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Michigan’s Luxurious Bay Port Hotel

The history of Michigan’s Upper Thumb is one of boom and bust. In the late 1800s, the lumber industry created frontier millionaires, and whole towns sprung up around the mills. New industries such as salt blocks sprang up next, utilizing the tons of debris from the sawmills as fuel. The towns were industrial, dirty whose sole purpose was to exploit the rich lumber stands of cork pine and cedar in the Upper Thumb.

The Bay Port Hotel was an exception. Using rail as transport, a 50 cent ticket could get you to the calm, cool waters of Wild Fowl Bay in 90 minutes from Saginaw. You would find all the comfort and amenities of a big city hotel.  The days of frontier resorts would soon end in the early 1900s as lumbering ended and the auto era began in Michigan.

Railways and Resorts

Railroads were building resort hotels all over North America from the 1880s until the turn of the century. The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island opened in 1887 due to a partnership between the Michigan Central Railroad, the Grand Rapids, Indiana Railroad, and the Detroit and Cleveland Steamship Navigation Company. In Canada, the world-famous Banff Springs Hotel in Alberta was built by Canadian Pacific Railway in 1888. In the 1890s, railroad tycoon Henry Morrison Flagler extended the Florida East Coast Railroad to West Palm Beach. He built the Palm Beach Inn in 1896 and renamed it The Breakers in 1901. The Saginaw, Tuscola, and Huron Railroad came to the tiny waterfront community of Bay Port in 1886, seeking a suitable spot for its own resort hotel.

The Bay Port Hotel would be one of the finest in Michigan. It had a stone foundation on solid rock with a three-story structure. The main building and annex totaled 225 feet long and 125 feet wide. Fragrant pines surrounded the hotel.

The main floor consisted of a lobby and management office coat room, reading room, receiving parlor, dining room, kitchen carving room, equipment pantries, pastry room, men’s and women’s toilets. The dining room had fifteen tables that overlooked the grove and Saginaw Bay through the veranda surrounding the first floor. Single guest rooms were on the first floor on the east wing. Cottages could be rented outside the hotel on the 44-acre complex.

Bay Port Hotel 1887
Bay Port Hotel 1887

The second and third floors contained guest rooms. Each could be warmed with a stove. These floors also had hot and cold running water and shared bathrooms.

The following story was found from a newspaper clipping in Caseville’s museum collection. It’s one of the unique ghost stories in the Thumb.

The Bay Port Hotel

Bay Port Hotel Front Lawn
The Bay Port Hotel was one of the finest in Michigan

Pictured here is the famous Bay Port Hotel. It was nestled among the beautiful trees on the shore of Saginaw Bay at Bay Port (1886-1907) This hotel was state of the art in its day. Well planned and built of the finest materials having 117 heated rooms, six excellent cooks, hot and cold baths, bowling alleys, pool tables, and an electric lighting system, Casino and barbershop.

The culinary arrangements were second to none in Michigan. The ventilation and lighting system, as well as the fire protection, offered guests was the best of its time.

Was Bay Port Hotel Haunted?

About the year 1900 despondent young man committed suicide in one of the lower rooms by slashing his wrists and throat. Before he died the young man succeed in making bloody handprints over of the beautiful walls of his room. Because it was difficult to cover up the stains this was locked up and not used again.

Not long after the young man’s tragic death, the Bay Port Hotel had the reputation of being haunted. Guests were positive that throughout the nights, they heard voices even claimed to have seen the ghosts of the young man and his betrothed, who had preceded him in death. These tall tales are likely exaggerations, but they have been often repeated.

Bay Port Shore Line in Late 1800s
Bay Port Shoreline with Hotel

The “Cincinnati Club,” which rented the entire 117 room hotel for some weeks each summer, left and found a new summer home. A change in management also took place. Guests were expected to be in their rooms at a certain hour, and tipping the help was discouraged. The lake levels dropped, and the beach became choked with reeds. Soon sailboats that dotted the bay near the hotel disappeared. Excursion trains from the big cities discontinued their daily trips to the thriving port. In short, this large fancy hotel no longer was paying investors.

Today’s Remains of the Bay Port Hotel

Area businessman W.H. Wallace purchased it and sold the contents ‘by auction sale, before tearing down the building in 1907. Today all that remains are the front steps in front of an empty lot.

Historic Site of the Bay Port Hotel
Historic Site of the Bay Port Hotel
The remains of the front steps of the Bay Port Hotel
The remains of the front steps of the Bay Port Hotel

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Historical images from Caseville Historical Society and Bay Port Chamber of Commerce.
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