The Grand Hotel
Built in 1887, the Grand Hotel is one of the last great wooden- framed hotels in the country and also one of the top rated in the world. It’s name is befitting given the hotel’s enormous size and world-class accommodations. A few American presidents, including Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, and George W. Bush have stayed here. Foreign leaders have been guests as well, including Russian President Vladimir Putin. Lightbulb inventor Thomas Edison, who gave the first public demonstration of the phonograph here, and book author Mark Twain are other notable guests. Since the hotel opened, over 5 million people have stayed at the hotel. It also has the world's longest porch at 600 feet and the 390 hotel rooms are all different with seven of them having been named after First Ladies, including Jacqueline Kennedy and Laura Bush. The hotel was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1989 and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
The Grand Hotel
One of the rooms at the hotel
Aerial view of the island and the hotel
Grand Hotel veranda ca. 1910
Backstory and Context
Before a hotel was put on the island, the island itself became British territory when they established Fort Mackinac there. This was established during the American Revolution as the British controlled it for much of the 18th Century before American troops occupied it. It became the site of two battles during the War of 1812 for control of the Great Lakes area and the United States won strategically adding the land to Michigan. The fort closed in 1895 and is solely used as a museum for visitors to the island.
After the Civil War, the wealthy sought out places to escape the summer heat and busy, congested cities. As a result, Mackinac Island, which has a favorable climate in the summer, became one of many resort destinations in the country. For many years, the Jacob Astor House Hotel was where visitors stayed on the island, but this all changed when the Grand Hotel was built. Two railroad companies—the Michigan Central Railroad and the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad—and the Detroit Steamship Navigation Company formed the Mackinac Island Hotel Company to build the hotel. It was first constructed in 1887.
The hotel was built on a very rapid timetable spanning just over 90 days. Michigan Senator Francis B. Stockbridge had purchased the property on which the hotel now stands in 1882. He wanted Michigan to have a fine summer resort hotel and promised to hold the land until such a facility was built upon it. Stockbridge turned down prospective plans from several of the nation's hotel developers until he met with John Oliver Plank, a leading resort operator who had three successful hotels in New England. Plank supervised the building of the Grand Hotel during the spring and summer of 1887 and served as the lessee as well as the general manager of the property until 1890. Charles Caskey of Harbor Springs was the general contractor on the project.
The hotel was built in the Queen Anne architectural style and has the world’s longest porch spanning 600 feet wide. American designer Carleton Varney had helped design the hotel into it’s 19th Century appearance. There is over 300 rooms within the Grand Hotel with seven named after American First Ladies. Some examples being Jacqueline Kennedy, Betty Ford, and Nancy Reagan. The porch overlooks a vast Tea Garden and a very large swimming pool.
An enthusiastic reporter for the Detroit Free Press attended the hotel's opening ceremony on July 10, 1887 and reported in part, as follows:
"Last Friday afternoon, Plank's Grand Hotel was taken possession of by John O. Plank and his estimable wife and J. Frank Davidson, the chief clerk, with a full corps of officials and domestics. Hon. Hugh McCurdy was invited to dedicate the register and register first, which he did with this brief, but expressive phrase: 'Patronage plenty and prosperity to Plank's Grand Hotel,' and that same afternoon 204 guests were duly registered and domiciled in one of the best hotels in the West."
One of the most photographed sites in Michigan, the Grand Hotel has served as the setting for two Hollywood feature films: the 1947 musical comedy “This Time for Keeps,” starring Jimmy Durante and Esther William and the 1980 film “Somewhere in Time,” starring Christopher Reeve and Jayne Seymour. The hotel also has hosted many notable events like parties visited by five U.S. Presidents (Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Ford, and Bush). Inventor Thomas Edison also demonstrated the first use of the phonograph at this hotel. Author Mark Twin stayed at this hotel and gave some lectures to readers here. It also serves as a the headquarters for the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce. The hotel was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989.
National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form, Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island, Michigan, May 5, 1972.
Grand Hotel (Mackinac Island, Mich.). The Story of an Institution. Mackinac Island, Mich.: The Hotel, 1951.
"Settled Beyond All Doubt: Work on the Proposed New Summer Hotel," Detroit Free Press, January 26, 1887, p.3.
"Mackinac Island: An Enthusiastic Correspondent is in Love with the Island and the New Hotel," Detroit Free Press, July 20, 1887, p.4.
Mallory, Katie. "Charles Caskey: people who have made a lasting impression upon the Great Lakes state." Michigan History Magazine, vol. 101, no. 5, 1 Sept. 2017, p. 13.
Detroit Publishing Company photograph collection (Library of Congress)