Many West Michigan businesses and organizations have a deep history in the area. See what you can learn about your favorite brewery, attraction, hotel, and more with this insightful guide!
Historic Spots in Southern West Michigan
The National House Inn Bed & Breakfast on Marshall’s picturesque Fountain Circle is the oldest operating hotel in the state of Michigan. The inn was built in 1835 by Colonel Andrew Mann, who used lumber from the Ketchum sawmill and bricks that were molded and fired on-site to construct what has endured as the oldest brick building in Calhoun County. Today, the current owners continuously upgrade and renovate this nationally recognized bed and breakfast inn.
Schuler’s Restaurant in Marshall was founded in 1909 and is currently in its fourth generation. Schuler’s attributes its longevity to the foresight of its founder and the succeeding family members who have used their entrepreneurial skills to build a 100-year tradition of hospitality and fine dining. In a challenging economy and changing marketplace, the iconic restaurant continues to thrive while evolving with the times.
Founded in 1977, the Air Zoo in Portage has a rich history of honoring and celebrating air and space flight. It opened to the public on November 18th, 1979, but planning for the Air Zoo began much earlier. In the late 1940s, Pete and Suzanne Parish, co-founders of the Air Zoo, purchased several aircrafts, and after years of collecting and expanding, the Air Zoo opened a new facility unlike any other in the world. Today, the Air Zoo features new rides, exhibits, and artifacts, while still continuing the Parish’s mission to bring these aircrafts to visitors from around the world.
The Barn Theatre in Augusta is the oldest resident summer stock theater in Michigan. Founded as the Village Players in Richland in 1946 by Jack and Betty Ebert Ragotzy, The Barn Theatre, Inc. was incorporated in 1949 when the Ragotzys began renting the converted barn in Augusta, which they later purchased in 1954. For 50 years, Jack worked alongside Betty, an actress herself, as they ran the Barn Theatre. Today, it stands as the only equity summer stock theatre in the state, drawing nearly 50,000 patrons annually during its 16-week season.
As the oldest brewery in Michigan, Bell’s Brewery takes pride in being a part of the rich history of the Kalamazoo area and helping sustain it. On the walls of the Eccentric Cafe in downtown Kalamazoo, visitors have a chance to view Larry Bell’s personal map, mask, and artwork collections, in addition to vintage beer advertisements and pieces specifically commissioned for the pub. If you’re interested in learning more about the history of the brewery, attend a free tour at either their Kalamazoo or Comstock locations.
The Capri Drive-In Theatre in Coldwater opened in 1964 and was owned and operated by John and Mary Magocs. The duo held a contest to name the drive-in, with the winner receiving a brand new sewing machine. Admission in 1964 was $1 and a cheeseburger was 45¢. As time went on, the drive-in changed hands but continued to be one of the best cinema experiences around. Today, the Capri Drive-In continues to thrive, with an ever-growing and widening audience.
Historic Spots in Central West Michigan
Formerly known as the Pantlind Hotel, the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in Grand Rapids has a storied history. In 1913, the cornerstone of the Pantlind Hotel was laid, and initial construction of the hotel began. In 1917, the first meeting of the Michigan Tourist and Resort Association, what would eventually become the West Michigan Tourist Association, took place at the Pantlind. By 1925, the Pantlind Hotel was not only the hottest hotel going in West Michigan, but it was also ranked “One of the 10 Finest Hotels in America.” The hotel was acquired by the Amway Corporation in 1979 and reopened as the Amway Grand Plaza two years later. Today, the hotel continues the resurgence of downtown Grand Rapids as a member of the Historic Hotels of America.
Atwater Brewery and Spirits in Grand Rapids is housed in the historic Rowe building at the corner of Michigan Street and Monroe Avenue. While the building has undergone many titles from the initial Hotel Rowe in 1923 to Olds Manor from 1963 to 2001, its integrity withstands the test of time. It’s even still home to the original ballroom floor and chandeliers. Whether you’re here with friends or indulging solo, you’re in historic company as you enjoy Atwater’s fine offerings.
219 North 7th Street in Holland has always been an address associated with fun. The location was once a sporting goods shop, as well as a roller rink and concert hall that regularly attracted famous rock and roll stars. It’s no wonder that Chocolates by Grimaldi, a superstar in the world of handmade chocolates, has also chosen to call it home. In addition to the hand-rolled, hand-dipped, and handmade goodies that they offer, from peanut butter balls and gourmet turtles to chocolate covered potato chips, they also offer Creative Chocolate Classes and tours. Visit this historic spot for a delicious treat!
Celebrating over 20 years, the Christmas Lite Show in Comstock Park continues to wow families looking for holiday fun. This is West Michigan’s largest animated light show and continues to entertain people of all ages. Bill Schrader started the event in 1997, and with the help of his family, it has grown, year after year, to become a tradition for many.
The Coopersville & Marne Railway Company was incorporated on July 13th, 1989. The initial purpose was to purchase the old Grand Trunk right-of-way between the towns of Coopersville and Marne. When you visit today, you’ll see that their train is usually pulled by a 1950s era 125 ton General Motors SW9 switcher locomotive. If you look around, you’ll see more historic equipment and buildings, reminding you of the railway company’s history as it approaches a 30-year milestone.
The USS LST 393 Veterans Museum in Muskegon is a must-visit location for history buffs. The USS LST 393 was launched in Newport News, Virginia on November 11th, 1942. Immediately after sea trials, she went to work in the defense of her country in Europe. Over nine thousand soldiers made their way to the front aboard LST 393 during WWII. Years of cleaning and painting resulted in a ship that could be toured. Development of the veterans museum has continued with the addition of thousands of artifacts, as well as restoration of more areas of the ship, and the effort continues to this day.
Teusink’s Pony Farm in Holland celebrated its 120th birthday last year! The farm has been owned and operated by the Teusink family, providing fun on the farm. Many of their guests are parents bringing their children to the farm and reliving fond memories from their own childhood. Teusink’s Pony Farm offers activities for every season, whether it’s spring field trips, summer picnics, fall hayrides, or winter sleigh rides. Whatever season you choose for your visit, you will be guaranteed to experience the charm that comes with a visit to this authentic family farm.
Based out of Muskegon, Aquastar Cruises has a rich history that goes back over 30 years. The newly-renamed boat was formerly the Port City Princess until very recently. Founder Ralph Precious was known for coming up with some crazy ideas, so when he came home and announced that he wanted to buy a cruise ship, his wife Sylvia rolled her eyes. All these years later, the cruise ship has a new life ahead of it as Aquastar Cruises.
Historic Spots in Northern West Michigan
Castle Farms in Charlevoix is celebrating 100 years this year! Built in 1918 as a model farm for the Sears & Roebuck Company, it has housed cows, artists, rock concerts, and now hosts historical tours and events. The historical tours offer guests a glimpse into the past through a video narrated by the owner, as well as a map of the grounds.
Grass River Natural Area in Bellaire is not only rich in unique natural features, but is also rich in preservation history in northern Michigan, paving the way for many other conservation organizations to come. The organization was created in 1969, with a small group of concerned residents who saw the threat of wetlands development. From that point, this grassroots effort skyrocketed into meaningful collaborations between foundations, other conservation organizations, and the county government, something that has become a standard since that time.
From its beginning over 150 years ago as a waterfront beach house to the family-restored Historic Hotel of America it is today, the Island House Hotel on Mackinac Island has opened its doors to over a million tourists from around the world. With its handsome Victorian structure and family owned intimacy, Mackinac Island’s oldest hotel is a tradition not to be missed.
Legs Inn in Cross Village is a third-generation owned inn founded by Stanley Smolak, a Polish immigrant. After working in automobile factories in both Detroit and Chicago, Smolak sought out to settle in an area that reminded him of his native land. In the late 1920s, Stanley Smolak began building this extraordinary complex. Two generations later, Legs Inn continues to be a widely recognized historical destination.
Mission Point Lighthouse has been a Traverse City and Old Mission Peninsula icon for decades. While it no longer guides mariners through West Grand Traverse Bay as it did from 1870 until it was decommissioned in 1933, Mission Point Lighthouse now offers visitors a peek into what life was like around the turn of the century for lighthouse keepers.
Historic Spots in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
The Adventure Mining Company in Greenland was formed in 1850 and operated as a mine on and off through 1920. Beginning in the 1970s, tours were offered as the mine changed owners over the next 30 years. Its most recent purchased was in 2004, and the mines reopened in 2005, offering a variety of tours seasonally. Their annual bike race, Miner’s Revenge, began in 2009 and takes riders within the mines and above ground.
More Historic Spots in West Michigan
- Grand Traverse Lighthouse, Northport
- Historic White Pine Village, Ludington
- Mitten Brewing Company, Grand Rapids
- New Hotel Mertens & Haute, Grand Rapids
- Old Mission Inn, Traverse City
- Portage Point Inn & Marina, Onekama
- Ramsdell Inn, Manistee
- S.S. City of Milwaukee, Manistee
- Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry, Mackinaw City
- Silver Beach Carousel, Saint Joseph
- S.S. Badger, Ludington
- Stafford’s Bay View Inn, Petoskey
- Village at Bay Harbor, Bay Harbor
- Walldorff Brewpub & Bistro, Hastings
- Walloon Lake Inn, Walloon Lake