A group of second graders from Doherty Elementary School depart for Apple Island in a boat crossing Orchard Lake May 28.

A group of second graders from Doherty Elementary School depart for Apple Island in a boat crossing Orchard Lake May 28.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Apple Island added to National Register of Historic Places

Community to celebrate with special event June 7, boat tours June 8-9

By: Andy Kozlowski | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published May 30, 2019

 A boulder with a plaque commemorating Apple Island’s addition to the National Register of Historic Places was recently installed on the island.

A boulder with a plaque commemorating Apple Island’s addition to the National Register of Historic Places was recently installed on the island.

Photo by Deb Jacques

 The students survey the ruins of a home that once stood on the island.

The students survey the ruins of a home that once stood on the island.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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ORCHARD LAKE — Michigan is the land of lakes, best known for the five Great Lakes that flank its borders. But it’s also home to countless others.

Among those is Orchard Lake, which lies near the headwaters of three watersheds — the Clinton, Huron and Rouge rivers. Orchard Lake is a geographical marvel not only for its size as an inland lake, but also for the fact that it has a 35-acre island at its center: Apple Island.

In late 2018, Apple Island was added to the National Register of Historic Places, the country’s official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation, managed by the National Park Services at the U.S. Department of the Interior. A boulder monument with a commemorative plaque was installed on Apple Island May 24. Now the community is gearing up to celebrate the island’s new status.

All are invited to the special event on Friday, June 7, beginning at 10 a.m. at Orchard Lake Community Church, Presbyterian, located at 5171 Commerce Road in Orchard Lake. Registration is appreciated but not required. To RSVP, send an email to rsvp@gwbhs.org or call (248) 518-0871.

The celebration will include a performance of “Apple Island Legend,” a musical tribute to the island composed by James Currow in 1997 on behalf of Orchard Lake Middle School. The tribute will be performed on wooden flute by Genot “Winter Elk” Picor, honoring the Native American history of the island. A special presentation will detail the island’s story. The formal program will conclude by 11 a.m., but guests are also invited to a reception immediately following.

And that same weekend — Saturday and Sunday, June 8-9 — there will be Apple Island tours 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m., with buses departing from the Orchard Lake Museum, located at 3951 Orchard Lake Road, with a bus driver break 12:30-1 p.m. The buses will take guests to the shore of Orchard Lake, where guests can then take a pontoon boat ride to the island. The tours are self-paced and self-guided.

Children younger than age 5 are not allowed on the tours. Tickets cost $20 for adults and $10 for children ages 5-12, with ticket proceeds supporting the efforts of the Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society. Members of the society, as well as Time Travelers members, pay $5. Transportation is provided by the West Bloomfield Parks and Recreation Commission. All tours are on a first-come, first-served basis — there are no reservations.

The Historical Society manages the tours of Apple Island. The site was donated to the West Bloomfield School District in 1970 by Brig. Gen. Frederick Strong and the late Marjorie Ward Strong to be used as a nature study area. The island was once frequented by Native Americans, and in more recent years has been visited by vacationers and now school students as an educational place.

In the application for the National Register of Historic Places, numerous archaeological digs at the island were noted — including ones in 1997, 2000, 2003, 2008, 2013-14 and 2017, conducted through American University, Washington, D.C.; the Cranbrook Institute of Science; Madonna University; the University of Detroit; and Western Michigan University — uncovering a variety of artifacts.

The author of the application was Dr. LouAnn Wurst, a professor of industrial heritage and archaeology for the Department of Social Science at Michigan Technological University, submitted on behalf of the Historical Society.

“Apple Island is a unique feature of our school district,” Gerald Hill, the superintendent of the West Bloomfield School District, said in a statement. “We are proud that it is now nationally recognized and thank the Historical Society for ensuring its inclusion in the National Register. We look forward to continuing our partnership with the (Historical Society) to be good stewards of this special educational place.”

Christy Forhan, a West Bloomfield resident and formerly a district parent, added, “This unique natural feature is something to be celebrated in our community. The school district is one of the few in the entire country to actually own an island. It creates an amazing educational opportunity for students in the West Bloomfield School District to learn about the history of the island and surrounding area.”

In 2018, five classes from Gretchko Elementary School planted apple trees on the island. Since 1980, more than 7,500 second grade students in the district have visited the island. More than 2,500 kindergarten students have also visited. The annual boat tours for families have brought more than 19,000 people to Apple Island since 1982.

Gina Gregory, the president of the Historical Society, said she admires the island’s “rolling hills and lovely vistas,” and that “the views of so much greenery are breathtaking,” noting the large matriarch maple tree on the island and the countless small maples that surround it.

She said she’s excited for more people to appreciate the island’s historical value. The Historical Society has been promoting the unique history of Orchard Lake — as well as Keego Harbor, Sylvan Lake and West Bloomfield — for 45 years and counting.

“To have such unique local history to share is very exciting,” Gregory said. “And to have this recognized nationally is terrific.”

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