Mackinac Island’s oldest operating hotel, the Island House Hotel, celebrates its 165th Anniversary July 7, 2017. To commemorate the occasion, guests are invited to enjoy a celebration featuring a birthday party, exclusive in-room amenities, and a history presentation by Phil Porter, director, Mackinac State Historic Parks.
Marking the hotel’s anniversary is important to Todd Callewaert, president, Island House Hotel, because his family saved the landmark from demolition in 1969. His grandfather, Harry Ryba, father, Victor Callewaert and uncle, James Ryba, saw potential in the dilapidated building, negotiated a lease with the Mackinac Island State Park Commission, and then fully renovated it before welcoming guests in 1972.
“They did a great job taking the original structure from something that was just about to fall down to the beautiful place that it is today,” says Phil Porter. “They embraced the idea that history is a big part of the hotel’s character.”
Island House Hotel was built in 1852 by Irish immigrant Charles O’Malley at a time when Mackinac Island was transforming its economic base from a fur trade center to a tourist destination. O’Malley catered to early travelers eager to observe the natural territory. In 1865, Great Lakes Captain Henry Van Allen purchased it and moved the structure 300 feet back from Main Street to allow for expansion. Later, his daughter Rose Van Allen Webster added the East and West wings to accommodate a growing number of post-Civil War guests eager to escape the heat and coal smog plaguing America’s rapidly industrializing cities.
“Unfortunately, the hotel was lost to the State of Michigan when they failed to pay taxes during the Great Depression,” explains Porter. “The Mackinac Island State Park Commission became owner and leased it to the Moral Re-Armament for a brief period during World War II before it stood vacant for several years and quickly deteriorated.”
That’s when the Ryba and Callewaert family came to the rescue. Todd Callewaert recalls the day his family bought the Island House: He was nine years old and ran around the building playing tag with his brothers, sisters and cousins.
“Island House is a special place,” says Callewaert. “We are especially proud of the hotel because it is recognized as a Michigan Historical Landmark and a registered Historic Hotel of America. All renovations are done in partnership with the park commission to preserve the architectural integrity. Guests enjoy staying in an authentic place where they know they are sitting on the front porch in the same spot where people sat 150 years ago. Only the view has changed.”
Continuous renovations since the 1990s include remodeling the 1852 Grill Room; building an addition with three suites, an indoor pool, hot tub and sauna; cultivating expansive flower gardens; This past winter over 10% of the hotel rooms received a complete remodeling including: new tiled showers, granite vanities, more lighting, new furniture, and plenty of outlets to charge electronics; as well as the expansion and rebranding of Ice House BBQ. “Our vision for the future is to renovate every single hotel room in the next five years,” Callewaert says. This summer, he looks forward celebrating the hotel’s place in Mackinac Island’s history.
Visit www.theislandhouse.com or call 800-626-6304 now to make reservations to attend the 165th Anniversary celebration. The package rate is as low as $268 per night (promo code 165A) and includes:
- Two nights lodging at the historic Island House Hotel July 7-9, 2017
- Admission to the birthday party on Friday evening. Soothing sounds by pianist John Kissane, hors d’oeurves and delicious cake
- Exclusive invitation to an informal dialogue with Phil Porter, Director of Mackinac State Historic Parks and Todd Callewaert, hotel owner to hear the fascinating history of the hotel and ask in-depth questions about how the Callewaert family acquired the landmark, restored it to the current beauty, and how they plan to continue preservation
- Round-trip Mackinac Island ferry tickets
- In-room amenity of sparkling wine served in keepsake wine flutes and a decadent Ryba’s Mackinac Island fudge flight
- $40 dining voucher to use at 1852 Grill Room & Ice House BBQ
Island House Hotel is owned by the Callewaert family and located on Main Street, Mackinac Island, Michigan, across from the Mackinac State Park Marina. The family also owns Ryba’s Fudge Shops, Island House Bike Shop, Starbucks Mackinac Island, Mary’s Bistro Draught House, Pancake House, Pine Cottage Bed & Breakfast and Seabiscuit Cafe.