Leelanau County, Michigan

Coordinates: 45°08′N 86°02′W / 45.13°N 86.03°W / 45.13; -86.03
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(Redirected from Leelanau County)

Leelanau County
Sleeping Bear Dunes and South Manitou Island (background) from the Empire Bluffs Trail, near Empire
Sleeping Bear Dunes and South Manitou Island (background) from the Empire Bluffs Trail, near Empire
Flag of Leelanau County
Official seal of Leelanau County
"Michigan's Little Finger"
Map of Michigan highlighting Leelanau County
Location within the U.S. state of Michigan
Map of the United States highlighting Michigan
Michigan's location within the U.S.
Coordinates: 45°08′N 86°02′W / 45.13°N 86.03°W / 45.13; -86.03
Country United States
State Michigan
Founded1840 (created)
1863 (organized)[1]
Named forLeelanau Peninsula
SeatSuttons Bay Township
Largest settlementGreilickville
Suttons Bay (incorporated)
 • Total2,532 sq mi (6,560 km2)
 • Land347 sq mi (900 km2)
 • Water2,185 sq mi (5,660 km2)  86%
 • Total22,301
 • Estimate 
23,019 Increase
 • Density63/sq mi (24/km2)
Time zoneUTC−5 (Eastern)
 • Summer (DST)UTC−4 (EDT)
Congressional district1st

Leelanau County (/ˈllənɔː/ LEE-lə-naw) is a county located in the U.S. state of Michigan. As of the 2020 census, the population was 22,301.[2] Since 2008, the county seat has been located within Suttons Bay Township, one mile east of the unincorporated village of Lake Leelanau.[3] Before 2008, Leelanau County's seat was Leland.[4] Leelanau County is included in the Traverse City metropolitan area of Northern Michigan. The largest settlement in Leelanau County by population is Greilickville, itself a suburb of Traverse City.

Leelanau County is coterminous with the Leelanau Peninsula, a roughly triangular-shaped peninsula that extends about 30 miles (50 km) off of Michigan's Lower Peninsula into Lake Michigan. East of Leelanau County is Grand Traverse Bay, a bay of Lake Michigan.

In 2011, the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, located in the county, won the title of "Most Beautiful Place in America" in a poll by morning news show Good Morning America.


Map of the Leelanau Peninsula

Traditionally, the county's name was said to be a Native American word meaning "delight of life",[1] but it is a neologism from Indian agent and ethnographer Henry Schoolcraft, who sometimes gave the name "Leelinau" to Native American women in his tales. He created many faux Indian place names in Michigan, using syllables of Ojibwe, Latin and Arabic,[5] neglecting the fact that the Ojibwa language lacks any of the phonemes associated with the letter 'L' in English.[6]

More recently, however, scholars have established that Leelinau was first used as a pen name by Henry's wife, Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, in writings for The Literary Voyager, a family magazine which they co-wrote in the 1820s.[7] Jane Johnston was of Ojibwa and Scots-Irish descent, and wrote in Ojibwe and English. While her writing was not published formally in her lifetime (except as Schoolcraft appropriated it under his own name), Jane Johnston Schoolcraft has been recognized as "the first Native American literary writer, the first known Indian woman writer, the first known Indian poet, the first known poet to write poems in a Native American language, and the first known American Indian to write out traditional Indian stories. In 2008 Jane Johnston Schoolcraft was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame.[8]

Grand Traverse Light, at the northernmost point of Leelanau County
A vineyard in Leelanau County. The county comprises the Leelanau Peninsula American Viticultural Area.
Lake Michigan shore from the Alligator Hill Trail in Glen Arbor Township


Leelanau County was separated as an unorganized county in 1840 by the Michigan Legislature.[1][9] In 1851, it was attached the Grand Traverse County for governmental purposes, and was temporarily given the name "Leelanau Township". In 1863, Leelanau County was organized in its own right.[1] The same year, the southern portion of Leelanau County was separated as Benzie County, and was subsequently attached to Grand Traverse County until 1869.[10]

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was established in 1970, protecting much of the natural scenery of the area at the federal level.[11]

In 2008, the county seat moved from Leland to a site in Suttons Bay Township, near the town of Lake Leelanau.[4][3]


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 2,532 square miles (6,560 km2), of which 347 square miles (900 km2) is land and 2,185 square miles (5,660 km2) (86%) is water.[12]

Leelanau County comprises the entire Leelanau Peninsula, a roughly triangular peninsula that extends about 30 miles (50 km) from the western side of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan into Lake Michigan. The peninsula forms the western shore of the Grand Traverse Bay. At its base, the peninsula is about 20 miles (30 km) wide. Leelanau County is one of a handful of counties in the United States that is entirely peninsular, a list also including Huron and Keweenaw counties elsewhere in Michigan, nearby Door County in Wisconsin, and San Francisco in California.

The county has the second-highest proportion of water area of any county in the United States, behind only Keweenaw County, Michigan. Lake Leelanau is the county's largest body of inland water, empties into Lake Michigan through the Leland River. Glen Lake, located within the boundaries of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, is considered one of the most beautiful lakes in the world[citation needed]. A substantial portion of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore lies within the county's borders, including North Manitou and South Manitou Islands. Leelanau has been party to substantial efforts to protect itself from growth, and to foster a nature conservancy.[13]

Extreme southeastern Leelanau County, specifically portions of Elmwood Township, are urbanized due to their proximity to Traverse City, which itself extends partially into the county. Traverse City is the largest city in Northern Michigan by population.

Adjacent counties[edit]

By land

By water




Charter township[edit]

Civil townships[edit]

Census-designated places[edit]

Unincorporated communities[edit]

Ghost towns[edit]

Indian reservation[edit]


Historical population
2023 (est.)23,019[14]3.2%
U.S. Decennial Census[15]

As of the 2000 United States census,[16] there were 21,119 people, 8,436 households, and 6,217 families residing in the county. By the 2020 census, there were 22,301 people in the county.


There are 26 wineries on the peninsula.[17] The Leelanau Peninsula sits astride the 45th parallel, a latitude known for growing prestigious grapes. The two Grand Traverse Bays provide the ideal maritime climate, and the rich soil does the rest. Northern Michigan specializes in growing white grapes, and is known for its Rieslings, which grow well in the summer months and late fall. The local wineries host an annual harvest fest in October. Some Riesling grapes are spared being picked in the fall, to be picked instead when they freeze, from which ice wine is made. These wineries are in the Leelanau Peninsula AVA.


Leelanau County has been reliably Republican since its organization, but appears to be becoming more Democratic. Since 1884, the Republican Party nominee has carried the county vote in 30 of 35 national elections through 2020. However, in 2020 the county voted for Joe Biden, after it voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election.

United States presidential election results for Leelanau County, Michigan[18]
Year Republican Democratic Third party
No.  % No.  % No.  %
2020 7,916 46.84% 8,795 52.04% 189 1.12%
2016 7,239 48.61% 6,774 45.49% 879 5.90%
2012 7,483 52.63% 6,576 46.25% 160 1.13%
2008 6,938 47.97% 7,355 50.85% 171 1.18%
2004 7,733 55.57% 6,048 43.46% 136 0.98%
2000 6,840 56.96% 4,635 38.60% 534 4.45%
1996 5,155 50.36% 4,019 39.26% 1,063 10.38%
1992 3,993 39.20% 3,445 33.82% 2,749 26.99%
1988 5,215 60.51% 3,331 38.65% 73 0.85%
1984 5,356 67.62% 2,498 31.54% 67 0.85%
1980 4,585 57.78% 2,348 29.59% 1,002 12.63%
1976 4,240 62.33% 2,437 35.82% 126 1.85%
1972 3,809 65.82% 1,855 32.05% 123 2.13%
1968 2,798 60.06% 1,562 33.53% 299 6.42%
1964 2,074 46.60% 2,369 53.22% 8 0.18%
1960 2,730 60.05% 1,810 39.82% 6 0.13%
1956 2,987 69.82% 1,287 30.08% 4 0.09%
1952 2,926 74.38% 999 25.39% 9 0.23%
1948 1,928 69.01% 835 29.89% 31 1.11%
1944 2,063 68.24% 944 31.23% 16 0.53%
1940 2,405 66.09% 1,223 33.61% 11 0.30%
1936 1,692 49.69% 1,542 45.29% 171 5.02%
1932 1,527 46.09% 1,746 52.70% 40 1.21%
1928 1,521 62.41% 903 37.05% 13 0.53%
1924 1,792 75.36% 301 12.66% 285 11.98%
1920 2,156 82.26% 406 15.49% 59 2.25%
1916 984 53.89% 763 41.79% 79 4.33%
1912 621 35.42% 344 19.62% 788 44.95%
1908 1,258 66.35% 566 29.85% 72 3.80%
1904 1,464 75.27% 416 21.39% 65 3.34%
1900 1,468 68.41% 634 29.54% 44 2.05%
1896 1,402 64.25% 690 31.62% 90 4.12%
1892 769 53.63% 492 34.31% 173 12.06%
1888 899 55.49% 673 41.54% 48 2.96%
1884 811 57.80% 571 40.70% 21 1.50%
1880 594 48.61% 545 44.60% 83 6.79%

Leelanau County operates the county jail, maintains rural roads, operates the major local courts, records deeds, mortgages, and vital records, administers public health regulations, and participates with the state in the provision of social services. The county board of commissioners controls the budget and has limited authority to make laws or ordinances. In Michigan, most local government functions – police and fire, building and zoning, tax assessment, street maintenance etc. – are the responsibility of individual cities and townships.

Elected officials[edit]

  • Prosecuting Attorney – Joseph T. Hubbell
  • Probate Judge – Marian Kromkowski
  • Sheriff – Michael Borkovich
  • County Clerk – Michelle L. Crocker
  • County Treasurer – John A. Gallagher
  • Register of Deeds – Dorothy M. Miller
  • Drain Commissioner – Steven R. Christensen
  • Commissioner Dist. 1 – Jamie Kramer
  • Commissioner Dist. 2 – James O'Rourke
  • Commissioner Dist. 3 – Doug Rexroat
  • Commissioner Dist. 4 – Ty Wessell
  • Commissioner Dist. 5 – Kama Ross
  • Commissioner Dist. 6 – Gwenne Allgaier
  • Commissioner Dist. 7 – Melinda Lautner[19]

(information as of September 2018)


The Northwest Educational Services, based in Traverse City, services the students in the county along with those of Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, and Kalkaska. The intermediate school district offers regional special education services, early education and English learner programs, and technical career pathways for students of its districts.[20]

Leelanau County is served by the following regular public school districts:[21]

The county also has the following independent charter districts:

Leelanau County has the following private schools:[22]


Major highways[edit]

  • M-22 / LMCT is a highway that follows the shoreline of Lake Michigan. The highway enters Leelanau County from the southwest near Empire, and runs northeasterly through the communities of Glen Arbor and Leland before reaching Northport. At Northport, M-22 turns back southward, and runs through Omena, Suttons Bay, and Greilickville before exiting into Traverse City. The highway reaches its terminus at US 31/M-37 about 0.5 miles (0.80 km) southeast of the Leelanau County line.
  • M-72 is an east–west highway that follows the base of the Leelanau Peninsula. The highway begins at M-22 in Empire, and continues easterly across the southern tier of the county for about 22 miles (35 km) before reaching M-22 again in Traverse City. The highway continues southeast into Grand Traverse County, and runs across the Lower Peninsula before terminating in Harrisville, on Lake Huron.
  • M-109 is a highway in the northwestern part of the county. The highway begins at M-22 north of Empire, and continues north along the west side of Glen Lake. South of Glen Haven, the route turns east, and enters Glen Arbor, where it terminates once more at M-22.
  • M-201 is a short highway in the north of the county. The route begins at M-22 south of Northport, and runs north into the village. The highway terminates immediately north of the village, and connects with various county roads that can be used to access Leelanau State Park and the Grand Traverse Light.
  • M-204 is a highway that serves as an east–west connector about halfway up the peninsula. The highway begins at M-22 south of Leland, and continues east into the community of Lake Leelanau. The highway passes the Leelanau County Governmental Center before terminating once more at M-22 in Suttons Bay.

Additionally, another highway, M-209, ran from M-109 to the Coast Guard Life Saving Station in Glen Haven. Until it was decommissioned in 1995, it was Michigan's shortest highway.[23]

Bicycle route[edit]

  • USBR 35 enters Leelanau County from the southwest, and follows M-22 and M-109 up the west side of the Leelanau Peninsula. The route then turns east along M-204, then south again along M-22 in Suttons Bay. The route then follows the Leelanau Trail south into Grand Traverse County.
The Leland River flowing through Historic Fishtown

Air service[edit]

The nearest airport with commercial service to Leelanau County is Cherry Capital Airport in Traverse City. Leelanau County is home to a number of local airstrips, including Woolsey Memorial Airport.

Notable people[edit]

  • Jim Harrison – author, long-time resident of Leland Township
  • Kathleen Sebelius – former Secretary of US Health and Human Services and former governor of Kansas; vacations at a summer home built by her grandfather in Leland[24][25]
  • The northernmost village of Northport and surrounding Leelanau Township have achieved fame as 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. Financier Mark Spitznagel summers in Northport Point, a posh community just outside the village."[26]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d "Bibliography on Leelanau County". Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University. Retrieved January 19, 2013.
  2. ^ a b "State & County QuickFacts". US Census Bureau. Retrieved September 15, 2021.
  3. ^ a b "'Nutcracker' performances set - www.leelanaunews.com - Leelanau Enterprise". leelanaunews.com. Archived from the original on June 8, 2011. Retrieved February 24, 2022.
  4. ^ a b "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Retrieved June 7, 2011.
  5. ^ Michigan Arts and History on Origins of County Names. (28 July 2009)
  6. ^ Valentine, J. Randolph. "The Sounds of Anishinaabemowin: Consonants and Vowels". Anishinaabemowin. Retrieved January 29, 2020.
  7. ^ Jeremy Mumford, "Mixed-race identity in a nineteenth-century family: the Schoolcrafts of Sault Ste. Marie, 1824-27", Michigan Historical Review, March 22, 1999, pp. 3-4, accessed December 11, 2008
  8. ^ Robert Dale Parker, Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, accessed December 11, 2008
  9. ^ George Dawson (1840). Acts of the Legislature of the State of Michigan Passed at the Annual Session of 1840. Detroit. pp. 196–200.
  10. ^ "Benzie County, Michigan History". genealogytrails.com. Retrieved January 21, 2023.
  11. ^ Kalt, Brian (2001). Sixties Sandstorm: The Fight Over Establishment of a Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, 1961–1970. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press. ISBN 9780870135590.[page needed]
  12. ^ "2010 Census Gazetteer Files". US Census Bureau. August 22, 2012. Retrieved September 26, 2014.
  13. ^ "Home - The Leelanau Conservancy".
  14. ^ "Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Counties: April 1, 2020 to July 1, 2023". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved April 4, 2024.
  15. ^ "US Decennial Census". Census.gov. Retrieved June 29, 2013.
  16. ^ "U.S. Census website". US Census Bureau. Retrieved January 31, 2008.
  17. ^ Leelanau Wineries|Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail
  18. ^ US Election Atlas
  19. ^ Leelanau County - Directory
  20. ^ "About us". Northwest Educational Services. Retrieved July 17, 2023.
  21. ^ National Center for Education Statistics. "Search for Public School Data - Leelanau County, MI". Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved July 18, 2023.
  22. ^ National Center for Education Statistics. "Search for Private Schools - Leelanau, MI". Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved July 18, 2023.
  23. ^ Google (September 16, 2018). "Leelanau County MI Google" (Map). Google Maps. Google. Retrieved September 16, 2018.
  24. ^ "Camp, Sebelius discuss Leland ties - www.leelanaunews.com - Leelanau Enterprise". leelanaunews.com.
  25. ^ "Leland offers Sebelius respite from D.C." Traverse City Record-Eagle. August 15, 2009.
  26. ^ Leelanau Visitors Guide 2011.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bogue, Margaret. Around the Shores of Lake Michigan: A Guide to Historic Sites. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985.
  • Reed, Earl H. The Dune Country. Berrien Springs, MI: Hardscrabble Books, 1979. [Reprint of 1916 Edition].
  • Ruchhoft, Robert H. Exploring North Manitou, South Manitou, High and Garden Islands of the Lake Michigan Archipelago. Cincinnati, OH: Pucelle Press, 1991.
  • Wood, Mable C. Scooterville, U.S.A. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1962.

External links[edit]

45°08′N 86°02′W / 45.13°N 86.03°W / 45.13; -86.03