The Lake was first identified as Portage Lake in 1837, when Joseph Stronach named the natural stream at Portage Point that flowed into Lake Michigan as Portage Creek. In that same year, the U.S. Government survey identified the lake as "O-nek-a-ma-engk or Portage Lake". The 26th Congress first published this survey information. The first map to show and to name the lake was entitled "The State of Michigan and the Surrounding Country," published by John Farmer of Detroit in 1844.
The lake was first formed during the Wisconsinian glacial age (10,000 to 75,000 years ago) as an arm of Lake Michigan that later closed. It has a 15,808 acre watershed with a number of ground-fed small streams.
In more recent times and up until 14 May 1871, the lake was a landlocked body of water with a water level about 12 to 14 feet above the level of Lake Michigan. On that date in 1871, homesteaders around the lake, who had objected to the practices of the saw mill owner at [[Portage Point|Portage] in raising the lake level to power their saw mill, dug a channel through the narrow isthmus about a mile south of the natural outlet at Portage Creek.
This new man-made channel lowered the level of Portage Lake to that of Lake Michigan and dried out Portage Creek. As a result of this, the small community at Portage relocated to the previously submerged far northeastern corner of Portage Lake under its offical new Post Office name, Onekama, in 1871. The man who had managed the Portage Mill, Augustine W. Farr became the key figure in establishing the town in its new location and in beginning to lobby for the deignation of Portage Lake as a harbor of refuge.
On the day following the opening of the channel in May 1871, the first vessel to enter Portage Lake from Lake Michigan was the tugboat Williams. In honor of this, the area on the south side at the Portage Lake was named Williamsport, Michigan, but due to the development of Onekama at the far end of the Portage Lake, Williamsport, Michigan never developed as had been originally hoped.
In 1878, Congress recognized the desire to survey the Lake as a first step toward developing a harbor of refuge, as there was no safe harbor in a westerly gale in an 80-mile stretch of coastline between Ludington, Michigan and South Manitou Island. Congress appropriated the first funds to develop the Portage Lake harbor of refuge in 1879 and work continued on and off for decades.
Lighthouse. The first light was established on the pierhead in 1891. In 1893, the channel had a depth of 8.5 feet with north and south piers 500 feet long with a red light on a 23-foot high pole. The first and only resident lighthouse keeper at Portage Lake Light was John Langland, who serverd from 1891 to 1917. In 1899 River and Harbors Act provided for the first time to put harbor works under continuous contract. At that point, plans were laid to dredge the channel to a depth of 18 feet and to extend the north and south piers.
By 1914, steam ships of the Northern Michigan Transportaion Company and the Pere Marquette Line regularly called at the Portage Point Inn, bringing passengers from Chicago and Milwaukee.Back to Lakes
|Location||Onekama Township, Manistee County, Michigan|
|Basin countries||United States|
|Surface area||2,100 acres (8.5 km²)|
|Max depth||60 ft (18.3 m)|