The History Of Benzie County

Benzie County’s rich history began before it formed as a county in 1869

Benzie County

Founded in Community, Built on Education
Benzie County’s rich history began before it formed as a county in 1869. The name Benzie is derived from the French la rivière aux Bec-scies, “the river of sawbills [ducks],” and refers to the Betsie River. Many of the county’s earliest logging operations took place along the Betsie River. Although logging played an important role in our history, our community’s character is rooted in education. Benzonia began in 1858 as an educational Christian colony and the Grand Traverse College was founded in 1863 “…to afford all people, regardless of age or sex, the opportunity to receive a liberal education.” In 1900 the college was changed to a preparatory school named Benzonia Academy. Both served as a center for cultural and recreational activities for citizens of the surrounding counties. The remaining Academy building now functions as the community library and meeting space which we use for our lecture series during summer months.

Benzie County was formed in 1869

Economic Hurdles

The area’s economic engine is fueled by health care and tourism

Five decades ago, our county was in a much different, stronger economic place. The railroads and car ferries were still in operation, and workers there were under union contracts so the local quality of life for many was above average for decades. There was also a decent manufacturing base. 

Our county’s financial fortunes turned substantially when the last of the railroad tracks were closed and the carferries stopped service in 1982. The dominoes began to fall, and soon many of the manufacturing plants were shuttered. The area’s main economic engine is now fueled by health care and tourism.

Benzie County is rural and relatively remote

Effects on Education & Population

A Rural County Pushing Forward

Benzie County supports a robust landscape of community arts organizations

Strength in Arts & Culture

Benzie County Has a Strong Cultural Heritage

Our community has a strong arts and culture heritage that carries on today. Benzie counts Point Betsie Lighthouse, Oliver Center for the Arts, the Mills Community House, Cognition Science & Discovery Center, BAHM and four district libraries as community assets. Collaborations and informal partnerships between local nonprofits are common; leaders of local nonprofits realize that due to the rural nature of our county and limited resources, we are stronger by working together and supporting one another.