however, hills, lakes, rivers and sunsets are still here to enjoy. Downtown Petoskey is truly a place to treasure for generations to come. 

Source: www.petoskeydowntown.com.  Visit for more area resources and information.

Bill Winslow

Bill Winslow

Associate Broker, Manager, CLHMS®
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