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Although Grand Marais is one of the oldest place names on the Great Lakes, it is an unincorporated community of about four hundred people.

The area received its name from French fur traders. However, the French term "grand marais" means "big marsh" and there is no marsh in Grand Marais. It is believed that they confused "marais" with another, similar-sounding word, "maré", which refers to a sheltered body of water, as ships on the Lake Superior frequently sheltered there on their way to the western end of the lake.

Grand Marais is located on the southern shores of Lake Superior, in Burt Township, Alger County, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Grand Marais was one of five United States Live-Saving Service Stations established along the Lake Superior coast between Munising and Whitefish Point in the UP. These stations became part of the US Coast Guard in 1915, and in 1939 the US Lighthouse Service also merged under the control of the Coast Guard. From 1954 to 1957, the Grand Marais Air Force Station, part of the Air Defense Command, provided surveillance radar along the northern border of the United States.

The Grand Marais Outer Range Light is at the end of a breakwater extending from the bay into Lake Superior and is one of only seventy Fresnel lenses still in operation in the United States, sixteen of them in use in the Great Lakes. The Au Sable Light, built in 1874, is west of Grand Marais in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Grand Marais is the eastern gateway to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore along County Road 58 (H-58), a 69-mile highway connecting Munising to Deer Park. Other routes to and from Grand Marais include M-77, which leads south to US-2. The unincorporated community of Green Haven is about eight miles to the south, but the nearest incorporated cities or villages (Newberry, Munising, and Manistique) are about fifty miles away.

Although French fur traders were often in the area, and the harbor had its name as early as 1660, the area was inhabited by Native Americans, principally the Ojibwa, until after the American Civil War. The first European-American settlement was a trading post at the eastern end of the bay, and commercial fishing boats sought shelter there, including the Endress Fish Company, founded in 1872. On November 21, 1882, a post office was established in Grand Marais, with Charles A. Loughlin as postmaster. In 1884, the town was platted, although it was never incorporated as a village. Grand Marais was in Schoolcraft County until Alger was organized in 1885, and it was the county seat until 1902.

By the 1880s, the lumber industry was booming in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and Grand Marais was a thriving lumber town between 1885 and 1910. To serve the lumber industry, the Manistique Railway ran north to Grand Marais from Schoolcraft County, through Seney. At its peak, there were three thousand people there.

By 1911, the lumber boom was over, the railroad tracks were removed, and the town's population declined to about two hundred. Things were quiet in Grand Marais until commercial fishing made a comeback in the 1920s, followed by a surge in tourism beginning in the 1960s.

Grand Marais has much to offer visitors. Not only is it the eastern gateway to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, but it includes a small bay, a peninsula jutting out into Lake Michigan, with Lost Island just offshore, and Carpenter Creek in the eastern portion of the community. To serve tourists and travelers, Grand Marais includes several hotels, motels, and resorts, as well as restaurants, and other businesses.

The focus of this category is on the community of Grand Marais. Businesses, industries, schools, churches, organizations, attractions, events, and recreational or sporting opportunities are appropriate topics for this guide.

 

 

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