M-22 begins in Manistee Township two miles north of downtown Manistee where it branches off from US-31. While US-31 runs generally northeast through Bear Lake, Beulah, Honor, Interlochen, Traverse City, Elk Rapids, Petoskey, Charlevoix, Pellston, and Mackinac City, M-22 runs straight north along the lakeshore.
The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians Reservation
Given the role that Native American trails had in forming M-22’s route, it is fitting that M-22 begins by passing through the sovereign Little River Band of Ottawa Indians Reservation. The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians is a modern conglomeration of tribes of Ottawa Indians. Tribes like the Grand River Band, Manistee Band, and Pere Marquette Band of Ottawa Indians once dominated the Lake Michigan shoreline. As settlers arrived in the 1800s, the Ottawa bands lost their territory.
By 1994, the Ottawa Indian population numbered around 3,000 and was spread throughout Ottawa, Muskegon, Mason, Manistee, and Benzie Counties. The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians was formed and successfully lobbied Congress for passage of legislation restoring sovereignty to the tribes. In 1994, the federal government recognized the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians as a sovereign nation, and it was resolved that the federal government would begin acquiring land to restore to the Little River Band.
Although its population was spread among multiple Michigan counties, its government center was placed in downtown Manistee and its most well known landmark, the Little River Casino Resort, was built on land at the beginning of M-22. The Little River Casino Resort has grown to become one of the largest in Northern Michigan and is unique in that its rustic log construction keeps with that of Northern Michigan. Little River Casino Resort appears more like a rustic lodge than a casino from the outside. Other than the casino and a water tower bearing the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians logo, there is little along M-22 to alert one that they are driving through a sovereign Native American nation. Most of the surrounding land is still owned by United States citizens. It remains to be seen how aggressively the federal government will reclaim lands for the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians in the area.
The Dry Creek, Mineral Springs, and Capone’s Retreat -- Onekama
M-22 continues north for three miles through farmland before entering rolling hills and forest and descending to Portage Lake and the town of Onekama. Onekama’s modest downtown lies along M-22 on the north shore of Portage Lake. The lake itself is surrounded by hills and forest with numerous summer cottages and resorts lining the shore.
Onekama’s heritage dates to the tribes of Ottawa Indians that inhabited the area. The town gets its name from the Native American word “ona-ga-maa,” meaning “singing water.” Portage Lake is well known today for its connection to Lake Michigan and for its multiple marinas housing large yachts and fishing boats. Portage Lake was originally landlocked, however. According to some accounts, the channel that now connects Portage Lake to Lake Michigan was built out of spite. In 1871, area landowners were said to be upset with the practices of the Portage Sawmill, which was located along Portage Creek. The angry landowners conspired to dig the channel to Lake Michigan in order to lower the level of Portage Lake and dry out Portage Creek. The plan worked. On May 14, 1871, the channel was completed, the lake dropped fourteen feet, and Portage Creek soon dried. The settlement that had developed around the sawmill relocated to newly dry flatlands on the north shore of Portage Lake where Onekama’s modest downtown sits today.
By the late 1800s, Onekama became a well known tourist destination. The Glen House, a large hotel capable of housing 100 guests, was built on a hill overlooking downtown. The Glen House’s grounds featured three mineral springs which were renowned for their medicinal value. G.A. Mariner, a Chicago professor of chemistry, conducted tests on the spring water in 1892 and wrote, “This is certainly a very pure and healthful water for drinking purposes. The Analysis shows this water to be free of organic matter.” The Onekama Lumber Company, which owned the Glen House, issued marketing pamphlets boasting of the “curative properties” of the springs, which were “life giving and health imparting.”
After a fire gutted The Glen House in 1891, the Portage Point Inn was built. The inn was opened on June 27, 1903, and still stands today. The bright white exterior on all of Portage Point Inn’s buildings is reminiscent of Mackinac Island’s Grand Hotel. It sits prominently on the thin isthmus created by Lake Michigan, Portage Lake, and the channel connecting the two. Its beautiful location and luxurious amenities quickly made the Portage Point Inn a popular destination for tourists from Chicago, who could access it by steamer. With increased popularity came expansion. In 1914, ninety new hotel rooms and a large dining room were added, with detached cottages to follow in 1915. The Inn saw a spike in popularity during prohibition, when alcohol was smuggled in aboard Canadian schooners.
Among the The Portage Point Inn’s notable guests during prohibition was Al Capone, who took advantage of its seclusion and privacy to drink and play cards. For much of its history, guests were allowed by invitation only. The Inn’s owners would send a postcard to families who would be allowed back the following year. Portage Point Inn continued to cater to wealthy travelers until 1988, when a fire destroyed the top floor of the main building. The Inn went out of business and sat vacant until it was converted to condominiums in the late 1990s. Despite the conversion, the Inn has retained its turn-of-the century charm, and most of the now privately owned rooms are still available for rental by the public. It has been on the National Register of Historical Places since 1985.
M-22 is the main road through Onekama. It runs into Onekama’s south shore, turns east, and wraps around the west and north shore of the lake before turning north away from the lake. Along the way, it passes Onekama’s marina, which houses numerous yachts and fishing charters running into Lake Michigan. It passes popular restaurants Shay’s Chop House and The Glenwood. The Glenwood is particularly well known. Not only does it serve some of the finest cuisine in the area, but it is housed in a building that has operated as an inn, summer resort, and restaurant since the early 1900s. The Portage Point Inn and Onekama’s Lake Michigan beaches are accessible a mile off of M-22. The beach is a short distance from the Inn, features a long pier into Lake Michigan, and is a popular, but secluded, destination in the summer. Onekama is also home to the Manistee County Fairgrounds, which hosts celebrations throughout the summer, including the Manistee County Fair in August.