A cool breeze blows off Lake Superior as purple martins swoop and dive overhead. A man wearing a woolen flat cap and knickers saunters onto the green at Copper Harbor’s Keweenaw Mountain Lodge, puffing on a cigar. When he arrived this morning, his face was creased with concern — a byproduct of life during tough economic times.
But now, as he tees off, he smiles.
In the 1930s, Keweenaw County was in dire straits. Until then, local commerce had revolved around mining, but the industry turned belly-up in the wake of the Great Depression. Undeterred, a visionary named Ocha Potter hatched a seemingly obscure plan for a lodge that would cater to golfers and sportsmen. Initially, folks scoffed, dubbing it “Potter’s Folly.”
But as 1934 was coming to a close, miners and craftsmen constructed Keweenaw Mountain Lodge from dense stands of surrounding virgin timber. The KML’s nine-hole golf course, designed to follow the site’s hilly, natural topography, further underscores this grandly rugged getaway’s deep roots to the land.
“What was really built is the spirit of fun and adventure,” notes KML’s website. “The Lodge destroyed depression desperation by making golf and games set into the pristine forests of the Keweenaw a reality for so many. This is where the spirit of the past still drifts through the rafters and fairways.”
Today, this distinctive Upper Peninsula destination boasts 42 cabins that can accommodate up to 157 guests. Beyond vacation lodging and golf, the KWL also hosts conferences, social events and specializes in weddings, a common occurrence linked in part to nearby Michigan Technological University. “Couples who meet in the U.P. often get married up here,” notes General Manager Dan Harri, “regardless of where they grew up.”
Situated on 20 acres including 400 feet of Au Sable River frontage, the North Branch Outing Club at the Historic Douglas Hotel features 12 simple, inviting guest rooms as they were originally designed in the 1900s.
A River Runs By It
South of the Mackinac Bridge about 20 minutes northeast of Grayling, men wearing suits and ties are gathered on a porch at the North Branch Outing Club in Lovells. Ice cubes clink against glasses and pens scratch across paper. As a bright crescent moon ascends, William Durant delivers a groundbreaking concept: the formation of General Motors.
Earlier, these corporate heavy-hitters had fished the evening rise on the nearby Au Sable River: This was an era when outdoor sports intertwined with industry and significant deals were brokered following days afield.
The North Branch Outing Club rose like a phoenix from barren remains of Michigan’s logging era. Originally built as a sawmill by T.E. Douglas in 1896, construction of the Douglas Hotel followed in 1916. If these walls could talk, they’d tell stories of wealthy lumber barons and Motor City moguls. They’d share tales of brook trout on the North Branch and of grouse and bird dogs in the surrounding aspens.
Today, NBOC remains a gathering place for anglers and wingshooters. Yet the bed and breakfast also appeals to honeymooners, historians and anyone who could use some porch time with a good book. Guests are treated to breakfast made fresh each morning by proprietor Judy Fuller, a former elementary school teacher who bought and began refurbishing the NBOC in 1996.
While the main floor features a fully-stocked fly shop, kitchen and great room as well as a sprawling dining room, there are a dozen cozy bedrooms decorated in early 1900s’ sporting style on the second level.
But from light fixtures to creaky maple floors, little of this turn-of-the-century décor has changed throughout the years. There’s even a guest book signed by Henry and Edsel Ford, the Chryslers and John D. Rockefeller Jr., noted lodge luminaries who would undoubtedly enjoy a stay at the NBOC just as much today.
Learn more at atthelodge.com and fullernboc.com. — Jon Osborn, Michigan BLUE Magazine
Photography Courtesy Brockit Inc. Professional Photography; Keweenaw County Historical Society Archives; Fullers; Boyne Mountain Resort