M-22 next runs into Suttons Bay, the largest town in Leelanau County. Suttons Bay sits along a large bay by the same name opening to Grand Traverse Bay. The town was founded in 1854 by Henry Sutton, who realized that the shelter provided by the bay made it a perfect place to build a dock to service passing steamers. Suttons Bay, then called “Suttonsburg,” became a sort of gas station for the shipping industry, with Mr. Sutton providing cord wood to fuel the steamers’ boilers. Mr. Sutton became a prominent figure on the Leelanau Peninsula, also serving as a teacher, cobbler, and the town’s doctor, prescribing whiskey based remedies for most of the ailments the town’s residents encountered.
Mr. Sutton left in 1871 to settle territory in Kansas. The same year, Father Andrew Herbstrit, a missionary priest and real estate developer, arrived and platted 6,000 lots in Suttons Bay with the intention of establishing a national university funded by the sale of the lots. His vision was never realized, however. There was not enough work to support new residents, and uch of the town was situated in swamp and wetlands, making it difficult to turn the land to productive use. Father Herbstrit’s plan was soon abandoned.
By the turn of the century, however, the town began to take shape in its present form. The Manistee and Northwestern Railroad was extended through Suttons Bay around 1900. The railroad brought new opportunities for travel, shipping, and tourism. Restaurants, hotels, saloons, stores, and a theatre opened near the railroad along present day M-22. Many of the original buildings still stand today. Present-day Bahle’s Department Store was built in 1876 as a dry goods and clothing store. It has been run by the same family throughout its history. The present-day Bay Theatre was built in 1920 and served as home to a livery, hardware store, and home to the fire department during its history.
Today, Suttons Bay is home to a dozen restaurants, numerous gift and antique shops, theaters, and a thriving marina. Many of Leelanau Peninsula’s wineries are close by. Ciccone Vineyards, L. Mawby , Blackstar Farms, Forty-Five North, Tandem Ciders, and Silver Leaf Vineyard and Winery are all just a few miles from downtown Suttons Bay. It is also the terminus of the Leelanau Trail, which begins in Traverse City and runs fifteen miles through varied settings along the lakeshore up to Suttons Bay.