A Brief History of the City

The area eventually known as Traverse City was first inhabited by Ottawa and Chippewa Native Americans. When these Native Americans first occupied the area is unclear, however it was long before French fur traders arrived in Michigan. Fur trading was prevalent in the area, and because of the length of the mouth of the bay, an area the French often traversed, they named the bay “le Grande Traverse,” which means “the long voyage”. In 1847, Captain Boardman from Napervile, Illinois purchased the land at the mouth of what was soon to be known as the Boardman River and built a sawmill, which they sold in 1851 to the Hannah Lay Company. The Hannah Lay Company greatly improved the mill, and the increased investment in the area attracted new settlers to the area.

At this time, there was only one post office in the area and this was located in Grand Traverse, a small town on the Old Mission Peninsula known as Old Mission today. In 1852, Mr. Lay of the Hannah Lay Company visited Washington D.C. and was able to convince the United States Post Office to authorize a new post office at the settlement (now known as Traverse City). The settlement was known as Grand Traverse City at the time and Lay suggested this as the new name for the settlement, but the United States Post Office suggested dropping the “Grand” as to avoid confusion with Grand Traverse. Mr. Lay agreed and Traverse City was born.