A History of Service and Commitment to Public Safety Since 1917

Road construction underway by the leelanau county road commission.

More than 100 years ago, in October 1916, the Leelanau County Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution that “the question of adopting the County Road System be submitted to a vote of the electors of the county at the election to be held the first Monday in April 1917”.

Six months later the popular vote approved the adoption of a county road system and the Board of Supervisors appointed the first three members of the Leelanau County Road Commission: Elmer Billman, who was appointed Chairman, Clinton B. Fisher and Marcus Hoyt.

The three commissioners met for the first time on June 26, 1917 in Leland and according to those historic minutes the “Object of meeting being, to confer with Board of Supervisors, upon various road matters, to endeavor to agree upon plans and manner of proceeding with construction of, and also to ask the Supervisors to provide means of paying for services of Surveyor and necessary help, for survey of roads.”

Creating a Road System

In those early years Leelanau County’s road system was far different then than it is today.   Some 14 years later, in the commission’s 14th annual report, the county road system was reported as including 32.9 miles of unimproved road, 105.35 miles of gravel road and 8 miles of 1” Bituminous Retread.

Road commission services were far different than what is expected today.  During the winter only 66 miles of road was snowplowed on a regular basis.  Road commission workers routinely erected snow fence along those roads each fall and removed it each spring.   Total budget for winter maintenance was $4,853, about $56,500 in today’s dollars.

During those early years each township in the county also had its own system of local or township roads.   Examples of these include Solon, Lincoln, Tower, Schomberg and Setterbo.   Local roads were financed entirely by the township in which they were located.   The cost for the roads was raised by a property tax of up to five mills on township residents.   It’s common to hear about farmers who “worked off their road tax” by using their team of horses to haul gravel or pull a drag along the road to smooth it out.  This changed dramatically when, in 1931, the Michigan State Legislature passed the McNitt-Holbeck-Smith Bill, referred to as the township road tax relief law.  Under the act over 440 miles of township roads were consolidated into various county road systems over a six year period and the act also provided for uniform statewide funding to reduce the burden on the property tax.

Today’s County Road Network

Since then the network of roads that gets us around Leelanau County has grown dramatically.  Today the Leelanau County Road Commission maintains 170 miles of primary roads and 425 miles of local roads.  Approximately 80% of all roads surfaces are paved.  Only 50 miles of county roads are considered seasonal roads – roads that are not plowed in the winter.  Most of these are two-tracks, what the typical county road would have looked like during the first decade of operation for the road commission.