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Elk Rapids is in the northwestern Lower Peninsula of Michigan, bordered on the west by Lake Michigan's Grand Traverse Bay, to the north by Bass Lake, and to the east by Elk Lake. The Elk River divides the village into two parts, connecting Elk Lake with Lake Michigan. The village is in southwest Antrim County.

The Elk River is a short waterway, extending from Elk Lake into Grand Traverse Bay of Lake Michigan, forming a harbor for the village of Elk Rapids. With a maximum depth of 192-feet, Elk Lake is Michigan's second-deepest lake, and it is 7,730 acres. Historically, Elk Lake was an arm of Lake Michigan. When the water level dropped in Lake Michigan, a belt of sediment separated Elk Lake from Grand Traverse Bay, and the short river formed to provide drainage for the smaller lake. Birch Lake is a 326-acre body of water that forms most of Elk Rapids' northern border.

The chief route through the village is US-31. Other routes include Cairn Highway and Elk Lake Road. Travel generally involves going around one lake or another, so distances are lengthened. Nearby cities and villages include Traverse City (16.4 miles southwest), Central Lake (21.5 miles north-northeast), Kalkaska (22.0 miles southeast), Bellaire (25.7 miles northeast), and Mancelona (27.0 miles east).

Before its settlement by European-Americans in the early 1800s, the area had long been inhabited by the Mound Builders and various Anishinabek tribes of Native Americans.

Although Abram S. Wadsworth is credited as being the founder of Elk Rapids when he came to the area in the 1840s, and platted the village in 1852, there were European-Americans in the area long before that. In 1854, the remains of a log home on the shore of Elk Lake was discovered. It was clear that the structure had been built by a white man. However, the logs that the house had been constructed of had rotted to the ground and, because the logs were cedar, it must have been built a couple of generations before that time, as cedar does not quickly rot. The builders were unknown, but it is believed that they may have been French fur traders who had ventured south of the center of the fur trade.

In 1839, Protestant missionaries came to the area from Mackinac Island to establish a school and to minister to the Native American tribes. First, they landed where they eventually ended up, at Old Mission, near the tip of Old Mission Peninsula, along the shores of the East Arm of Grand Traverse Bay. Upon their arrival, they were informed that the local tribes were uniting and locating on the east side of the bay, near the Elk River.

At this new location, which was in the area now known as Elk Rapids, the missionaries began work on a home and a school. However, in June of that year, Henry Schoolcraft, Indian agent at Mackinac, arrived and suggested that Bower's Harbor, on the west side of the bay, south of their original location, would be a better site, so they moved once again, later establishing Old Mission.

After residing for brief periods of time in various locations in Michigan, including Old Mission, Abram S. Wadsworth, and his family came to the area of Elk Rapids, building a home in 1848. Although they resided there only periodically, he platted the village in 1852, originally naming it Stevens. A post office was established at Stevens on March 31, 1854, with Theron Bostwick as postmaster. On August 30, 1858, it was renamed Elk Rapids for a pair of elk horns that were found at the mouth of the river.

Early settlers in Elk Rapids included Thomas Hill, James J. McLaughlin, Alexander McVicar, Samuel Rogers, and Amos Wood. Wadsworth and McLaughlin began the construction of a picket and lathe mill on the east side of the bay. Unhappy with it, Wadsworth had it overhauled and turned into a sawmill, which he soon sold, and began construction on a second mill, which he also sold, moving back to Connecticut with his family. Given Wadsworth's frequent moves, James McLaughlin is considered to be the first permanent settler of Elk Rapids, while the Wood and McVicar families are acknowledged as the second and third permanent settlers.

Elk Rapids was the county seat until 1879 and was incorporated as a village in 1900. Its peak population was 1,673 in 1910. With the demise of the lumber industry and other factors, its population had declined by nearly sixty percent by 1920. After further declining to a low of 615, the village has since nearly regained its peak population.

The focus of this guide is on the Village of Elk Rapids, Michigan. Online resources representing the village or any individuals, businesses, churches, schools, organizations, attractions, or events within the village are appropriate for this guide.


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