Portage Lake Retreat

Onekama history and welcoming vibes fill the rooms inside the Canfield House B&B
Canfield House B&B
The common area is dominated by an original fieldstone fireplace. Adding to the mix are lake-themed artwork, original leaded glass windows, and wainscoted walls.
Photos courtesy of Ryan Berndt

Visitors to Onekama’s Canfield House Bed & Breakfast sense its historical heft as soon as they pull into the driveway. Guests typically come for the B&B’s peaceful northern Michigan ambience, but according to owner and innkeeper Ryan Berndt, “Everyone wants to know its history.” 

The Moorings, as the house was originally called, was constructed in 1900 by Charles and Belle Canfield, who couldn’t wait to build a new lake house. Charles’ Manistee-based lumber baron father, John Canfield, had died unexpectedly, leaving the couple with an inheritance estimated at $12 million in cash and businesses. One year later, the 6,000-square-foot Dutch Colonial cottage was completed.

On the banks of Portage Lake, Belle and the couple’s two young children looked forward to whiling away summers at The Moorings while Charles managed the family businesses in Manistee. The house included seven bedrooms, servants’ quarters, and an airy front porch that stretched the entire length of the house.  

In 1901, the Canfields commissioned a lavish boat for The Moorings. The 130-foot steam-powered yacht Cangarda would be tied up at the couple’s Portage Lake beachfront, where the Canfields planned to embark on leisurely summer cruises. As many as eight passengers and a cook would set sail across the inland lake to ports on Lake Michigan and throughout the other Great Lakes, perhaps even venturing into the St. Lawrence Seaway. 

Canfield House B&B
The inviting front porch, furnished with swings and wicker chairs, faces 215 feet of lake frontage.

Charles and Belle’s marriage ended in divorce before their new yacht ever made it to Portage Lake, destroying visions of lavish cruises with their elite friends. But the couple’s dreamy summertime cottage survived the scandal, eventually becoming a cozy bed and breakfast inn 45 miles southwest of Traverse City and just one mile outside of Onekama.

The Moorings’ history and the Canfield family’s drama are recounted today within the Canfield House’s common areas, where historic photos, original furnishings, and a model of the Cangarda attract guests’ attention. 

“This building was pretty luxurious by 1900s standards,” says Berndt, who teamed up with his wife, Elise, and a business partner to transform the home into an inn in 2021. “Still, we had to make a lot of changes to meet the standards of modern B&B guests. When we bought the house, there was a lot of work to do.”

Since the Canfields and subsequent owners had only used the lake house in the summer, the building had no heat except for the fireplace in the family room. There was no air conditioning and there weren’t nearly enough bathrooms to meet the demands of paying guests. Additionally, the Canfield House required structural maintenance, repairs, and design updates. 

Canfield House B&B
Windows with broad views of Portage Lake and the inn’s gardens flood this guest room with lots of natural light.

The new owners added radiant heat, separate in-room thermostats, and air conditioning. They also built ensuite bathrooms in each of the seven guest rooms, constructed a private innkeeper’s suite, and revamped the property’s gardens. 

In late 2023, the Berndts took over sole ownership and management of the Canfield House, and decided it was time to revitalize the inn once again. They dove into another design refresh, focusing on a color scheme of pale grays and blues, melding vintage and contemporary furnishings, and adding a simplified elegance to the overall design. Large windows with views of Portage Lake and the Canfield House’s gardens flood each guest room with lots of natural light and scenery.   

The Berndts also created an environment that’s friendly to families and children. 

“We have young kids,” says Ryan, who works as a professional trumpetist when he isn’t managing the Canfield House. He and his wife, an attorney, are the parents of three boys between the ages of 2 and 7.

“They’re a part of our daily lives, so when we’re here, chances are at least one of them is here,” Ryan says. The couple discovered their guests love the presence of the young boys, and many people began asking to bring their own children. “We like being able to offer a B&B experience to others with kids,” he adds. 

Canfield House B&B
Each of the seven guest rooms, with ensuite bathrooms, are furnished with queen- or king-size beds, armoires, and side chairs. Many are period pieces.

An open staircase leads up to the inn’s second-story guest rooms, furnished with queen- and king-sized beds, armoires, and side chairs, many of which are period pieces. Downstairs, the inn’s common area is dominated by an original fieldstone fireplace surrounded by reading nooks and a collection of books, board games, and jigsaw puzzles. 

Honey-colored hardwood floors and wainscoted walls are adorned with lake-themed artwork, original leaded glass windows, and a box telephone that was installed when the house was constructed in 1900. Just off the common area is the expansive front porch, furnished with porch swings and groupings of wicker chairs. The inn offers free bike and kayak rentals and access to 215 feet of lake frontage. 

“Many of our guests feel so comfortable at the Canfield House, they come year after year,” Ryan says. “The B&B, Portage Lake, and Onekama have become part of their summertime routine.” Consequently, the innkeeper says, many guests get to know each other over the years. It’s not uncommon to hear recommendations for local shopping, dining, and beachcombing over a homemade breakfast, a hearty two-course meal that includes omelets stuffed with local morels and spinach, waffles topped with fresh strawberries or blueberries, or strata layered with Michigan cherries.  

Those homey touches and a sense of restful retreat appear to be precisely what the Canfields envisioned when they built their dream cottage. Nearly 125 years later, the Canfield House aims to make their dream a reality. 

Plan it!

Canfield House Bed & Breakfast

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