Otsego County History
The county of Otsego was established by the Michigan Legislature in 1840 at a time when the area was still frequented by American Indians on the shores of Otsego Lake. In 1843, the state Legislature changed the name of the county to Otsego, and in the last 150 years or so, the area located on the 45th parallel has grown into a hub of activity and new enterprise.
Although the word “Otsego” is derived from an Iroquoian word “Okkudo,” the exact meaning of this word is disputed. By some accounts, “Okkudo” means “clear waters,” while others contend the original word meant “sickly” or “stomach pains.”
Though no evidence remains, it is believed there once was an Indian village on the southern shore of Otsego Lake. Until the late 1860s, Otsego County remained a vast, unpopulated wilderness, save for the occasional visiting trapper.
In 1868, pioneer A.A. Dwight braved the elements and the unknown and brought a crew of men north to Otsego, constructing log cabins along Crooked Lake, now known as Manuka Lake.
Continued hardships drove the men from the area, but the spring of 1869 found Charles S. Brink and a crew of 14 men clearing acreage for farming. Brink’s wife, Jane, was the first white woman in the county. Brink and his men embarked on a serious lumbering operation, including the building of many dams in the area and commencing log drives down the AuSable River.
Those early lumbering days gave way to post-Civil War homesteading, the birth of Otsego Lake Village, and the eventual construction of a lumber mill, homes, businesses, a library, town hall, a school and a Methodist church. In 1875, the small community of Otsego Lake was established as the county seat, but within two years, the county seat was moved north to Gaylord.
The county encompasses the townships of Bagley, Charlton, Chester, Corwith, Dover, Elmira, Hayes, Livingston, Otsego Lake, the city of Gaylord and the villages of Waters, Elmira, Vanderbilt and Johannesburg, which have remained as the primary communities in the county.
Through the years, Otsego County has attracted numerous businesses and industries and today boasts hundreds of business establishments to support its growing population.
The county also has become well known as a popular four-season vacation spot, annually attracting thousands to the area for golfing, swimming, boating, skiing, snowmobiling, fishing and hunting.
From the chilly waters of the rivers that flow through the area to the many lakes to the miles of untainted forest area, Otsego County represents not only clear waters, but comfortable living and community pride.
The Otsego County Historical Museum, operated by the Otsego County Historical Society, is open from late May to October and maintains a large collection of pictures and negatives as well as items of historical significance portraying the county’s past.
The group began with 20 charter members in 1963 and in the 1980s merged with the Otsego County Pioneer Society. Membership now totals more than 200 businesses and individuals.
The historical society’s mission is to bring together people interested in history, especially the history of Otsego County.
It works to:
• collect material that helps to establish or illustrate the history of the area;
• preserve these materials and make them accessible to people; and
• preserve historical buildings and sites in the county.
The historical society is located at 320 W. Main St. in Gaylord. For more information, call 732-4568, or visit www.otsego.org/ochs.
Hours: From May 31 through Sept. 2, the museum is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. From Sept. 7 through Oct. 27, the museum is open from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The museum is closed from Oct. 28 to May 31.