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Alpena is the second-largest city in the northern part of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan by population, after Traverse City, and the only city in Alpena County, as well as its county seat.

It is surrounded by Alpena Township, although the two are administered independently.

Alpena is situated on Lake Huron, at Thunder Bay, and the city includes Lake Besser. Also known as Ninth Street Pond, Lake Besser is a 392-acre body of water that is twenty-three feet deep at its deepest point. It is a popular fishing spot. Flowing through the center of town, the mouth of Thunder Bay River is in downtown Alpena, at the Alpena Light Station.

The main routes through the city are US 23 and M-32. US 23 serves the city on its way to Lake Huron before turning northwest, passing Grand Lake, Long Lake, Rogers City Cheboygan, and Mackinaw City, ending at I-75 and the Mackinac Bridge. M-32 ends in Alpena after traversing Northern Michigan from Lake Michigan. Although not a major route, Long Rapids Road parallels the north bank of the river, connecting the city with Lake Winyah and Long Rapids, to the northwest.

Alpena is served by the Lake State Railway, which was previously the Detroit and Mackinac Railway. Other railroads that have served the city included the Detroit, Bay City and Alpena Railroad and the Alpena and Northern Railroad. Indian Trails provides intercity bus service, connecting Alpena with St. Ignace and Bay City, serving as the Amtrak Thruway Motorcoach for Alpena.

The Alpena to Hillman Trail is a 24-mile recreational trail that uses segments of what was once the eastern spur of the Boyne City Railroad, built in 1918 and converted into a multi-use recreational trail in 2016.

The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve extends from the lakeshore to the Canadian border, Alpena being the largest city within its area. Connected to the sanctuary is the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center, which includes the museum, an auditorium, archaeological conservation lab, and education areas. The sanctuary is the largest employer in Alpena.

Alpena also has an industrial base, which includes the LafargeHolcim cement plant, the Besser Company, which produces equipment for making concrete blocks, and a drywall manufacturing facility operated by Decorative Panels International.

The first recorded European-American settler in what was to become Alpena was W.F. Cullings, a fisherman who came around 1835.

In 1856, George N. Fletcher laid out a village, naming it Fremont for General John C. Fremont. However, there was another Fremont in Michigan so it was named Alpena, a pseudo-Native American word coined by Henry Schoolcraft. A post office was established on December 2, 1857, with Daniel Carter as its first postmaster. On January 4, 1859, the village was renamed Thunder Bay, but it was changed back to Alpena on February 11, just over a month later.

Alpena was incorporated as a city in 1871, and most of its buildings were lost in a fire that same year, in what was known as the Great Michigan Fire of 1871. On July 12, 1872, less than a year later, Alpena suffered another fire, even more devastating than the first, destroying fifteen acres of homes and businesses. On July 11, 1888, another large fire struck the city.

Historically significant buildings within the city include the Independent Order of Odd Fellows building, known as the I.O.O.F. Centennial Building, constructed in a Victorian commercial style in 1876, and the circa 1889 Temple Beth-El, a Reform Jewish synagogue that is one of a few surviving 19th-century synagogues. The Alpena County Courthouse, built in an art deco style in 1934, replaced two previous courthouses that were destroyed by fire. Constructed in 1915, the Alpena City Hall building was built in the Georgian Revival style. On the front lawn is a cannon from the U.S.S. Maine, which was destroyed in the Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898.

The focus of this category is on the City of Alpena, Michigan, and may include informational sites concentrating on the city, as well as those representing local government departments and agencies, attractions, businesses, industries, schools, places of worship, and organizations.

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