Mackinac Island’s Grand Hotel is located on a dramatic bluff overlooking the Straights of Mackinac between Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas. The hotel was constructed on land purchased by U.S. Senator Francis B. Stockbridge in 1882. Stockbridge saw opportunity after the establishment of Mackinac National Park in 1875, making it the second U.S. national park in existence, after Yellowstone. With an eye toward wealthy travelers seeking respite from urban heat and pollution at the increasingly popular summer destination, Stockbridge sought the backing of major transportation companies who would provide passage to the island resort. The Michigan Central Railroad, Detroit and Cleveland Steamship Navigation Company, and the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad joined forces to form the Mackinac Island Hotel Company and purchased the building site from Stockbridge. The company engaged architect George D. Mason of Mason and Rice, a prominent architecture firm in Detroit, to design the opulent wooden structure. (the Grand Hotel is one of the featured stops on this month’s MAF Architecture Road Trip – click to read the article)
The Grand Hotel was constructed by builder Charles Caskey. Construction commenced in the fall of 1886, and was to be completed by the next summer to receive guests who had already purchased rooms. Winter construction posed several challenges, including the need for hundreds of workers and the logistics of getting materials, including over 1.5 million board feet of Michigan white pine, to the remote site. Caskey attracted tradespeople by paying twice the standard wage and housed them on the island in tent cities. Materials were moved by horse across ice bridges once winter weather froze the waters of the straights. Caskey was allotted nine months to complete construction but did so in an astonishing 93 days. Local lore says that Caskey was promised a $1 million dollar bonus to complete construction in 90 days’ time and missed the payout by a mere three days, with the hotel opening for business on July 10, 1887.
The most prominent aspect of the hotel’s design is the three-story-tall, covered veranda, the colonnade of which can be seen from miles away. The 660-foot-long porch, hailed as the world’s longest, is a popular attraction to this day. The porch curves at each end and is symmetrical about a central cupola. The cupola features impressive 360-degree views and originally provided hotel staff with a view of arriving guests. The original building had 286 guestrooms. No two guest rooms in the hotel are identical, with each featuring unique design and décor. There are several “named” rooms and suites, including seven suites named for First Ladies of the United States. Not surprisingly, the Grand has been utilized as a location for feature films, including 1980’s “Somewhere in Time”. The carefully preserved historical building honors tradition to this day, including manicured grounds and gardens, a dress code for dinner service, and the absence of motorized vehicles (an island-wide prohibition).
The Grand Hotel was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and became a National Historic Landmark in 1989. The Grand Hotel operates on a seasonal basis from May through October of each year. Access to the hotel and grounds is limited to registered guests and those who purchase admission tickets, which are available on-site or online at www.grandhotel.com.