Some hotels are simply a place to sleep, maybe to eat, and to prepare for the next day. Then there are destination hotels. As the name denotes, these hotels are a destination unto themselves.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” says Bob Tagatz, historian at Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in Michigan. “Some people have been coming here for years. Once people visit for the first time, they seem to fall in love with the place. That’s what happened to me.”
The Midwest is blessed with destination hotels, many of which have fascinating stories to tell and are unlike anywhere else in the world. Here are some examples of the Midwest’s lodging treasures and some reasons why these welcoming destinations are so popular.
Mackinac Island, Michigan
The Grand Hotel served as the backdrop for one of the most classic romantic movies of all time. Released in 1980, “Somewhere in Time” starred Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve, who frequently strolled the beautifully manicured grounds of the 1887 Victorian hotel perched high over the Straits of Mackinac.
Today, coachmen atop glossy maroon carriages wait at the hotel entrance, while the drivers look resplendent in red jackets and black top hats. Except for a few emergency vehicles, the Michigan island is car-free.
One of the most popular suites at the hotel is, not surprising, the “Somewhere in Time” suite, filled with photos of the movie stars and other pictures from the film. On a special October weekend, the hands of time are turned back to celebrate the movie. As a historian, Tagatz says the movie holds a special interest for him. “It’s a beautiful movie but, as a historian, time travel is something in which I am very interested. The theme of the movie is that love transcends death and that is something everyone wants to believe in.”
Fort Wayne, Indiana
Nearly 30 years ago when Barbara Bradley Baekgaard, co-founder of the lifestyle brand, Vera Bradley, was searching for a Fort Wayne hotel for her daughter’s wedding guests, she came up short. Sure, the city had some nice chain hotels, but Baekgaard wanted something different, something that would reflect the distinctive beauty of Fort Wayne.
In 2021, Baekgaard’s pet project of opening Fort Wayne’s first boutique hotel became reality. Fittingly named The Bradley, the hotel is a collaboration between Baekgaard and Provenance Hotels. The five-story limestone property in downtown Fort Wayne offers 124 rooms and nine suites, plus a wealth of Hoosier touches and, of course, Baekgaard’s personal decor talents. The hotel features modern design sensibilities, locally sourced artwork, dining options, and retail spaces. Plus, it’s only steps away from The Landing and Promenade Park.
“The Bradley serves as a love letter to my adopted city,” Baekgaard says. “Fort Wayne is a place that is and always will be close to my heart.”
Hillside Waterfront Hotel
Once upon a time, there were 11 grand hotels in the Door County area of Ephraim, Wisconsin. In the late 1800s, steamships would come into the harbor to dock, and people would stay for the summer. Now the Hillside Waterfront Hotel is Ephraim’s last remaining “grand” hotel.
“We are known as the Cape Cod of the Midwest because we are surrounded by water,” says Diane Taillon, the hotel’s owner. “It’s wonderful that the Hillside Waterfront Hotel is still welcoming guests as it did more than a century ago.” The boutique hotel features five luxury rooms, two private cottages, a business center, a large sitting room, and an elegant dining room.
Founded as a Moravian religious community in 1853, Ephraim takes pride in its Scandinavian roots. Ephraim’s rich heritage has been carefully preserved in more than 30 historical sites throughout the village, 11 of which are on the National Register of Historic Places.
West Baden Springs Hotel
West Baden, Indiana
The West Baden Springs Hotel story began when the valley was a busy resort area. People came from around the country to drink and bathe in water from its famed sulfur springs. Named after the town of Wiesbaden, Germany, the old hotel was considered a showplace.
Built in 1902, West Baden Springs Hotel boasted a freestanding dome more than 200 feet across and 130 feet high, known as “The Eighth Wonder of the World.” But that all ended with the Great Depression. The Crash of 1929 sent guests home, most of them ruined financially. Over the years, the hotel served various purposes until it sat deserted, crumbling into the woods.
Then, a miracle happened. The Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana (now called Indiana Landmarks) and the Bloomington-based Cook Group Inc. joined forces to rescue the endangered hotel.
“Our ancestors would frown on us if we didn’t act on an opportunity to save this amazing landmark,” the late Bill Cook said in answer to why he would invest so much of his time and money.
The $600 million historic restoration and casino development project resulted in the French Lick Resort, which encompasses the West Baden Springs Hotel and its sister property, the French Lick Springs Hotel. The hotels offer Old World opulence with modern comforts and Hoosier hospitality. The two AAA Four-Diamond hotels are also on the National Register of Historic Places.
For an unforgettable treat, book a balcony room at the West Baden Springs Hotel and be rewarded with a spectacular view of the famous atrium. The French Lick Resort features three challenging golf courses, two world-class spas, a 51,000-square-foot casino, an array of dining and entertainment options, and 3,200 scenic acres to explore.
Article by Jackie Sheckler Finch
Main image: Grand Hotel; Credit: Grand Hotel