Old houses make me weak in the knees. One of my biggest dreams is to live in a historic home. I want to fix one up, make it beautiful again and as if time hasn’t touch the place. Modern day houses just don’t get me excited the way old ones do. And when I say old, I really mean anything built in the 1930s and earlier. We cut too many corners now, nothing is made by hand and I don’t believe that newer is better.
Old businesses and buildings, they make me feel the same way. I have an unexplainable fascination and there’s something about the history and wanting to preserve time that gets me all tingly inside.
Last spring, I read an article about one of the old buildings in the Port Oneida historic area. Port Oneida is part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes and while Leelanau is practically my second home, I really didn’t know much about this particular area and all of its history. So naturally I was entranced by this article, especially as it detailed one building in particular that has sat empty since the 1970s and is just looking for someone to come and restore her. The Sleep Bear Inn. Built in 1857 and now it just sits there, completely underappreciated. Project estimates are around $1.4 million, and real costs would probably be even higher to do it right – keeping all the original goodness in place and not destroying to integrity of the space with modern upgrades (which would totally break my heart!)
After reading the article, I had to go snoop around this property for myself. Not that I have $1.4 million or anything but I still have a curious mind and needed to see the building. We started doing a little window peeking. My husband – who is naturally inquisitive and could strike up a conversation with a wall – found a random park ranger and started up a little conversation. One thing lead to another and we were offered a private tour of the building.
I cannot even put into words what it was like entering this space. I have no idea how someone can just leave a magnificent building like this to just sit in despair. It was like taking a step back in time.
The kitchen is breathtaking. There are so many windows with full views of Lake Michigan. Long country style sinks and butcher block countertops. In the 1960s, the health department said they needed have a dishwasher to stay up to code – but it was never actually installed, it was just sitting there in the room so they could say that had one.
Moving on to the dining room, there is grand two sided fireplace that kept diners toasty as the enjoyed their meal, with the other side gracing the front entrance, warming guests as the entered from the cold Lake Michigan air. Layers of peeling wallpaper reveal a rich history.
In the 1920s, the porch was enclosed to create more gathering areas. The original hardwood floors are intact throughout and bead board is abundant.
For some reason I didn’t take any pictures of the upstairs, but it is just as charming. Quaint little rooms welcomed travelers with leaver doors and miniature sinks in each room. The rooms are about half the size of one of our current bedrooms and yet sailors and lumberjacks frequented the “lower class” rooms, often staying 3-4 guests per room. With a literal step up, the north side of the upper level was where the more predominate citizens of the day would stay, with the room size being larger and the accommodations having nicer furnishings. While none of the original fixtures still exist in the space, I still have a hard time imaging staying in such a small area. I find it hard to believe that anything more than a single bed ever fit into any of the rooms, except the owner’s suite, which is more comparable to a modern day bedroom in size.
Since 2013, the National Park Service has been accepting proposals on reuse opportunities. All I know is that as of last summer, none had been accepted and the space is still vacant, just waiting for someone to love it again.