Alger County was named for lumber baron Russell A. Alger who was governor of Michigan at the time (1885-1886) and formerly a general during the civil war. He later became the U.S. Secretary of War during William McKinley's Presidency (1897-1899), then served as a Senator until his death (1902-1907). A bronze bust of Russell Alger was crafted by Detroit sculptor Carlo Romanelli and erected in June 1909 with funds provided by the heirs of Alger and the Board of Education of Munising Township Schools. It can still be seen on the grounds of the William G. Mather Building in Munising, Michigan (Elm Avenue and Chocolay Street). The inscription reads:
Feb. 27, 1836 - Jan. 24, 1907. Brevet Major General, U.S. V., Governor of Michigan, Secretary of War, U.S. Senator, for whom this county was named.
The Pictured Rocks received its name from early English speaking explorers due to the varied colors and patterns from the multicolored sandstone and mineral stains on the faces of the cliffs. Initially this area provided fish, game, and shelter from gales out of the North to Ojibway and Chippewa Indians. Though the Pictured Rocks area is very much the center of Alger County's history, the beautiful inhospitable coast was not a major center for Indians. Instead the cliffs served minor religious significance, the area was called Ishpabecca, meaning "high rocks." As with many Native American Cultures these inanimate objects were personified as devils, ghosts, etc. Many of the tales originally told by the Indians and later embellished by early settling Europeans are retold in Beatrice Castle's book Grand Island Story.
Prior to the first white settlers, the area was discovered by explorers, fur traders, and fishermen. Though it is hard to be certain who the first Europeans that set foot on the land that is now Alger County were; it may have been Etienne Brule and a man known only to historians as Grenoble. Around 1622 they passed what they called Sault de Gaston (now Sault Ste. Marie) onto what they termed "la mer douce du nord," The Sweet Sea of the North, however what they saw was not fully recorded. More exploration and travel was attracted to the area in 1658 when the first European map of Lake Superior's shoreline was completed. As a side note: Jesuit priests first recorded “Supérieur” in the 1647-48 Relations, in 1665-67 travels of Jesuits Claude Allouez and Claude Dablon referred to the lake as either “Tracy” or “Superior.”
The first Europeans factually known to explore the area now known as Alger County were French Voyagers Pierre Esprit Radisson and his brother-in-law Medar Chouart Sieur des Groseilliers in 1659. They were searching for new sources of furs and were successful in their venture. However, upon their return in 1660 from their travels around Lake Superior, the New-France government confiscated their furs and fined the pair because they had not obtained the proper permits before their departure. Due to lack of interest and incorporation from New France, the gentlemen took their knowledge to Boston, where they initiated the establishment of the Hudson's Bay Company.
By 1668 the French were very familiar with Superior's Southern shore and considered it all part of New France. Great fleets of voyagers camped along the coast between Grand Marais and Au Train. The Peace of Paris in 1763 ceded the area to the British and the region became a part of the fledgling United States in 1783. A post was built on Grand Island in the mid 1820's for the American Fur Company. The majority of Alger County's land was part of the transfer of lands by the Chippewa to the US government in 1836. The Alger County area was settled shortly after in the mid 1800's and was a booming area for iron and lumbering.
On March 17, 1885 Alger became a county, name for the aforementioned Russell A. Alger.
Munising is the county seat for Alger County and the gateway to many of the scenic attractions in the area. The name "Munising" is derived from "Minnising", a Native American word which translates to "island in the lake", referring to Grand Island, visible in the harbor. In 1820 the Chippewa village was located at the mouth of the Anna River, then was moved to Sand Point. The area was first settled when Munising Iron Co. bought the land and platted the first village around 1855 as "Old Munising," then later as "East Munising." The first post office in the area opened on December 22 1868, however when Munising Iron Co. failed, the post office and the town struggled to remain. The town's location next to the scenic lakeshore helped it survive with the iron and lumber booms.
In 1894, Timothy Nester took a trip with Captain Taylor on an excursion boat named City of Munising and saw the potential for the struggling village of Munising. In 1895 he hired men and work began on the city now known as Munising, by 1896 the post office was firmly established and the population at the time was 500.
In May of 1896, the village was incorporated, and Munising was organized as a city in 1915. An early settler Thomas G. Sullivan, former village president, was the first mayor of Munising and the namesake of Sullivan's Landing, Sullivan Creek, and Sullivan Lake. The once struggling town began to grow rapidly, and within a year of the first tree being cut, the population jumped to 3,500. Docks, sawmills and a tannery were built and a local newspaper was printed. In 1901 the courthouse was relocated from Au Train to Munising, and a fire hall and City Dock were completed in 1928. By 1959 all of M-28, with the exception of a 13 mile stretch between Wakefield and the Wisconsin state line, was paved.