Once the county seat, Onota disappeared from prominence. Its name was taken by another town, and the name of its true location was changed. It remains for those who seek it out to find the forgotten furnace and the original namesake of Onota in Schoolcraft County.
The location of Onota was originally an Indian fishing site, its name meaning ‘the place where fishermen live.’ The Bay Furnace Company built the Onota blast furnace near the western shore of Grand Island Harbor in 1869. Iron makers had gone to the area in search of a new fuel source for the furnaces on the Marquette range. The Bay Furnace was the first industry in the township and had the second charcoal iron furnace on the bay. Onota became the seat of Onota Township and Schoolcraft County when they were formed in 1871, before Alger County was organized. Onota had a church, but no pastor for it. In 1870, Fr. Eis started visiting Onota, walking one hundred miles round trip along stage roads to get there.
Onota produced twenty tons of pig iron a day which was then shipped to Marquette and the lower Great Lakes from the 1400 foot Onota dock. A second stack was built in 1872.
On May 31, 1877, a fire that had raged for several days in the dry woods swept through Onota, leaving only the church and the school standing. The Bay Furnace Company had gone bankrupt in 1876, so the furnace was not rebuilt. A small sawmill took its place. By 1881, the Bay Furnace Onota no longer existed. The only settlement and post office in Onota Township at that time, located by Glenwood Kilns, took the name of Onota to avoid confusion. In 1938, the land adjoining the original Onota was named Christmas for Julius Thorson’s holiday toy factory there. The Factory is gone, but the name and holiday spirit have stayed. The destroyed old Bay Furnace has been restored by the U.S. Forest Service and can be reached by a trail just north of Christmas leading to the Bay.