When we refer to “Glen Lake,” we’re actually talking about two large bodies of water — Big Glen Lake and Little Glen Lake. They’re connected by the channel at the Narrows, which is crossed by the M-22 bridge.
Both lakes have basically the same water levels and are hydrologically similar. Big Glen’s surface area is 4,871 acres and reaches a depth of 130 feet. Little Glen covers 1,415 acres and has a maximum depth of 13 feet.
At one point in time, the lakes were the same depth, but sand from the Sleeping Bear Dunes slowly filled in Little Glen.
The lakes empty into Lake Michigan via the Crystal River.
The Ottawa and Chippewa tribes were the first people to live near Glen Lake, where they farmed, fished and hunted. Fur traders showed up in the 1800s and shipping on the Great Lakes grew around that time, as well. The first settler built a trading post near the mouth of the Crystal River in 1847.
The wife of one of the early settlers, Mrs. John Fisher, who arrived in 1854, liked the trees covered with grape vines and named the community “Glen Arbor.”
John Dorsey, who also arrived in 1854, was the town cooper, making fish barrels. He owned 1,000 acres on the north side of Glen Lake. W.D. Burdick built a sawmill and gristmill in 1864 at what is now Burdickville.
In 1886, D.H. Day bought large tracts of land and built a productive sawmill on Glen Lake. He replanted trees he had cut, planted fruit trees and built a cannery in Glen Haven and tirelessly promoted the area. In 1867, Glen Arbor Township had a population of 200, three docks, two hotels, four stores, a blacksmith shop and the cooper shop. Gordon Earle built a shingle mill in 1890; J.O. Nessen built a steam-powered lumber mill in 1899.
By the 1900s, tourism was taking off. A few resorts opened along the shores of Glen Lake and visitors — mostly from Chicago — would arrive in Glen Haven via steamship. Mothers and children would often stay the entire summer; men would come up for weekends. Glen Lake had two golf courses and an excursion boat that stopped at various resorts and cottages.
A U.S. Life-Saving Station was established at Sleeping Bear Point in 1901 and moved to Glen Haven in 1931. It is now the Maritime Museum at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was created in 1971.
A good way to get a taste of Glen Lake in the 1900s is through “Historic Cottages of Glen Lake” by Barbara Siepker.