Northport Depot
Traverse City, Leelanau and Manistique Railroad

102 Bay Street, Northport, Michigan

Fieldstone depots have a special appeal.  They represent extensive careful work by the stone masons, the architect and a variety of other talented craftspersons.  It seems to me that they age very gracefully but I have never tried to maintain a stone building.  And, I assume, they often saved the railroad money since field stones were readily available in most of Michigan, especially in the Leelanau Peninsula.  Most railroads, especially those in out of the way places such as the northern tip of the Leelanau county, lacked capital.

The Upper Peninsula appeared to have a bright economic future in the later decades of the nineteenth Century, primarily because of the rich reserves of iron ore and copper.  However, there was also much valuable lumber to be cut.  Many assumed that once the trees were felled,  excellent agricultural lands would produce goods to be consumed around the nation.  There was the challenge of shipping goods from the Upper Peninsula to the markets.  By the 1880s, a rail line running across the Upper Peninsula reached St. Ignace on the north shore of the Straits of Mackinac.  By 1882, the Michigan Central completed their line extending north from Detroit through the east side of the state to Mackinaw City on the south shore of the Straits of Mackinac.   In that same year, a subsidiary of the Pennsylvania, the Grand Rapids and Indiana (GR&I) completed their line north from Richmond Indiana through Fort Wayne,  Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids and on to Mackinaw City.   Shortly after, the two lines formed a Mackinaw Transportation Company to put freight and passenger rail cars on barges that were towed across the Straits of Mackinac.  In 1893, an enclosed car ferry went into operation taking rail cars across the short distance from St. Ignace to Mackinaw City. 

The Ann Arbor Railroad, beginning in 1893, demonstrated the feasibility of using a large ferry to haul loaded railroad cars across a large and sometimes very stormy lake when they began service from their port in Elberta to Kewaunee, Wisconsin.  The success of their efforts provoked other investors to think about transporting rail cars across the Great Lakes. Investors had to pay for the construction for a large and substantial ship but they did not have to build miles and miles of track.  

Apparently, a group in Traverse City presumed that there was profit in commissioning a large car ferry and using it to transport rail cars from the Upper Peninsula port of Manistique to the nearest point in the Lower Peninsula.  That would be the northern tip of the Leelanau peninsula.  They raised the necessary funds, had a car ferry built with four tracks and the ability to carry 30 rail cars and constructed a rail line covering the 29 miles from Traverse City to Northport.  Presumably, the Grand Rapids and Indiana—a railroad that had  a branch from their main north-south line into Traverse City—strongly supported the construction of this line since they presumed that freight traffic to and from the Upper Peninsula would increase.  The port of Manistique was served, at this time, by Minneapolis, St. Paul and Sault Ste. Marie Railroad and by a lumber railroad that extended about 11 to the north from the port.  This was then called the Manistique, Marquette and Northern but is better known by its subsequent name, the Manistique and Lake Superior.

The Traverse City, Leelanau and Manistique Railroad went into operation in 1903.  I have read that it was operated by the Grand Rapids and Indiana.  I do not know if they had their own engines and cars or if most or all equipment was supplied by the GR&I.  The endeavor was not a success.  The line lost money and went into receivership in 1907.  The ship had a fender-bender accident early in 1908 but went back into service.  Later in the year, car ferry service to and from Northport ended, never to resume.  The ship was sold to the Ann Arbor Railroad and they operated car ferry service from Elberta to that Upper Peninsula port until 1968.  Ann Arbor line car ferries had been serving the port of Manistique since 1898.

I do not know what happened to the Traverse City, Leelanau and Manistique after 1908.  It is difficult to believe that there were many passengers on the one round trip from Northport to Traverse City that operated every day but Sunday.  The train took more than two hours to get across the 29 miles of track.  And there were no industries or mines in the Leelanau Peninsula.  The line may have been dormant for some time or, perhaps, the bankruptcy court kept it in minimal operation.  In any event, in 1919 a new corporation was formed to take over the line, the Leelanau Transit Company.  I believe they were a holding company and contracted with the Manistee and Northeastern Railroad to operate the line from Traverse City to Northport.

That line had been established in 1887 to haul timber to the port of Manistee form the surrounding area.  By 1892, they had a road bed that extended from Manistee through Solon and Interlocken and on to Traverse City.  They also completed a line more or less west from Manistee to Grayling.  The Manistee and Northeastern Railroad was purchased by the Pere Marquette Railroad in 1931.  The Pere Marquette had been taken over by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad in 1926 but was operated as an independent subsidiary until 1947.  While the C&O wiped out the identity of the Pere Marquette, the Manistee and Northeast survived as a separate corporate entity until 1955.  After that, the C&O Railroad operated the line from Traverse City to Northport where this fine depot is sited.  Passenger service on the line survived until after the end of World War II.  Freight service from Suttons Bay north to Northport ended in the 1960s.  Tracks from Suttons Bay to Traverse City remained in place even though freight service ended in 1973.  A tourist train operated on the surviving rails from 1989 to 1995 but that was not successful.  The tracks were pulled up after 1995 but the former Traverse City, Leelanau and Manistique has been converted into an attractive rail trail that extends from Traverse City to a point about one mile north of Suttons Bay. I do not know if there are plans to extend that rail trail the additional 12 miles to Northport.

This depot, I believe, was constructed by the Leelanau Transit Company in 1920.  In 2013, the structure was purchased by a couple who farm in this area for $195,000.  I do not know what plans they have for this structure.

Architect:  Unknown to me.  Presumably this depot was built at the same time as the similar depot thirteen miles to the south in Suttons Bay.
Date of Construction: 1920
Architectural style:  Fieldstone railroad depot
Use in 2014:  This is the retail store, Set in Stone, featuring items of whimsy and personal gratification.
State of Michigan Registry of Historical Sites: Not listed
National Register of Historic Places: Not listed
Photograph:  Ren Farley; September, 2014
Description prepared: January, 2015

Return to Transportation

Return to Homepage