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 emerged 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 made 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 resort hotel.
Bay Port – The Tourist Destination in The 1870s
It’s a fantastic thought. The tiny village of Bay Port has a big-time tourist destination in the late 1800s. The Railways published pamphlets outlining all the resort areas in Michigan for customers in Cincinnati, Ohio, St.Louis, Missouri, and Louisville, Kentucky. Bay Port was one of the highlights. The State of Michigan also published a listing of all resorts, sanitariums, and Mineral Water wells and baths. Here is an excerpt about Bay Port.
Bay Port is a resort on Wild Fowl Bay, forty- six miles northeast of Saginaw, which is held in particular favor by many citizens of Cincinnati and Louisville, who have patronized it regularly for some years past. It is a “ haven of rest ” for those who prefer reasonable quiet and respite from the ceremonies and conventionalities of fashionable life at home or many summer resorts. Bay Port has a fine bathing beach, and Wild Fowl Bay, being thoroughly protected from the high winds and waves, is the perfection of a place for rowing and sailing, an amusement indulged to a great extent. A modern hotel, with finely furnished rooms and broad verandas, surrounded by handsome shade trees, a bowling alley, and a billiard hall, provide entertainment and amusement for the guests.
The village has a permanent population of about three hundred, which is increased to about seven hundred during the summer months. Fishing is excellent and forms one of the means of entertainment for the visitors, bass, perch, pike, and pickerel being reported as abundant. A new bicycle track is located near the hotel. The supply of water in the village is largely taken from an artesian well.
Bay Port Mineral Well – The well is located below the bluff and between the hotel and the bay. It is three hundred and twenty -eight feet deep. The water is found in a coarse gray sand rock, rises above the surface, and forms a flowing well. The water is at a uniform temperature of 47°, summer and winter.
The Bay Port Hotel in the Lat 1800s
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 first floor’s veranda. Single guest rooms were on the first floor on the east wing. Cottages could be rented outside the hotel on the 44-acre complex.
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.
Meals were 50 cents, and the hotel rates were $2.00 a day or $7.00 for the week.
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
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. In addition, the ventilation and lighting system and the fire protection offered guests were 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 succeeded in making bloody handprints over 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. Of course, these tall tales are likely exaggerations, but they have been often repeated.
The “Cincinnati Club,” which rented the entire 117 room hotel for some weeks each summer, left and found a new home. A change in management also took place. Guests were expected to be in their rooms at a particular 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 sizeable 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.
Spooky & Haunted Michigan
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Sources For This Story
Michigan, a Summer and Health Resort State: A Directory of Michigan Summer Resorts, Mineral Springs and Sanitaria. (1898). United States: R. Smith printing Company, state printers.
Michigan Summer Resorts: Including the Michigan East Coast Resorts: a Guide to the Summering Places in the Lake and River Region of the State of Michigan. (1913). United States: Passenger Department, Pere Marquette Railroad.
Michigan State Gazetteer and Business Directory for …. (1897). United States: Comp. and pub. by C.F. Clark.
Bay Port, Michigan’s Favorite Summer Resort: Located on Wild Fowl Bay, Lake Huron. At Bay Port, Huron County, Michigan. The Most Delightful Summer Resort on the Great Lakes. (1890). United States: Saginaw, Tuscola & Huron R.R. Company.
Leonard, J. W. (1887). Industries of the Saginaws: Historical, Descriptive, and Statistical …. United States: J.M. Elstner & Company.
Related Ghost Stories in Michigan’s Thumb
Grave Robbers of Caseville – One story outlines a notorious crime that took place in 1870. At the time, Caseville was a boom town as it started the transition from lumbering to supporting a growing farming community. In the late 1800s, grave robbing was a common crime as medical schools’ demand for cadavers made a quick albeit dirty profit.
Haunted and Spooky Thumb Ghost Sites – Michigan’s Upper Thumb is full of colorful history—from the boomtowns of the 1800s lumber era to today’s resorts and vacation homes. In addition, the Upper Thumb is full of abandoned places in Michigan and has long been acknowledged as an active paranormal country.
Great Lakes Ship Travel in the 1800s – While railroads had been in service for much of southern Michigan’s major cities, and excursion steamships were still a comfortable and viable option to get to Michigan’s northern resort areas. You could board a ship on a Friday evening, have dinner on board, and arrive in north Michigan the following day.
Experience a Haunted House in Bay Port Michigan – If there is one area in Michigan’s Upper Thumb where the paranormal might reside, it would have to be Bay Port. The area was the site of the vanished Ora Labora German Colony from 1861-1867. The spooky and unattended Old Bay Port Cemetery was famous but now vanished and presumed haunted. Bay Port Hotel and the address of the Sweet Dreams Inn