Grand Marais is one of the oldest place-names on the Great Lakes. The name is French for “big marsh”, which is puzzling as there is no marsh here. Historians believe that French mapmakers confused “marais” with another, similar-sounding word found on old maps, “maré”, which means “sheltered body of water”. The early voyageurs definitely sheltered here on their way to the western end of Lake Superior.
The Chippewa fished along the shoreline here for many years before the arrival of settlers in the 1860s. A trading post was established at the eastern end of the bay, commercial fishing boats began to ply the waters, and by the 1880s, the lumbermen were moving in. A rail line was established from Seney, and Grand Marais boomed as a lumber town between 1885 and 1910. At its peak, approximately 3,000 people lived here. By 1911, the boom was over, the tracks were taken up, and the population dwindled to about 200. Lean years followed, until a resurgence of commercial fishing and the opening of M-77 in the 1920s brought more prosperity. Tourists began to discover the natural beauty of the area. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore opened in 1966, and today Grand Marais is a popular tourist destination.
Find Out More!
Postmarks from the Past – This unique web page is devoted to the postal history of Michigan, with an emphasis on the Upper Peninsula.
Historic Photo Gallery – Trace the history of the town though this collection of photos from the Historical Society archives.