About Houghton Lake and Its History

Houghton Lake (Michigan) in Roscommon County, Michigan, USA

Houghton Lake is a large lake in Roscommon County, Michigan. The unincorporated community of Prudenville is at the southeastern end of the lake, while the unincorporated communities of Houghton Lake and Houghton Lake Heights are on the southwest and west shores. It is the largest inland lake in the state of Michigan, and one of the largest natural inland lakes in the United States (many man-made impoundments are much larger). The lake is approximately 10 miles (16 km) north to south, and about 51⁄2 miles (8.9 km) at it widest point. Houghton Lake has c. 30 miles (48 km) of total shoreline and its waters cover 20,044 acres (81.12 km2). It is an extremely popular resort and fishing area year round. Houghton Lake is the site of Tip-Up-Town USA, a large ice fishing and winter sports festival with several events on the frozen waters of the lake itself. Houghton Lake is named after the first state geologist, Douglass Houghton who explored the area.[2] Houghton County, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is also named after Douglass Houghton. The name of the lake is pronounced by Michigan citizens as “HOTE’n” (/ˈhoʊʔn̩/).

Quick Facts: Location, Coordinates

The lake receives the waters of spring-fed Higgins Lake through the Cut River and, in turn, is the headwaters for the Muskegon River, which flows out of the North Bay in the northwest corner of the lake. The lake is partially within four townships: Markey Township on the northeast, Denton Township on the southeast, Roscommon Township on the southwest, and Lake Township on the northwest. The lake is mid to late mesotrophic in profile, and is considered to be a warm water, shallow lake, with the average depth being 7½ feet. The deepest spot is a small hole in East Bay that has been sounded to 22 feet (6.7 m), but it is rare to encounter depths of greater than 17 feet (5.2 m) in the lake. The lake offers almost every species of game and panfish found in Michigan with the exception of the trout/salmon families, the sturgeon, the muskellunge, and white bass. Common catches include northern pike, bluegill, walleye, crappie, yellow perch and both largemouth bass and smallmouth bass.

M-55 follows the southern shore, while U.S. Highway 127 passes just to the west. M-18 and Interstate 75 pass just to the east.

Houghton Lake is notable for the annual winter carnival, Tip Up Town USA,[3] which is held during two consecutive weekends in January. The name for the festival originated from the flag-like devices – “tip-ups“, used for ice fishing. The USA was added later. Tip Up Town Badges, required for entry to the Tip Up Town site on the south shore of Houghton Lake, are sold annually at local businesses.


The Houghton Lake area’s first white settlers were said to be the Emery family in 1873. Augustus Emery, his wife, and their 7 children left their home in Chesaning, Michigan, and made their way on foot to an area three miles south of the lake via the well-known Saginaw Trail. It was here that Mr. Emery and his three sons, Augustus, Jr., 21, William, 19, and Harvey, 17, would construct the family home on 160 acres of homesteaded property.

Lumbering had a profound impact on the early development of Houghton Lake. In the mid-1800s, lumber camps in the area were abundant, and roads, towns, and railways were established to support the lumber trade. Logs were floated from Houghton Lake down the Muskegon River to sawmills and shipping facilities in Muskegon. It has been estimated that in 1860 alone, mills on the Muskegon River produced 75,000,000 board-feet of lumber.

By the late 1800s, lumbering became the primary industry in the area. As lumber camps sprung up around saw mills, more settlers arrived. Around 1883, a community at Houghton Lake had been created.
Houghton Lake was originally called “Roscommon Lake”. However, in 1879, after the untimely death of famous physician, explorer, and Michigan’s first state geologist, Douglass Houghton, Roscommon Lake was honorably renamed Houghton Lake.
With the decline of the lumbering industry in the early 1900s, railways that had been used to transport lumber were transformed to passenger lines to bring outdoorsmen to fish, hunt, and experience the beauty of the “north country.” The Houghton Lake fishery became legendary and attracted visitors from far and wide.
By the mid-1900s Houghton Lake had become known as a prime resort area. Today, thousands of seasonal cottages, year-round homes, and businesses border the lake. Houghton Lake remains one of Michigan’s top resort and vacation destinations and attracts thousands of visitors to its shores each year.
In 1927, the “Johnson Dance Hall,” presently known as “The Playhouse,” was erected and served for many years as the entertainment center for the area. The Playhouse and the surrounding property are now home to The Houghton Lake Historical Society, as well as the yearly event “Historic Village Days”
The town was struck by a windstorm on June 11, 1932, which killed four people.[3] During a snowstorm that caused reduced visibility, two married couples died when they drove their cars into the frozen lake on New Year’s Day, 1957.[4] The Limberlost Hotel, situated on the shore of Houghton Lake, was destroyed by a fire in 1968 causing one injury but no deaths.[5][6]Two men drowned in a snowmobile accident during a carnival on the frozen lake in 1980.[7]

– Wikipedia