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Situated in the northwestern Lower Peninsula of Michigan, the village of Bear Lake is in Bear Lake Township, Manistee County.

The primary route through the village is US-31, which forms most of the village's western boundary, then runs along the southern banks of the body of water for which the village was named, in the northern part of the village. Nearly as large as the village itself, the Bear Lake County Highlands Golf Course is just south of Bear Lake. The village of Onekama is 7.0 miles south-southwest, Kaleva is 11.0 miles east-southeast, and the City of Manistee is 17.1 miles south-southwest of Bear Lake.

In 1862, President Lincoln signed the Homestead Act into law, which granted 160 acres of undeveloped federal land to anyone who filed an application, created a farm, and applied for a deed. Among the first to come to the Bear Lake area were Russell F. Smith, D.E. Sibley, Elisha Richmond, George W. Hopkins, and Simeon Anderson, who came in 1863. At that time, there was only a single walking trail through a heavy forest of white pines and hardwood. Smith and Sibley began homesteads, moving their families to the area that year. Sibley's homestead was on the north side of the lake, while Smith's was on the south side, which included most of the land that would later become the village of Bear Lake.

By the mid-1860s, several other families had taken homesteads in the area, and two-thirds of the available land had been claimed. Elisha Richmond returned with his family. A post office was established on April 27, 1865, with Jerome Hubert as postmaster. In 1867, George W. Hopkins returned with his wife, brother, and sister to open a brick manufacturing plant.

Russell Smith offered some of his land to anyone who would set up a sawmill to turn the trees into lumber, and a gristmill to produce flour from grain. A couple of men, John S. Carpenter and Eliphlate Harrington, took him up on this, setting up primitive mills as well as a boarding house. They then subdivided the land, offering it for sale. Stores and other businesses were set up on this land.

By 1870, George W. Hopkins and his brother, David H. Hopkins, went into the lumber business. Homesteaders were cutting the trees and burning the wood that they couldn't sell in order to clear land for agriculture. In the absence of nearby rivers, transporting lumber to distant markets was prohibitive.

In 1873, the Hopkins family acquired 88 acres of the Smith homestead for the construction of the Bear Lake Tram Railway, connecting Bear Lake with Lake Michigan at Pierport, a rail line that used horse-drawn trailers that were placed on the rails, enabling the transport of lumber to Lake Michigan, where it could be shipped to markets in Chicago and Milwaukee. By 1874, The Hopkins family had a large sawmill, a brickyard, a gristmill, and a store. In September of that year, the village was platted by the Hopkins family, although Bear Lake was not incorporated as a village until 1893. Over the years, several additional plats added new sections to the village, the most recent in 1949.

By the early 1900s, all the lumber in the area had been cut. George W. Hopkins acquired more than 100,000 acres in Florida, and moved his business there, including portions of the railway. The economy of Bear Lake shifted to agriculture and, in recent years, while agriculture continues to be a viable business, summer tourism has become an important part of the village economy.

Since 1880, the first year in which Bear Lake was included in the census, the population of the village hasn't changed much. There were 236 people in Bear Lake in 1880, and at the time of the 2010 census, its population was 286, with a peak population of 504 in 1910.

The focus of this category is on the village of Bear Lake, Michigan. Websites representing the village itself, as well as those of businesses, industries, schools, churches, organizations, attractions, and events, are appropriate for this category.

 

 

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