You can feel the history of the Michillinda property as soon as you enter the majestic driveway surrounded by the towering pines. Steeped in rich tradition, this turn-of-the-century resort still maintains the rustic charm that has made it so popular over the years. Our commitment to preserving the resort, and the stories behind it, is also one of the reasons why this Whitehall retreat remains among the busiest destinations in Michigan.
Michillinda was born out of a reverend's desire to find the perfect summer getaway for his family. In 1894, Theo Willson, formerly pastor of the Congregational Church in Muskegon, told some of his parishioners that he knew of a spot “where there was never a hot day in summer." He rented a cottage at Sylvan Beach and three of his deacons, H.W. Cooper, C.L. Gimes, and Sullivan Hill asked him to rent a double cottage for them in the summer of 1894. When they arrived they found only one half of a double cottage available, which was crowded for three families with children. Some of them ended up sleeping outside in a tent. This experience motivated these four men to purchase the 22 acres of land that now houses the Michillinda cottages. They had fallen in love with the area's quiet beauty, gorgeous beach and privacy for families. Twenty-three lots were then plotted along the lakeshore.
Most of the original leaseholders were families from Grand Rapids, Michigan and Moline, Illinois along with one from Indiana. They built simple, comfortable, two-story cottages and in 1902 named their property MICH-ILL-INDA, using a syllable from the names of each of the home states of these new residents.
The Beginning Of Michillinda Tavern
In 1920, Emanuel “Manny” Duttenhofer of Whitehall purchased one of the only two Michillinda summer homes which had been built on a grand scale as early as 1904. However, the death of his wife, Tina, followed shortly afterward and Manny found himself owning an oversized summer retreat that he no longer needed. He still hosted friends and relatives at his ample Michillinda abode, which may have first given him the idea to convert his great house into a summer hotel. With the assistance of his two sisters, he turned his home into a resort and named it Michillinda Beach Tavern.
The original name was short lived. Soon after the Eighteenth Amendment was repealed in 1933, and most corner saloons throughout the nation became known as taverns, the hotel was renamed Michillinda Beach Lodge. Manny and his sisters turned the lodge into one of the most popular and distinguished resorts in the White Lake area. To keep up with the booming demand, Manny constructed a two-story annex that featured 10 rooms plus a small lobby on the first floor.
Michillinda eventually caught the attention of Mr. and Mrs. Ray Johansen, who operated the South Shore Resort in Twin Lake, Michigan. They bought the property in 1951 and soon built an apartment on the North end of the Lodge. This became their permanent dwelling for the next 23 years. The executive apartment remains part of the lodge today and is rented during the season.
The Johansens maintained the high standards set by their predecessors and added more services, such as the “Evening Coffee Hour." This marked the beginning of Michillinda's longstanding tradition of gazing at magnificent sunsets while savoring cookies and coffee.
As the lodge's reputation grew, it began to attract the interest of local celebrities. In 1960, White Lake's own Nancy Anne Fleming became Miss America. When she returned to the region after her crowning to take part in a homecoming parade, pageant officials selected Michillinda Beach Lodge for a private retreat before the big event. Nancy used the room Lodge 19 in which to dress and put on her crown.
Management has always stressed that Michillinda is a place for “rest or recreation as you wish," also a “restful lakeside retreat." So in 1965, a Chalet was added for evening programs such as the Friday Night Variety Show.
That same year, the Johansen's daughter, Judith, married Donald Eilers. Seven years later the couple began learning how to run the lodge so they could buy it and take over operations. Unfortunately, Judith became ill and died before that could happen. Despite his loss, Don still purchased the property and became the official owner in 1973. Don was quoted as saying “only the close friendship, co-operation and valuable assistance from the Johansens made the change in Michillinda ownership a smooth transition enabling the continuing of the fine traditions of the past.”
For the next 28 years, Don and Sue ran Michillinda Beach Lodge with the care and gracious hospitality that had long been a part of Michillinda history. Traditions were kept alive and new ones made, with the addition of Sunday night bingo and the western-style campfire with Cowboy Glen. The couple retired in 2000, selling the property and handing over operations to Promise Land LLC, a Grand Rapids investment group. In December 2012, during renovations, the largest of the 10 buildings was tragically lost in a fire which included the restaurant, no one was hurt, but the building was a complete loss. Permits to replace it are pending. Later in 2013, Michillinda was sold to Parkland Properties, a local real estate firm with extensive hospitality, office, residential and retail holdings. Parkland Properties also specializes in waterfront property, and enjoys ownership with a commitment to its rich history and continued operations. Michillinda is still a popular family resort that maintains traditions that began decades ago.
Visit the Michillinda cottages and add your story to the continuing rich history of this lakeside retreat.