Photo of the Day: August 5, 2016 – A Brief History of Bassett Island

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It’s hard to believe there used to be a dance hall on Bassett Island, the little island just off the north end of Power Island in West Bay (to clarify, it’s connected by an “isthmus,” according to the Grand Traverse County website – get out your 7th Grade Geography books, people).

For one thing, it’s so tiny. You’d think they would have put the dance hall on the bigger island. But what do I know? I wasn’t around at the turn of the (LAST) century when it was a happening place.

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My dad, Walter Johnson, wasn’t around at the time either – he was born in 1923 – but used to tell me about Bassett Island. Around 1906, steamships took folks out to the two-story dance pavilion where they partied late into the night. Talk about getting away from it all.

According to the Grand Traverse County website, Bassett Island is one acre in size and has four rustic campsites. Both Bassett Island and Power Island are dedicated as quiet nature preserves. I’ve never camped there, but have been out to Power Island a few times, including with the Girl Scouts in the 1970s. Amazingly, I don’t believe I’ve ever stepped foot on Bassett Island, even though I’ve lived on the Peninsula for 56 years. That’s gotta change. Next time out there, it’s Bassett Island for me.

Also in the 1970s, developers had their sights set on Power Island for the construction of private cottages – can you imagine? – which, of course, led to a great uproar and resulted in committees being formed to preserve the property. Eugene and Sayde Power contributed $250,000, and the island was acquired through the Nature Conservancy, then bestowed as a public park to Grand Traverse County in 1975.

Eugene has quite the backstory. He was born in Traverse City in 1905 (hmm… wonder if his parents frequented the dance hall on Bassett Island), earned degrees from the University of Michigan, was a founder of the microfilm industry and helped to develop the Xerox copier. His philanthropic efforts ranged far and wide, including the development and construction of the Power Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Michigan.

For more about Power Island and Bassett Island, check out Kathleen Firestone’s great book, An Island in Grand Traverse Bay.

And think about that great wealth of history when you look out at tiny Bassett Island in West Bay.

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