In late 2013, discussion began on the possibility of historic designation for Cherry Basket Farm and Omena Village. Historic Architect Ken Richmond suggested contacting Dr. Ted Ligibel, director of EMU’s graduate Historic Preservation Program. Plans were made with Dr. Ligibel to bring his Preservation Research Techniques class to Omena. The students visited Omena in March and April 2014, and their research formed the basis for parts of the National Register Nomination. Tom Buehler drew the maps, Cammie Buehler took the photos, and Marsha Buehler researched and wrote the nomination, which was submitted in final form to the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office in August 2016. The State approved the Nomination in September, and in January 2017, the Omena Historic District was listed on the National Register by the United States Department of the Interior.
The district extends from Sunset Lodge through Omena along the North side of M-22 through the Barth House property; from the Township beach north along the east side of M-22 to approximately opposite Craker Road, to include the church property and the homes along that side of M-22, Cherry Basket Farm, and the Cherry Basket Neighbors orchard.
Brief History of the Town of Omena
In 1848 Chief Aghosa’s band, with forty families purchased land north of present-day Omena and named the area Aghosatown. Rev. Peter Dougherty decided to follow and establish a mission school (the “New Mission”) nearby, one mile south of Aghosatown, at what came to be called Omena. He built the New Grove Hill Mission Church, ( Omena Presbyterian Church) in 1858.
The importance of the agricultural potential of the Omena area cannot be overstated. The raising of food crops in the area had taken place for centuries; when the missionaries arrived they found mature apple and plum orchards, as well as corn, beans, squash, and potatoes. The availability of agricultural land for his Native American followers was an important consideration for Dougherty’s establishment of the school at New Mission, and instruction in up-to-date American agricultural practices was a fundamental of mission life. The first US patent for the Cherry Basket farmland was issued to Rev. Dougherty on behalf of his mission’s Native American teacher, Peter Greensky. The 1870 census records for Leelanau County indicate a preponderance of farmers in the region; as of 1874, there were 678 farms within the county, with a population of 5,031. Cherry Basket Farm continues active farming in the Omena Historic District today.
For the area’s agricultural potential to be realized, the densely forested land first needed to be cleared. Cordwood provided an early industry for the inhabitants of Leelanau Peninsula, with the wood both being shipped to Chicago and sold as fuel directly to passing vessels. Some aspiring farmers worked for the lumbermen to earn money to purchase their own land for farming, while others bought land and harvested their own timber, growing crops between the stumps at first.
Omena’s harbor became a hub of activity beginning in the mid-1880s when agricultural development in the area, growing local commerce, and Omena’s growth as a summer resort all coalesced. Over the next several decades, produce, goods, and the growing number of summertime visitors who came to Omena’s hotels and guest houses were served by steamers, including the Illinois, Manistee, Manitou, Missouri, Puritan, Kansas, Crescent, and Columbia. Omena Bay provided a rare safe deep harbor in the Great Lakes, and over the years had at least four commercial docks. A few pilings of John Anderson’s dock, built in 1886, still rise out of the water in front of the public beach. In 1903 The Traverse City, Leelanau & Manistique Railway from Traverse City to Northport was completed, and limited passenger service continued until 1948.
The 1880s and 1890s were a pivotal time for Omena when enough settlement had taken place that the community could support basic businesses. Among the first new businesses to come to the burgeoning community of Omena in the 1880s were two general stores. The Anderson Store (Tamarack Gallery) was built in 1885, and Paul R. Barth opened his competing establishment to the east in 1889 (Omena Bay Country Store). These two businesses created lasting anchors for the community. Both Andrew Anderson and Paul Barth also farmed, and their farms helped to furnish their stores.
The stores in the small row of buildings in the village seemed to promise future growth for little Omena, but unlike other communities, the building boom never extended beyond the boundaries established by 1890. Three two-story frame houses grew up near the stores, each accompanied by a number of outbuildings meant to serve the interests of the stores as well as the proprietors’ families. Omena preserves as well the building, built c. 1890, which housed an ice cream parlor, and which has served solely as the U. S. Post Office since 1959.
John Putnam’s fruit stand is now the home of Leelanau Cellars and Knot Just a Bar Restaurant. Except for the construction of a fire station and community room, just across from the bar, little else has altered the landscape. A notable addition to the village was the Putnam-Cloud-Tower House, moved from a short distance away in 2004. Local residents banded together to rescue the house from demolition at its former location and, under the auspices of the Omena Historical Society, moved the building to the center of Omena, between the Tamarack Gallery and the Anderson House.
Within the historic district, Sunset Lodge preserves the built legacy of the resort era in Omena. Its Victorian buildings were built between 1890 and 1907 and it continues in operation as a hostelry today.
Most of Omena’s buildings are still in use as originally intended, some still in the same family ownership since the 1800s. Many have had less than a handful of owners in their existence. Omena’s changes have been adaptations built upon its existing structure, and the village has not suffered the wholesale eradication, wasteful misuse of resources, and reconstruction that is so common in this country.
We are honored to play a role in the preservation and protection of this important part of Leelanau and American history.