During the summer, Northport comes alive. The marina is filled with colorful boats, and children splash and play at the bathing beach nearby, where the turquoise water stays shallow forever. Pedestrians line the sidewalk to browse the eclectic shops and galleries and admire the Victorian houses. There is also ‘Music in the Park’ on Friday nights, a picnic at the Garthe Pavilion at nearby Peterson Park (with a walk down to the rocky shore below to gather Petoskey stones), and the Memorial Day service at the cemetery, to name just a few activities. The Northport Community Arts Center also holds amazing events, and the Village Voices (a recreational chorus), the Northport Community Band, and the Theatre Company all contribute to the thriving social mileau.
October is a blaze of color in Northport as the trees put on their fall foliage, and many come to the village by car and cycle to take in the splendor.
Winter brings snow and another group of fun-seekers, as the skiers and snomobilers flock to Northport and the slopes and tracks nearby.
Northport has gained fame for being an area where the rich and famous can live quietly and anonymously. According to the Leelanau Visitors Guide: “Chef Mario Batali lives north of town at Cathead point, and comedian and actor Tim Allen routinely spent summers in Northport until his divorce. If investing is your pleasure, you may have heard of Mark Spitznagel, who manages a multi-billion dollar hedge fund. He summers in Northport Point, a posh community just outside the village.”
A rising star in the wine world, winemaker Shawn Walters calls Northport home and currently directs winemaking and vineyard operations for a number of operations.
Speedskater and 2010 Olympic silver medalist Jonathan Kuck regularly vacations with his family at their summer home just outside of Northport, and notable public radio journalist Adam Allington claims Northport as his hometown.
Northport is busy preparing for the future. The community recently completed a multi-million dollar upgrade to its waterfront area so visitors have plenty of shoreline to swim and soak in sunshine this summer. New buildings have been constructed for public and boater use, as well as a shoreline promenade and trails.
Fearing a smallpox epidemic, in 1848 Chief Peter Waukazoo and The Reverend George Smith set out to move the Ottawa mission from Southwestern Michigan’s Black River to the wilderness banks near the northeastern tip of the beautiful Leelanau Peninsula. Smith and his family set sail on the schooner Merrill, and Waukazoo and his band traveled in canoes to their new settlement, which they called Waukazooville.
Deacon Joseph Dame and his son, Eusebius, platted the land north of Waukazooville in 1854 and named the property Northport. When the United States recognized the Grand Traverse Ottawa and Chippewa reservation on the Leelanau Peninsula in 1855, Northport was excluded from the reservation boundaries.
The perseverance of these and all Leelanau settlers, as they sculpted communities and homesteads, is a source of inspiration. Starvation was a constant threat, and the planting and growing seasons were full of hard labor. Food preservation was a priority, and chunks of winter ice were chopped from the bays and inland lakes and packed into root cellars and sheds to help preserve the precious food supplies. Better cutting tools were developed later, and ice cutting often became a community project, bringing able-bodied men together in this late winter task. The heavy ice blocks were hauled across the frozen waters by horse and sled and put into ice houses for use in meat markets, hotels, commercial fisheries, and private homes.
Because Northport was located near the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula and at the first harbor into Grand Traverse Bay, it grew rapidly and was the focal point of Leelanau for some time. The early families of Smith, Wolfe, Thomas, Morgan, White, Dame, Gill, Scott, Garthe, Middleton, Kehl, Nelson, Porter, Charter, Waukazoo, Nagonabe and Bigelow were joined by other families of German, English, Swedish, and Norwegian descent. Farming, fishing, lumbering, the first county seat, and the first newspaper provided employment to the pioneer families. Hotels and tourist lodges brought seasonal visitors, and Northport Point became a permanent summer mecca for many big-city families.