Omena was established in 1853 as a mission and children’s boarding school for a band of Ottawa and Chippewa. The band was relocating from the Old Mission Peninsula and thus named the area “New Mission”. By 1870 the mission had winded down and the school closed. The area began to change with the growth of farming and lumbering, and especially the arrival of steamship traffic. Omena Bay’s deep and protected harbor could accommodate the ships carrying commercial goods and passengers, so docks were built and the region began to flourish with commerce and tourists.
The 1880s saw the construction of important village buildings that served the growing resort population and the farming community. Many of these remain today. Barth’s general store is now the Omena Bay Country Store, and Anderson’s general store is the renowned Tamarack Gallery. A private home which was brought down from the mission in the 1880s became an ice cream parlor in the 1920s, and today is Omena’s charming Post Office. The Putnam-Cloud House, a lovely Greek Revival home built in 1876, is now the Omena Historical Society museum. This row of historic buildings still anchors the village today.
Railroad service began in 1903, bringing more tourists. As the village of Omena became a popular destination for summer visitors, resorts and summer cottages were built. Eventually there were eight resorts including the Leelanau Hotel, The Clovers, The Omena Inn, and Sunset Lodge. The resorts prospered for decades, but tourism changed markedly after WWII as the automobile made for quicker visits and tourists desired more modern amenities. Most of the resorts closed by the 1950s and today only Sunset Lodge remains, having evolved from a full-service resort to a seasonal Inn.
Omena’s history is fascinating. The Omena Historical Society website has much information about the area and its significance. The Society’s museum is operated seasonally and visitor hours are posted on their website at omenahistoricalsociety.com. The Sunset Lodge surrey, which greeted guests at the dock and transported them to the resort, is beautifully refurbished and on display at the museum.