South Manitou Island
|Location||Lake Michigan, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore|
|Area||8.2 sq mi (21.2 km2)|
|Township||Glen Arbor Township|
South Manitou Island is located in Lake Michigan, approximately 16 miles (26 km) west of Leland, Michigan. It is part of Leelanau County and the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The uninhabited island is 8.277 square miles (21.44 km2) in land area and can be accessed by a ferry service from Leland. Larger North Manitou Island lies to its north.
South Manitou Island was popular in the 19th and 20th centuries as a harbor and fueling station. This island was a stop for early mariners between Chicago and the Straits of Mackinac. The lighthouse, which was in operation from 1871 to 1958, marks the finest natural harbor between Mackinac Island and Chicago. The lighthouse is still in good condition. Recent efforts have restored its light tower to operational status for the summer months.
The climate of the island provided an ideal environment for growing rye, beans, and peas, but not for getting them to a market. The island is now uninhabited, and most of its buildings lie in ruins.
In 1901, the United States Life-Saving Service built a station on the island. The USLSS became part of the United States Coast Guard in 1915. This station is now the island's ranger station and is not open to the public.
The island is 3 miles (4.8 km) wide and 3 miles (4.8 km) long. On its west side, the island's shore is marked by perched sand dunes. Florence Lake is the island's only inland lake. The island has a system of trails and campsites. Guided tours on open-air vehicles are available to visitors, but most traffic is on foot.
The eastern side of the island is dominated by a large round bay. This bay is deep until very close to shore. On more than one occasion, ships found here a safe port in a storm, even some of the large bulk carriers. During the "Big Blow" of 1913, Captain John Stufflebeam nosed the bow of the passenger/packet steamer Illinois up onto the beach. He kept the engines going full for 49 hours so the wind would not blow the vessel back out to sea, until he was able to send two seamen ashore to fasten to a stout tree. When the storm abated 24 hours later, he let go the tree, put his engines in reverse and backed away from shore to proceed safely on his journey.
A growth of Northern white cedars on the southwestern corner of the island are among the oldest and largest in the world. The largest is 18 ft (5.5 m) around and is estimated to be over 500 years old.
The Manitou islands are surrounded by over 50 known shipwreck sites, some of which are popular diving spots. One such shipwreck is the Francisco Morazan, which grounded and became a total loss in 1960 off the south shore of the island. She ran over the wreck of the bulk freighter Walter L Frost, stranded November 4, 1903, with a cargo of corn and general merchandise.
- South Manitou Island: Blocks 1180 and 1181, Census Tract 9704, Leelanau County, Michigan United States Census Bureau
Inventory of Maritime and Recreation Resources of the Manitou Passage Underwater Preserve, Kennth J. Vrana, Editor [No place] (Michigan State University: 1995)
Coming Through With Rye; An Historical Agricultural Landscape Study of South Manitou Island at Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, Michigan, Brenda Wheeler Williams, Arnold R. Alanen, and William H. Tishler (National Park Service: Omaha, NB: 1996).
- True Tales of the Great Lakes by Dwight Boyer, Dodd Mead & Company, New York, 1971, ISBN 0-396-06372-1