What's New?
Forum - Queries
Look Up Help

Obituary Index
Surname Register
Township Histories

A Brief History of Alger County

In the calm bays of Grand Marais, Munising and Grand Island early Ojibway or Chippewa Indians found fine camping grounds well sheltered from gales that rush in from the north. Those early inhabitants existed primarily on hunting and fishing with a little agriculture.

Alger County's history appears to center a great deal on the Pictured Rocks area.  However, it was never a major center of Indian activities. The rugged and inhospitable coast prevented easy access by water and a lack of ready food sources inland precluded permanent settlement.

Early English-speaking explorers named the cliffs the "Pictured Rocks" for the multitude of colors and patterns on their facades.  The Rocks did have some minor religious significance to the Indians and they called the area Ishpabecca, meaning "high rocks." As was common in aboriginal cultures, they attached religious significance to inanimate objects. Thus the rocks and caves of the cliffs were personified as devils, ghosts, etc. Certainly many of the stories grew as the newly arriving Europeans embellished the original Indian legends. Many of these tales are retold in Beatrice Castle's book Grand Island Story.

Prior to the first white settlers, fur traders and fishermen explored the area. It isn't certain who the first Europeans to see the land that is today called Alger County, but it could have been the French explorers Etienne Brule and a man known to history only as Grenoble. Some time around 1622 the intrepid pair reached a previously unknown lake above Huron, Lake Superior, but what they saw was ill-recorded.

The first Europeans definitely known to have explored the Alger County area were the legendary French voyager Pierre Esprit Radisson with his brother-in-law, Medard Chouart Sieur des Groseilliers, in 1659. The pair were searching for new sources of fur, an effort that reaped them  tremendous reward.

Other famous men also coasted the area. In 1660, Jesuit priest Rene Menard passed with Jesuit Claude Allouez following in 1664. Jacques Marquette, another old Jesuit, passed in 1669 en route to his La Pointe mission.

Curiously, the French rejected the discovery of the seemingly limitless bounty of Superior, leading Radisson to join the British and help to found the famous Hudson's Bay Company. It's not unlikely that the two travelers camped somewhere along the coast between Grand Marais and Au Train. The great fleets of voyageurs that later followed certainly did. By 1668 the French were well familiar with Superior's south shore and considered all of it part of New France. With the Peace of Paris in 1763 the area was ceded to the British, and in 1783 the region became part of the fledgling United States.

The American Fur Company built a post on Grand Island in the mid 1820's. Most of Alger county land was included in the transfer of lands by the Chippewa to the US Government in 1836. 

Alger County was settled in the mid-1800s as a booming area for iron and lumber mining however, it now relies on a different natural resource ~  its scenic Lake Superior shoreline in the northern Upper Peninsula.  Alger became a county on March 17, 1885 and got its name from Russell Alger, Governor of Michigan from 1885-86.

Today forest-related industries are still a major part of Alger county. Although noted mostly for tourism other industries include farming, dairying, sand and gravel. The Hiawatha National Forest comprises most of the County, which include many waterfalls, trout streams and inland lakes.


COUNTY POPULATION: (as of 1 January 1996) was 9,819

Au Train Township 1,149   Munising City 2,806
Burt Township 492   Munising Township 2,784
Grand Island Township 22   Onota Township 262
Limestone Township 348   Chatham Village 273
Mathias Township 609   Rock River Township 1,074



...that only four townships made up Alger County when the county was organized over a century ago? 




Copyright 2009 Colleen Pustola  |  Contact Me