Editor's note: This article was published in Grand Traverse Scene magazine's Summer II 2019 issue. Pick up a free copy at area hotels, visitor's centers, chambers of commerce or at the Record-Eagle building on Front Street. Click here to read GT Scene in its entirety online.
Camouflaged in their surroundings of pine saplings and maple groves, a forest of bed-and-breakfast getaways enjoy long roots in the Grand Traverse region.
At first glance they might appear like any other house in the neighborhood. They blend. But closer inspection shows them for what they are — inviting and embracing. And whether they’re palatial or quaint, these historic bed-and-breakfasts have served generation after generation of visitors to Michigan’s Northwest paradise.
The Aberdeen Stone Cottage is made up of the surrounding landscape — literally. Originally sided with slab wood when it was constructed in 1898, the Traverse City west side home was artfully veneered with thousands of apple-sized cobblestones about a century ago to create a pre-Civil War New England expression.
The owners of Aberdeen say their B & B nestled within walking distance of both the downtown and West Grand Traverse Bay has become a home away from home for visitors, vacationers and others.
“We’re very, very fortunate,” said Melinda Mathias-Porter, who operates the Rockwellian inn with her partner, David Schenburn. “People who come here get to know each other. Telephone numbers are always exchanged.
“We draw (guests) from a circle of about 400 miles.”
The storybook house gets plenty of repeat customers who return year after year, said Porter. A blessing — “Whoever lives in this house will always have prosperity” — beckons visitors, and a ceramic piggy bank with money in it, mortared high up on the building’s front facade, remind all of that blessing.
“It’s small,” Porter said of Aberdeen, “not palacios at all. I think travelers like to feel like they’ve been living here. It’s their home away from home.”
Porter said visitors to Aberdeen can come and go as they please — there is no curfew — and can choose to stay in one of three themed rooms: the Heather or Thistle rooms that are located on the second floor, or the Celtic Garden room that is located on the first floor.
The Neahtawanta Inn nestled near the center of the Old Mission Peninsula has had its welcome mat out for over a century. Its 21st-century welcome mat — its internet website — echoes and amplifies that invitation: “We welcome people of all backgrounds, sexual orientations, races, religions, nationalities and belief systems. We value and cherish diversity.”
“Diversity has always been important to us,” said Sally VanVleck, who has been just the second owner in its long history. “We serve a healthy, homemade vegetarian breakfast and I would say most of our customers come from Michigan — southern Michigan — though we do get some from Chicago and Canada.”
Sally and her husband, the late Bob Russell, took over the inn in 1979 and, after completing a number of renovations, reopened it to visitors in 1980.
Located on the waterfront of Bowers Harbor, the B & B has a football-length sandy beach from which those who sit on its massive front porch can easily watch swimmers, boaters and more. Its dining room — aka “The Big Room” — is filled with books of environmental nature.
“The inn has operated on a philosophy of conversation, respect for the Earth and sustainable living,” VanVleck said. Besides seasonal events, the inn also hosts meditation and yoga classes.
Between sunrise and sunset — and then sunset to sunrise again — the Snowbird Inn in Lake Leelanau delivers rest and relaxation, 24/7.
Just a short drive from Sleeping Bear Dunes, Historic Fishtown, shopping and dining, the quaint bed-and-breakfast draws guests from all over the world, all seeking the peace and quiet, rest and relaxation that escapes so many other areas.
“We’ve already had visitors this spring from the Czech Republic and Sri Lanka,” owner Joseph Psenka said of his family business. “I don’t think it’s any one thing that draws them here, but once they come here, they love it.”
Guests stay in a B & B that’s nearly 120 years old. With a baby grand piano, Mayberrian veranda and rooms that have maintained their heritage calling card, the Snowbird Inn is situated center stage in an orchestra of chirping song birds and crickets, soothing breezes and rustling leaves. Guests enjoy acres of gardens and forests and miles of secluded Lake Michigan shoreline on which to walk.
“We do get a lot of repeat customers,” said Joseph, whose family has owned the B & B since 1988. “They come back … to see the beauty of the area, and there’s a lot of that to be seen.”