Neebish Island

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Neebish Island
Native name: Aniibiish (Ojibwe)
Neebish Island is located in Michigan
Neebish Island
Neebish Island
Location St. Marys River
Coordinates 46°16′14.8″N 84°09′16.5″W / 46.270778°N 84.154583°W / 46.270778; -84.154583
NEEBISH ISLAND Latitude and Longitude:

46°16′14.8″N 84°09′16.5″W / 46.270778°N 84.154583°W / 46.270778; -84.154583
Total islands 2
Major islands Big Neebish, Little Neebish
Area 21.5 sq mi (56 km2)
Highest elevation 571 ft (174 m)
United States
State Michigan
County Chippewa
Township Soo
Population 89 (2010 [1])
Pop. density 4.14 /sq mi (1.598 /km2)

Neebish Island is located in the U.S. state of Michigan, in the St. Marys River that connects Lake Superior and Lake Huron at the easternmost point of Michigan's upper peninsula.

Located west of the international border that separates the United States from the Canadian province of Ontario, the island forms an important junction of the Great Lakes- St. Lawrence seaway. Ship traffic heading up to Lake Superior pass on the island's east side, while down-bound traffic to Lake Huron passes through a deepened channel on the island's west side.

The island has a permanent resident population of nearly 90 [2] and is a destination for seasonal cottagers and campers.


By the time the first Europeans arrived in the early 1600s, the area around Neebish was shared by the Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi whose Algonkian ancestors had come from the east around 1200. [3]

The island is believed to have taken its name from the Ojibwe word aniibiish meaning "leaf". [4]

Following the Anglo-American War of 1812, British and American negotiators agreed to settle long-standing border disputes in the Great Lakes and elsewhere by appointing commissioners to survey the boundary and determine the actual border between the United States and Canada envisioned in the original Treaty of Paris of 1783. It was at this time that Neebish came to be known as St. Tammany Island. The name was offered by Anthony Barclay, the British boundary commissioner as a compliment to the United States given that Tammany was considered the Indian saint of New Englanders. [5] While St. Tammany was used in the commission's maps and reports, the name did not survive long after. In 1821, the commissioners of both countries consented to appoint the island to the United States. [6]

Originally, the channel between the island and the Michigan mainland was only navigable by very small craft. As a result, the earliest settlements occurred on east side, particularly on Little Neebish - a small island on the south east of the main island.

In 1853, Major William Rains was among the first to settle on Little Neebish. Rains, a British national, had attempted to start a colony on neighbouring St. Joseph Island in the 1830s. When this venture failed, Rains and his family moved to the southwest of that island and then to Little Neebish, which for a time bore his name as Rains Island. [7]

A saw mill, employing 150 men at one point, operated on the island near the creek between Big Neebish and Little Neebish from 1877 to 1893. [8]

The island had its own telephone service, the Neebish Mutual Telephone Company, beginning in 1924 [9] and electrical power was brought to islanders in the mid-1950s. [10]

With no bridge to service the island, a privately run car ferry began operating on the west side of the island in 1933. [11] In 1980, this service was assumed by the Eastern Upper Peninsula Transportation Authority. [12]

Construction of the West Neebish Channel

The completion of the first ship canal at Sault Ste. Marie in 1855 made it possible for much larger ships to ply the St. Marys River. To accommodate this, the American government dredged and dynamited limestone in the Munuscong Channel between Neebish and St. Joseph islands to ease navigation from 1856 and 1905. [13]

The absence of any alternate route meant that both upbound and downbound traffic on the St. Marys River needed to navigate the twisting narrows of the Munuscong Channel. On September 5, 1899, the steamer Douglass Houghton downbound north of Sailors’ Encampment collided with a barge it was towing and sank. The wreck blocked shipping in both directions for days. [14]

The “Houghton Blockade” [15] as the incident became known, made evident the need for an alternate route along the west side of Neebish. With two channels, traffic could be separated with upbound ships travelling the east side of Neebish and downbound on the west. Work to widen and deepen the channel between the island and the Michigan mainland began in 1903 with the West Neebish Channel being opened to downbound traffic in 1908. This work diminished the Neebish rapids that characterized the west side of the island until that point.


Centred is Neebish Island, Michigan. To the north is Sugar Island, Michigan. To the east is St. Joseph Island, Ontario. To the west and south is the eastern corner of Michigan's upper peninsula.

The island of 21.5 square miles (56 km2) lies south of Sugar Island and to the east of Michigan's upper peninsula.

The island consists of two parts known as "Big Neebish" and "Little Neebish", also known as Rains Island. The latter, located south east of the main island is separated by a narrow and shallow creek known colloquially as 'the dark hole' or 'the black hole' by Neebish Islanders.

While only four of its 21.5 square miles (56 km2) are state owned, the island is mostly undeveloped.


The island is the most southeasterly part of Soo Township in Michigan's Chippewa County.

Residents of the island are represented in the Michigan Legislature by the representative of the 107th District and the senator for Senate District 37. They are represented in the federal House of Representatives by the representative of Michigan's 1st congressional district.



Vessels upbound on the lower St. Marys pass through the Munuskong Channel towards Lake Nicolet, while downbound vessels travel towards Lake Huron through the West Neebish Channel.

With no fixed link servicing the island, it is accessible only by water. A vehicle and passenger ferry operates on a seasonal basis to connect the island with Bruce Township on the mainland. During the height of the summer, departures occur every two hours with some additional trips occurring during peak hours in the morning and afternoon. Service is not scheduled between January 15 and April 1. [16] In 2006, the ferry carried an average of 3,300 passengers with 2,175 vehicles each month. [17]

The ferry is owned, maintained and fueled by the Eastern Upper Peninsula Transportation Authority, but operated by a private firm under contract. [18]

The island forms an important junction of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence seaway. Ship traffic heading up-bound on the St. Marys River towards Lake Superior pass through the Munuscong Channel on the island's east side, while down-bound traffic to Lake Huron passes through the deepened West Neebish Channel on the island's west side.


Brander Road runs the north–south length of the island virtually at its centre. East 15 Mile Road runs across the east–west axis of the island as an unconnected extension of the road of the same name in Bruce Township. The ferry services a road called East Neebish Ferry Road on both the mainland and the island.


The island is home to a number of family cottages, many of which have belonged to the same families for generations. The island is a destination for seasonal cottagers in the northeastern part of Michigan. Neebish Island Resort offers cottage rentals and related amenities for visitors.

There was once a small general store and resort, known as the Little Neebish Resort on Little Neebish, but it burned down in the nineties. Plans to rebuild have been underway for over a decade and appear to be drawing to a close. Since then Neebish Island Resort has opened a store and run it seasonally.

Neebish Island was the birthplace and childhood home of the late painter Pat Norton whose work depicts the St. Marys River, freighters that travel the river and other island scenes. She was born in 1931 to a lighthouse keeper. [19]

Pine River Camp, a canoe camp for young people from around the United States operated on Neebish Island for nearly 30 years until closing in 1993. The rustic camp was physically little more than a collection of crude cabins; the dining hall was a pavilion with log poles and a dirt floor next to a camp fire where the meals were provided.

Popular culture

In the 2010 film The Switch, Neebish Island is mentioned as being the location of Roland's parents' cabin.


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