Sandwiched between Lakes Charlevoix and Michigan with Round Lake as of the best natural harbors a sailor could ask for, lies Charlevoix the Beautiful.
In part three of our series on the towns that make this area so desirable we take a closer look at Charlevoix's fascinating past.
From Freighters to Pleasure Cruises
In Michigan's lumber era this prime location led Charlevoix to develop into a boom town and one of the Great Lakes most important ports of call. The relative ease of access for wealthy city-dwellers made it an attractive summer getaway. For 85 years a celebration of boating's importance is held each July, they call it Venetian Festival. But there is more to Charlevoix than petunias and boating.
A Great Lake and a Great Legacy
Charlevoix was originally dubbed Pine River, as Lake Charlevoix was once called Pine Lake, but it was renamed to honor French Jesuit, Pierre-Francois-Xavier de Charlevoix. The first permanent settlers were Mormon families from Beaver Island.
Beaver Island is Lake Michigan's largest island; it lies a little more than 30 miles north of Charlevoix and is accessible by plane or boat. Beaver Island also holds a place in American history as the site of the country's only religious monarchy. James J. Strang led a group of Mormons from Wisconsin to Beaver Island in 1848. In 1850 Strang declared himself King. Strang and his followers often clashed with the fishermen on the island and mainland. In 1853 the Battle of Pine River was fought between fisherman and the Mormons. It is the only fight ever waged on both land and sea on the Great Lakes. Strang was assassinated three years later. No one was ever convicted of his murder. Today peace has settled over the island and it is a popular day trip from Charlevoix.
Chicagoans Discover Charlevoix
The first resort enclave was founded by professors from the University of Chicago shortly after the Civil War, which they named the Chicago Club. The Belvedere and Sequanota Clubs were established quickly thereafter. The first few decades of the 21st century saw a lot of action in and around Charlevoix. Albert Loeb built a working farm as a way to showcase farming equipment and livestock sold through Sears Catalog. In the 1970s it was considered to be one of the best places to catch a rock and roll concert. You can still visit Loeb's farm today, only it is now known as Castle Farms and is a popular event venue.
During Prohibition, Charlevoix gained notoriety as it was a favored retreat for Chicago-area gangsters. At one point there was a floating speakeasy sailing at night from Charlevoix to Boyne City. In 1927 the Belvedere Club constructed one of the area's first golf courses and it soon became a respected tournament venue.
Also dotted throughout Charlevoix are the Earl Young Houses. They are easy to distinguish because of their distinctive mushroom-like design. Sometimes called hobbit houses, or fairy homes, there is nothing else like them in the world. Young grew up in Charlevoix and was essentially a self-taught architect. Most of the homes were built between 1930 and 1950. Young was quoted as saying he always built the roof first and then shoved the house under it. Tours are offered of his homes daily during the summer and you have the opportunity to dine in what is considered to be Young's masterpiece, the Weathervane Inn. Should you visit the Weathervane ask to see the lower level where an exhibit showcasing Young's talent can be found.
The Charlevoix of today is a peaceful, vibrant community, famed for its petunia lined streets. Art galleries and gourmet eateries fill the downtown area. Beaches on the east and west side of town are separated by just a few blocks and allow beachgoers to enjoy swimming in Lake Charlevoix and Lake Michigan.
Just remember when planning your excursion to Charlevoix, the bridge over the Pine River Channel connecting the north and south ends of town opens every half hour during the summer!
Next week is our fourth and final chapter in our series of northern Michigan's resort roots, where we'll focus on the Boyne City and Walloon Lake area.