History of the Walloon Lake Village

Vintage Photo of the Village of Walloon Lake Circa 1932

In the late 1870s, as the logging era in Northern Michigan was coming to a close, the railroads began expanding their transportation offerings to a different commodity: tourists. This pristine part of the world, also known as Northern Michigan, was being dubbed “vacationland” through an elaborate publicity campaign. Railroad companies built hotels to create a destination for city folk to escape the heat of urban summer in places like Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Chicago, and Grand Rapids. These resort hotels publicized “beautiful views, great fishing, and boating, along with socializing with other resort goers.” As a result, hundreds of hotels were built in Northern Michigan.

Four Sailboats on Walloon LakeIn 1891, the Walloon Lake Village was made accessible to resort guests by a spur from the main trunk line of the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad. Guests came from as far away as St. Louis, Chicago, and Kansas City to enjoy the crystal clear waters and tranquility of Walloon Lake. Much more than just a place to vacation, Walloon Lake took course as a destination in which to leave a legacy. Families from many midwest towns and cities put stock in tradition and were taken by the beauty of this glacier-carved paradise. These new “Wallooners” continued to bring their children and grandchildren to the resorts and camps that dotted every shore of the lake, and in time, many families merely visiting for a week or so would fall in love and purchase their own cottage or plot of land on which to build.

The original Hotel Walloon was across the road from the lakeshore and was opened in the 1890s by Mrs. James Hass. In 1900, the New Walloon was built by Alfred Hass near the steamer dock. By 1905, the Walloon Lake Village had a boat livery, three stores, a post office, and two churches, making the village a hub of activity. Cottages began to pop up more readily in those days, with land being less expensive and northern retreats likened to today’s more common tropical beach vacations. Often it was seen that a mother and her children would set off for the summer at Walloon Lake, while working husbands would join their families on weekends.

The Magic of Walloon Lake

Before most families splurged on cottage purchases, the resort-strewn arms of the lake were packed with Northern Michigan summer visitors, there to behold the lake and its enchantments. Hotels, like the original Hotel Walloon, not only provided for the many families that would become residents but contributed as major selling points and sources of return visits for the lake and the booming village.

Beauty was readily beheld on the lake with the early 1900s displaying the most eloquent of architectural styles attributed to the many details in each hotel’s design. Vast wrap-around porches, delicate finials, and embellished woodwork could be seen at many of Walloon Lake’s resort hotels. Equal in beauty, one could see the care that went into the interior design for each and every place of lodging. Guest rooms, as well as parlors and dining areas, were all decked with the finest wallpapers, rich wooden furnishings, and floral patterned textiles.

But no building could rival the lake itself in its glory. Summer guests arrived to stay in the lap of luxury, while truly setting course for rugged trails, rushing waters, and starry skies.

Among many local spots written about by Ernest Hemingway, Walloon Lake in its early days was even more rustic a Northern Michigan vacation spot than it is today. So for every comfort found within the plethora of hotels on the shores, the surroundings and organic beauty stretching far beyond what the eye could see lent to a deeper connection, that many, if not most, travelers felt upon arrival.

Hikes and horse rides, sailing and paddle boating, playing in the natural streams, and watching the sunsets—Northern Michigan vacations were never quite long enough for those who could feel the magic of the lake.

Magic Still Abounds

Today, the village that once welcomed Northern Michigan vacationers to its many illustrious hotels is at last in a turnaround. Slated to rear its head once more, the charming row of boutiques and eateries is now graced by the Hotel Walloon, which in its design aims at propelling each guest back in time to the era of vintage elegance. The dawn of the 20th century can be seen in the hotel’s porches, the wainscoting, and each gilded light.

One hundred years of fluctuating popularity has seen a few less-significant eras of resort patronage, though it seems the many families of Walloon are still strong in dedication to the lake and its village. And now, as Hotel Walloon opens many minds to the past, “Wallooners” can feel new life being breathed into the village. New restaurants and social settings continue to help enliven the lake, as well as promote a surge in support of other locales, such as Boyne City and Petoskey.

With Walloon Lake’s ever-enchanting history and the Hotel Walloon open for all to enjoy, we hope that we continue to see the days of busy streets and starry-eyed Northern Michigan vacationers.

The 17 Editorial

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