In 1839, the Reverend Peter Dougherty, a Presbyterian minister from Princeton, New Jersey, came to “Old Mission” (Mission Peninsula) to organize the first Protestant Mission for the Chippewa Indians. He organized the Old Mission Church in 1843.
In 1850, the Indians moved across the West Bay of Grand Traverse Bay to the Leelanau Peninsula when they became eligible for Michigan state citizenship that allowed them to purchase land for settlement. Rev. Dougherty decided to move the Mission and follow them. The merging of several government treaties brought missionary Dougherty and the Chippewa to a crossroad that would turn the original Old Mission into the New Mission. The “New Mission,” founded by Rev. Dougherty and Ottawa Chief Ahgosa in 1852, fostered development of the village of Omena.
According to legend, the word “Omena comes from ‘o-me-nah’, an Ojibwe (Chippewa) expression that Reverend Dougherty used to respond to his many friends among the Indians. When they frequently came to him with their news and problems, his reply was always “Oh, is that so?” This amused the Indians, and they began to call the area Omena. Another meaning of Omena is “apple” from the Finnish word, although it is not known if many Finns arrived in the area. There are, however, many apple orchards in the region.
In the fall of 1853 Reverend Dougherty organized a school for local and Indian children.
Residents, visitors, and trade goods arrived and departed through the safe deep harbor of Omena Bay. This is the Anderson Store’s dock.
Agriculture, commerce, and summer resort growth defined the 1880s. The lands around Omena were lumbered, used for grazing, then for field crops and orchards. The Anderson and Barth stores were built, each with a commercial dock.
Visitors to Omena’s cottages and hotels came by steamers that were in and out of the Grand Traverse Bay ports regularly, even after the 1903 arrival of the Traverse City, Leelanau, and Manistique Railroad. During the thirties and forties, the train with its old steam locomotive was affectionately named Maude - a name given to it by Will Solle, proprietor of Solle’s Bookshop of Omena.
Homes and outbuildings grew up near the stores. One of earliest homes, now the Putnam-Cloud Tower House, was moved a half mile north form the Villa Marquette property into the Village of Omena in 2004. The Jesuits, who owned Villa Marquette, were planning to demolish the home (circa 1876) that was gifted to them by the Cloud family and served as living quarters during the summer. In 2004, the house was relocated to an empty lot owned by the Omena Village Preservation Association, located between the Tamarack Gallery and the Anderson House, where a pole barn once stood. In collaboration with the Omena Historical Society, OVPA generously leased the land in the village with a 40-year lease at $1.00 per year.
The Rinaldo Putnam House (1870) now houses the Putnam-Cloud Tower House Museum and archival research/office space for the Omena Historical Society. The classic farmhouse, built in 1876 by early Canadian settlers, Rinaldo and Mary Donovan Putnam, fits beautifully into the village today.
Omena’s commerce, resort, and agricultural heritage continue into the 21st century. People come from all over the U.S. to vacation here in order to enjoy the beauty, history, and charm of Omena. The number of international tourists has grown as well.
National Register of Historic Places
The National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) is the official record of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation. NRHP’s mission is to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archeological resources. On several occasions in 2014 and 2015, Dr. Ted J. Ligibel, Director of the Historic Preservation Master’s Program at Eastern Michigan University, along with the graduate students in his Preservation Research Techniques class came to Omena to research individual properties in the village with a goal of developing a National Register of Historic Places Determination of Eligibility for a potential district in Omena. Omena already had two National Register listed properties - Sunset Lodge and the Omena Presbyterian Church.
We are proud that OVPA properties (Anderson House and the Post Office) are listed in the National Register of Historic Places and were designated as part of the Historic District by the United States Department of the Interior (2017). A sign was erected in the village and dedicated on June 24, 2018.