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. Its name is befitting given its enormous size and world-class accommodations. Several 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. Thomas Edison, who gave the first public demonstration of the phonograph here, and Mark Twain are other notable guests. since it opened, over five million people have stayed at the hotel. It also has the world's longest porch at 600 feet. Its 390 rooms are all different and seven of them have been named after First Ladies including Jacqueline Kennedy and Laura Bush. The hotel was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1989.
Backstory and Context
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. This 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 has been expanded and updated over the years, though air conditioning was not installed in all of the rooms until 2007.
The hotel was built in 1887 on a very rapid timetable spanning just over ninety days. Michigan Senator Francis B. Stockbridge had purchased the property on which the hotel 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 and general manager of the property until 1890. Charles Caskey of Harbor Springs was the general contractor on the project.
An enthusiastic reporter for the Detroit Free Press attended the hotel's opening 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 Williams, and the 1980 film Somewhere in Time, starring Christopher Reeve and Jayne Seymour. 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)