There are a good number of islands dotted throughout the Great Lakes. The largest of these being Drummond Island and Isle Royale, both of which are respectable adventuring spots. However, one island in Lake Michigan not far off the cost from Charlevoix has a strange history. Accessible by boat or plane, Beaver Island, has now become a favorite place for finding adventure and planning a vacation.
The Places to Go series explores adventure related points of interest in the state of Michigan. We are highlighting everything from the large to small, the known to the unknown. If it’s interesting, we might cover it, and you should visit it.
A Strange History
Coming in at 13 miles long by anywhere from 3 to 6 miles wide, Beaver Island has a mostly flat and sandy make up. Its remote location doesn’t stop it from having a strange past. A self-proclaimed king, a fist fighting priest, and Tolstoy follower all make up the island’s colorful history.
Some of The First Settlers
In 1848 a group of about 300 Mormon people moved from Voree, Wisconsin to Beaver Island. Their leader, James Strang, established the island as a religious theocracy under the banner of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite). The smaller offshoot of the larger church by the same name occupied Beaver Island for approximately ten years, with Strang declaring himself as a king.
The town of St. James is named after Strang as well as the King’s Highway. Strang also managed to get himself elected to the Michigan House of Representatives where he established a county consisting of the Beaver Island archipelago and the Manitou islands to the south. Manitou county is no longer an established county.
The strangeness freshwater in 1850 when Strang declared himself King of his religious organization. He was crowned King Strang in a ceremony with his followers, and things seemed to go downhill from there. Clashing frequently with other patrons of the island, Strang attempted to exert his “rule” over the people who did not fall into his religious group.
Of course, the forceful taking of lands and physical violence didn’t help either. Strang died in 1856 after being lured into what seems like a trap aboard a naval vessel. After his death, his followers were driven from the island and eventually Manitou County aforementioned into Charlevoix County.
After The King’s Death
From 1856 after Strang died up until the mid-1900s, Beaver Island was a booming place. Inheriting a sizeable Irish population, the island became known for supplying the country with freshwater fish. However, by the 1900s this had changed. Fishing and logging were the island’s central economy up until the 1940s. Most of the island’s residents left at this time until tourism took hold in the 1970s.
Two other notable people inhabited the island after Strang’s death. The first was a priest who was known for getting into a fight with one of his congregation in his chapel. Feodor Protar, the other notable inhabitant, lived on the island as a recluse but also acted as the islands doctor. Both men left lasting impacts on the island and the surrounding areas.
The Modern Beaver Island
Beaver Island has become a vacation haven for anyone wishing to get away from the mainland. Don’t let its small size fool you though, even though it relies on tourism as part of its economy there are still plenty of things to do, including several restaurants, hotels, and modern amenities. Currently, the island can be gotten to by either taking a two-hour boat ride or a 20-minute plane ride.
Lakes, Trails, and Camping
Several inland lakes and nature trails make up the interior of the island. Beaver Island is also part of the aforementioned archipelago in Lake Michigan with at least three other islands accessible by private boat. These include Garden Island, Hog Island, and High Island all of which are uninhabited.
The island is also home to two lighthouses, something every Michigander should be familiar with. The Beaver Island harbor light is on the north end of the island in St. James. The second lighthouse, named the Beaver Island Head Light, is on the south end of the island overlooking Lake Michigan.
And of course what would be a proper adventure without some camping. There are two small rustic campgrounds on the island, The Saint James Township Campground and the Bill Wagner Peaine Township Campground. Both offer easy access to Lake Michigan. There is also the Beaver Island Campground, a private campground opening in summer of 2019, that gives patrons the chance to sleep in a rather large safari-style tent.
When You Leave
Once you’ve explored all there is to explore on Beaver Island you can catch a plane or boat ride back to Charlevoix. Once there, there’s still plenty more of this city and the state to adventure in. But we’ll save that for another Places to Go.