Leelanau County was officially established in 1863 when the State of Michigan was a young 26 years old. People were attracted to the natural resources from the beginning – first as a way to earn a living and build a home, and later to enjoy recreation away from the cities. Early settlers arrived on the islands beginning in 1839, while Native Americans populated the Leelanau peninsula until pioneers began exploring the area in 1847. For the next 45 years, the villages known today – and some that are abandoned – were settled. North and South Manitou Islands and the Fox Islands officially joined the county in 1895.
The Leelanau Historical Society was launched in 1957 by a group of residents dedicated to collecting and preserving Leelanau’s history. Leland, first established in 1853 and later the county seat, seemed the natural location for the Society. When the old county jail became available in 1959, the museum found its first home. Through generous donations and grants, a new museum was built in 1985 and expanded in 2005 and 2015.
Today, the collections and archives contain more than 14,000 items. Visitors to the museum learn about Leelanau life and maritime history from exhibits, educational programs and publications. Recipient of the 2014 State History Award for Outstanding Local Society, LHS continues to collect, document and preserve items relating to Leelanau history.