When Manistee County was officially “organized” by the state legislature in 1855, it was divided into three townships: Stronach, Brown, and Manistee. The tax rolls of that year showed over half the county’s valuation in Manistee Township, population about 400. That number grew to 594 in 1860, then to 1,127 in 1864, and may have been more than 3,000 in 1869. The last figure is unknown, however, because the City of Manistee was set apart that year; the 1870 census of Manistee Township shows only 271 residents.
Farmer and lumberman Hugh McGuineas was elected supervisor in 1870. Two sawmills with surrounding dwellings lined Manistee Lake, eventually growing into the communities of Eastlake and Parkdale. The adjacent farms were among the most successful in the county, in part because of the ready market in the nearby city.
By the early 1880s, residents had built a large public hall on US-31 in Parkdale. R.G. Peters began construction on what was probably the largest industrial complex on Manistee Lake: saw and shingle mills, salt wells, and a salt block.
In 1887, Manistee real estate dealer George A. Hart bought a piece of land that included a stretch of Lake Michigan coast and developed it into a model farm with a large apple orchard. He sold it in 1890 to the local streetcar line of which he was part owner. The company extended a line to the property and built a dance pavilion, a theater, a tennis court, and a bath at the new Orchard Lake Park. When trolley operations to the park ceased after World War I, the popular site was deeded to the Michigan’s brand-new State Park system in 1921. Roads, sewer, and limestone and timber structures were built in accordance with Ernest Hartwick’s 1939 master plan by the Civilian Conservation Corps beginning in 1939. When the park was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2009, the organization called it “one of the most intact examples of a Michigan state park developed in the 1930s and 1940s under National Park Service guidelines.”
The Manistee National Forest brushes the southeast corner of the township. Once called “the land that nobody wanted” due to the logging ravages it suffered, the forest was established in 1938. Boaters, campers, fishers, skiers, snowmobilers, and hunters are all among those who now lay claim to the enjoyment of it.
Today, Manistee Township is home to the two largest employers in the county: Michigan State Maximum Security Oaks Correctional Facility and Little River Casino and Resort. West Shore Medical Center and Manistee Blacker Airport also serve the region’s residents from within the township boundaries.