During the years of 1906 and 1907 my mother and father boarded a group of men who were lumbering Whiskey Point. She fed from 18 to 20 men three meals a day for $3 a week and did this for two years.
Mother saved $350 and started to talk to dad about building a summer hotel. Dad wasn't enthused, as his brother Joe had the Birch Hill Hotel and he did not want to compete with him. But mother and I kept at it and he finally consented to build one.
Several people from Cleveland, who had been guests at the Birch Hill Hotel, heard we might build a hotel. They were enthused and promised to give us their business. That convinced dad.
The only money we had was that $350 that mother saved from lodging the wood cutters. But there was lots of timber around and a portable mill at the south end of the lake. The mill was about a mile from the lake so we got busy as soon as the ice on the lake got thick enough to hold a sleigh load of logs.
Pictured: The Family on Fireside Inn Porch. From left, front row: George, Mae, Marion, Earl and Alfred Kauffman. Back row: Nellie, Grandma King and dad.
We drove all over the lake looking for nice large pine. Dad said we might as well take the best as most of the land was state-owned. I remember there were two of the nicest big pine trees I ever saw on the Three Sister Islands. Everytime we drove past we gave them a hard look.
The Three Sister Islands at that time were owned by Bliss Stebbins and he was in Paris, France. So we decided to but those two beautiful pine trees. We cut them close to the ground so the stumps wouldn't show. Those trees gave us 2,000 feet of the best lumber which we made into siding for Fireside Inn. It's still on the building.
The next summer while fishing with Mr. Stebbins up that way he said to me: " Say, George, I always thought there were two large trees in the island but I guess I was mistaken." I never said anything.
By spring we had all the logs sawed at the mill into the nicest lumber possible. We took the lumber to Gebhardt-Morrow mill in Alpena to have it finished. Then in late spring of 1908 we started to build the hotel.
It was quite a job as dad had never built a building like that - 24 feet wide by 40 feet long and two stories high, then a 16 by 24 wing for the kitchen. Uncle Joe was a good carpenter and he helped dad frame in the building. By fall, we had the main building enclosed and during the winter we put in all the partitions. There were eight bedrooms upstairs and two rooms over the kitchen. By spring we had everything pretty well finished.
We opened in June with a good old fashioned dinner, and there were 17 people from Alpena. Then it came time for dad to buy the beds at Williams Furniture Store. He bought 10 beds complete for $80. So when we opened the hotel for boarders our $350 was gone but everything was paid. We didn't owe one dime.
It was named Fireside Inn because it had the second fireplace at Grand Lake. The first fireplace built at the lake was in the cottage of Mr. Stebbins.
I think it was the middle of July (1909) that our first steady guests arrived for two weeks - a doctor and four boys. Then the people from Cleveland came the first week of August in a party of 10. They stayed for two weeks so that gave us quite a boost. The rates were $10 a week for room and meals. This party came back each year for some time.
The accomodations were not the best at first but the food was good and so was the fishing. I did everything possible to get people to come to the hotel. When I was in Alpena and saw a car of tourists I would tell them about Fireside Inn and Grand Lake. I would tell them if they would follow me to the lake, I would give them their dinner and lodging and if they didn't like it there would be no charge. Everyone who came always stayed and we got some of our best customers that way.
The Northeast Michigan Tourist Association put out a folder once a week listing all the people that had written for information on resorts and I picked out a name - Gus Sun of Sun Brothers Circus. I wrote to him, telling him about the hotel and our good fishing. Didn't expect to hear from him but in a few days he sent a letter saying he and his wife, his chauffeur and his wife's maid would be up. We wanted a fishing guide and I hired Dave Ferris.
The circus owners came. He liked it but his wife was not so enthused. Two couples from his circus troop wanted to come up but they asked for a cottage. I didn't have one at the time but Eli Gimlet had one close by and we rented it to them. Their baggage was to be sent up ahead and a truck arrived with 12 trunks and some other things. There was so much baggage there was hardly any room for them in the cottag. They only stayed a couple of days and we were sure glad to see them leave. Gus Sun didn't stay long either. That was quite and experience for us but they paid us good for our trouble. That was about 1912.
...and so began the first of decades of summer lodging at the Fireside Inn, tucked along the east shore of Grand Lake north of Alpena. Kauffman, quoted above, eventually bought the inn from his father and kept it until 1945. During the next thirty years, it changed ownership only a couple of times before Lois and Bob McConnell made their way north from the Detroit suburb of Warren and bought the inn in 1975.
The resort sprawls over seventeen acres and has 700 feet of frontage in Grand Lake. There is a lot to do if you want to be outside and active, and plenty of places to cozy yourself away if you do not. Porch sitting is a great pastime at the Fireside Inn, and oh, what a porch! As the Kauffman's business increased, father and son had added a wing of rooms to the east end of the lodge, running parallel to the lake, and they extended the wide, covered porch the full length of the wing. It is nearly 215 feet long and is now shaded by huge old cedar trees that appear as twigs in a photograph taken sometime during 1912. The sleeping rooms that open onto the porch are simply furnished with a bed or two, a dresser, and chairs. They also have screened front doors letting in the balmy lake breezes.
Between 1940 and 1945, George Kauffman built eighteen cabins on the Fireside grounds. Sixteen of varying sizes are used to house summer guests and are furnished similarly to the lodge rooms; casual and homey. Each has a refrigerator and some come with complete cooking facilities. All but one has at least one stone fireplace.
The Fireside Room in the lodge is one of the favored gathering places. The walls are finished in half logs and are covered with historic paraphernalia and old mounted birds and mammals from the area. Most of the items have been in the room for a very long time...passed on from owner to owner. A player piano sits in one corner with a stack of rolls that would take a week to go through. On cool days and nights, a fire is usually ablaze in the namesake hearth. If not, guests are welcome to build one. The inn is comfortably rustic, and guests seem drawn to it, says Lois, because it is safe, quiet, and easy to get-away-from-it-all.
Breakfast and dinner are served to guests in July and August. Local residents are often make reservations and come in for dinner too. A different item is served each night, rotating such features as spaghetti, chicken and whitefish. The roast pork supper we feasted on was delicious, and we topped it off with ice cream and homemade strawberry shortcake. Breakfast was any combination of cold or hot cereal, French toast, pancakes, eggs, sausage, juic and coffee - plenty of food to keep guests fueled for hours.
Canoes, paddle board, and small sailboats are available to guests at all times. Boats with motors are rented for a small fee. Guests may also bring their own. On-land facilities include a tennis court and a horseshoe put, a volleyball court, and wooded walking trails.
Even during its humble beginnings in 1908, the Fireside Inn has been synonymous with leisure.
The former hunting lodge, located in Southeast Presque Isle County, Michigan, is nestled in the bay near Whiskey Point on Grand Lake. Since 1919, it's been open to the public, drawing the city-weary to a cozy, rustic retreat.
The original structure remains, but in the intervening years several additions have been built to provide accommodations for more and more visitors who discover its unpretentious atmosphere and laid-back style of comfort.
The former families of Kaufman and Schenk laid the groundwork for a type of vacation where daily worries evaporate. In those days though, fishermen and hunters used the lodge for little more than a bed and a quick meal before heading to their main pursuits. Then in 1975, the family of Lois and Bob McConnell, themselves escaping the hustle and pressure of suburban Detroit, purchased the more than 17-acre property, which has 750 feet of lake frontage and 10 acres of woods. Bob used his skill as an electrician to update the inn's condition.
The McConnells did some sprucing up, but left much of the rustic ambiance associated with the scent of the many cedar trees around the inn. They are now Fireside's hosts where, in this unique place, the wear and tear of children, meal planning, and entertainment are of little concern. Year after year visitors here drop their burdens at the door when they arrive.
Two groups of families have been coming here nearly a decade and know each other's families and the McConnell's as well as they know their own.
Brian Humiston is a teenager from Florida who was a very small boy when his mom, Pam, first came here. Pam, her sister Joan from Arkansas, and sister and brother-in-law, Gail and Bill of Wisconsin, sat around the breakfast table with Barbara from Michigan and her brother, Randy from Massachusetts. Several other family members roamed around elsewhere that morning, but even so, in just meeting these seven it was obvious it was going to be difficult to tell where one family stopped and another began. Randy summed it up by saying that all of them were "related by coffee".
The "regulars" book their vacation week at the inn a year in advance so both of these families know they'll see each other again, just as they have in years past. Randy again commented that he considers "his cottage" at the inn like that of a time-share, coming back to the same one again and again.
Pam agreed, "Another reason people don't switch weeks is that they get acquainted over the years. It's like a reunion for people who don't see each other except when they're here." All of the families who have made such friends greet each other with hugs their first day back.
Bill said it's this friendliness, and that of the hosts as well, that brings them back year after year.
"Everyone's so nice. You can't beat it." Another thing that can't be beat, he adds, is the fishing. He launches his prized 1958 wooden boat and takes personal pleasure in a lake that, he says, has every advantage of a well-stocked Canadian get-away.
He likes the feel of having nearly free run of the place with "no hassles and no rules". "And no radio and no television," Barb quickly adds.
While Brian admits that it's a difficult adjustment the first day or so, there are plenty of activities for young people as long as they're not seeking an electrical device to entertain them. He enjoys tennis, swimming, and fishing with his uncle Bill.
Fishing has always been great, Bill said, even when news reports indicated it was not at its best. Gail laughed and said if the fishing in Grand Lake was down it could be directly related to Bill's daily limits.
Gail said one of the attractions the Fireside Inn had for her is not having to cook. Breakfast and dinner are provided and are announced by the ringing of a bell, calling diners to the table. The bell can even be heard out on the lake and many a boat can be seen making a beeline for shore following its first peal. It's sound again fifteen minutes later, as if to say "it's on the table!"
The McConnells offer volleyball, ping-pong, horseshoes, shuffleboard, or woodland trail walks as daily activities. They also often have bonfires on the beach in the evening. Guests can sit and talk, sing, view the stars and even an occasional meteor shower. Life during vacation is simple and relaxing, just like it's supposed to be.
Just then two teens walk up to the table. They are Kate, Barb's daughter, and Rick Bevens, who has been coming during this same week since 1988. Kate says she's met some other young people on the lake with a ski boat and a personal watercraft, while Rick says his idea of fun is to read five or six books during his vacation time. Because he's busy with school the rest of the year, during vacations, he indulges himself in reading for pleasure.
All the families anticipate they will keep coming for another ten years, not only to see each other, but to again see their other family members living in northeast Michigan.
Lori McConnell, who is picking up more of the responsibility for the inn, now that her parents are semi-retired, says that the attitude of the guests makes being the proprietor as much fun as it is work.
"It makes it so great. They're all on vacation and so glad to be here," she says.
She and her staff maintain five rooms along the nearly 700 foot porch, 10 sleeping rooms upstairs, and 17 cabins. The cabins offer a variety of sizes from those that will sleep three to those large enough to accommodate eleven. All are equipped with refrigerators and, with the exception of two which have furnaces, have fireplaces constructed from rocks found in the area.
"All the fireplaces are real shallow and designed to throw the heat into the room." Later, she said the cabins all had propane gas furnaces installed which provide constant heat, which is necessary since the Fireside opens in the early spring and closes in the fall when the temperatures can be downright nippy.
"We open May 15th and rent the housekeeping cabins. On June 8th we open as an American Plan resort." Lori added, there are also get-away weekends and fall color weekends in September and October. "Then we close down except for the three large cabins held open for hunters."
The cabins are furnished with an eclectic mix of some antique Habitant tables, chairs, beds, lamps, and an accumulation of homey pieces that don't mind slouching bodies fresh from the beach. Wall decorations are often items donated by former guests.
"They may no longer have a use at home, so they bring them here," Lori said pointing to some brass ducks on the wall of one cabin.
Lori's folks are still very active in the business, and have a lot of experience and advice to give.
Bob bases the inn's success on the family making it the kind of place they'd like to vacation. Lois says the aim of the inn is to make guests feel relaxed and comfortable. Bob agreed and added, guests here are allowed free rein of the grounds. If a guest wants a candy bar or a bottle of soda, they just write it on their tab.
While Lori is on her way to ownership, brothers, Terry and Alan, both living in nearby Alpena, also pitch in to help with putting in docks, routine maintenance, and busy evenings. A third brother, Gary is a long distance trucker, but is also pressed into service when he is home.
Lori enjoys seeing the same guests return year after year. Their enjoyment helps spread the work to newcomers. Since the inn employs mostly teens as helpers, it's not unusual for them to come back with their own families in later years.
She doesn't plan many changes for the future, except maybe a couple more cabins. But, she's quick to add, they have to be constructed so as to appear seasoned by time so they maintain the same put-your-feet-up attitude as the original lodge.
18730 Fireside Hwy.
Presque Isle, MI 48777