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The Story of Onekama, Michigan

A survey in what is now Onekama Township was completed in 1839. The area was included in Manistee Township at the time of Manistee County’s organization in 1855, but Onekama Township became a separate entity in 1867, eventually containing approximately 22 square miles with around 6 miles of frontage on Lake Michigan.

Around this time,  the surveyors noted that “little can be said in favor of this township. It is almost entirely composed of high and steep hills, unfit for the purposes of cultivation. They will scarcely answer for sheep farms. The lake in this Township is supplied by springbrooks running out of the hills surrounding it.”


Onekama may not have been fit for cultivation or sheep farming in the mid 1830s, but little did they know back then the potential for this "two-lake" town.

Maps of Historic Sites the area

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Did you know? Portage Lake and Lake Michigan were not originally connected...
aerial view of portage lake

Portage Lake and Lake Michigan weren’t always connected by a channel – it was a man-made accident that made the channel as we know it today. How did it happen? Well, that is a story…

Once the small Portage Creek drained into Portage Lake. An enterprising mill owner, Mr. Stronach, placed a dam on this creek to help his lumber mill operation. Future mill owners would periodically raise the water level on the lake and flood the property of early homesteaders along the shores.

Since these homesteaders were improving their land, they weren’t very happy when lake levels were raised. Push came to shove and by 1871, a small ditch was dug to prevent the water level from being artificially raised. When the water finally let loose through the ditch, you can imagine what happened. Portage Lake dropped almost 14 ft and the small “ditch” became 500 ft. wide and 12 ft deep.

What's in a name?

Onekama Michigan is affectionately known as "1," because very often, tourists and newcomers alike pronounce the name of the town as such.

[Click to Enlarge]
A Poem About Onekama...
onekama poem

Onekama Song & Lyrics




Song Lyrics:

Onekama, Onekama, the city on two shores, M-22 was made

for you, you needn’t ask for more It’s the place for fun and sand and sun and winter snow time runs Onekama is the place to go, Artesian waters flow!
Grab your mother, grab your Pa: Head to Onekama!


1. At the start of old M-22 a two-lake town waits for you;
It’s also on Lakes Portage and Michigan where you can sun bathe,

dive and swim. Fish or sail or climb and hike, rent a ride on a two-wheel

bike!Grab some dinner, let’s do lunch; we’re bringing the whole bunch!


2. The Heritage Route to Leelenaw starts right in Onekama
Winding north along the dunes to watch the sunset and the moon.
Ride your car or drive your bike; There’even lots of trails to hike!
Just make sure to taste the wines; they’re not too hard to find.


3. Pierport, Frankfort, Arcadia; Crystal Lake, Benzonia,
Sleeping Bear and the Manitou, Glen Haven, Northport,
Empire, too!
Peshawbestown, Lake Leelenaw, Suttons Bay, O-Omena.
They’re all along M-22 just waiting there for you.
So grab your mother, and your Pa and start at Onekama!


In Appreciation

The Portage Lake, Village of Onekama & Pierport albums owe their existence to those who assisted with the Land Information System Historical Series, “Our Onekama Township Heritage,” in 1995 and the Portage Point Centennial Exhibit in 2002. Additional Photographs and information are available at:

Onekama Township Hall
5435 Main Street,

P. O. Box 458
Onekama, MI 49675
(231) 889-3308

Manistee County

Historical Museum
425 River Street
Manistee, MI 49660
(231) 723-5531

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