- The `Idlewild Resort (Michigan, USA) Idlewild is a vacation and retirement community that is located in Yates Township within a small rural northwestern partMessage 1 of 1 , Jan 1, 2008View Source
The `Idlewild' Resort
( Michigan , USA )
Idlewild is a vacation and retirement community that
is located in Yates Township within a small rural
northwestern part of the state of Michigan (USA)
-- near the southeastern border of Lake County .
Idlewild was one of only a few resorts in the country
which allowed the people who were members of the
African-American Ethnic grouping to both vacation and
purchase property (prior to open-discrimination having
been ruled as illegal via the Civil Rights Act of 1964).
The Idlewild resort surrounds the
lake from which it's name is derived.
The headwaters of the Pere Marquette River run
through here, with a couple of public access points
adjacent to Broadway Road , where it crosses.
About half of the township is contained
in the Manistee National Forest.
Often called `The black Eden " (from 1912
through the mid-1960s) Idlewild was an active
year-round community and was visited by
well-known entertainers and professionals
found throughout the entire United States .
At its peak it was the most popular resort in the
Midwest and as many as 25,000 would come
to Idlewild in the height of the summer season
to enjoy activities such as camping, swimming,
boating, fishing, hunting, horseback riding,
roller skating and night-time entertainment.
When the 1964 Civil Rights Act forbid other resorts
from practicing open discrimination against the
people of the African-American Ethnic grouping
as well as other groups, Idlewild's boomtown
period subsided but the community continues
to be an important place for vacationers
and retirees and as a heritage landmark.
The `Idlewild African-American Chamber of
Commerce' was founded in the summer of
2000 by businessman John O. Meeks for the
purpose of promoting existing local businesses and
for attracting newer ones to the Lake County area.
The community of Idlewild continues to be recognized
as one of the oldest, most famous, and most memorable
resort found within the large number of communities
created by the people of the African-American Ethnicity
noted in the contemporary history of the United States .
Idlewild was founded in 1912.
Recognized as `an intellectual center' people who
were of the African-American Ethnicity, Idlewild was
and continues to be an oasis for and symbol of
economic success and community development.
During the second decade of the twentieth century,
a clearly distinguishable middle-class developed
within many of the communities composed of the
people who were of the African-American Ethnicity.
This middle-class was largely comprised of
professionals and business people and had
been established in several urban centers.
Like many urbanites, they wanted the opportunity
for recreational pursuits in a setting removed far
from racism and discrimination in the cities.
In this time period of strict racial segregation,
--- such an escape as Idlewild was nowhere to be
found in the Midwest for most of the people who
were members of the African-American Ethnicity.
The original developers
Feeling that the Northwest Michigan area would
represent a good location to establish a resort for
the people of the African-American Ethnicity
-- four white land developers, and their wives,
organized the Idlewild Resort Company (IRC).
Erastus Branch and his wife, Flora, and
Adelbert Branch and his wife, Isabelle,
from White Cloud, Michigan, and Wilbur
M. Lemon and his wife, Mayme, and A.E.
Wright and his wife, Modolin, of Chicago,
organized IRC during the pre-World War I era.
To secure land rights, E.G. Branch built a cabin,
homesteaded the island for three years, and
eventually obtained the title to the island through
his Branch, Anderson & Tyrrell Real Estate
Company, which became the central
focus of the resort community.
The first notable residents
Whatever the circumstances, IRC organized its first
excursion to attract middle class African American
professionals from Detroit, Chicago, and other
Midwestern cities to tour the rustic community.
During their visit lots were sold.
A 1919 pamphlet used to promote the community,
which was produced and distributed by IRC, --
entitled "Beautiful Idlewild," -- describes Idlewild
as "the hunter's paradise," as a place renowned
"for its beautiful lakes of pure spring water"
and "its myriads of game fish."
One prominent personality to relocate to Idlewild
was Dr. Daniel Hale Williams who, in 1893
became the first surgeon in the United
States to perform open-heart surgery.
Dr. Dan, as he was to be later called in Idlewild,
Herman O. and Lela G. Wilson of Chicago ,
three of Dr. Dan's associates from Chicago
and Cleveland, and twenty others were
among the first group of professionals who
were members of the African-American
Ethnic grouping to join IRC's excursion.
Later, tours were conducted from
Chicago , Indiana , Detroit , Grand Rapids ,
St. Louis , and other cities by train.
IRC had acquired over 2,700 acres of land.
The company sold a good deal of the land, and
then turned the island over to `Dr. Dan' and `Louis
B. Anderson' (of Chicago ), and `Robert Riffle' and
'William Green' (of Cleveland ) -- who collaboratively
formed the `Idlewild Improvement Association'
(IIA) and helped build the Idlewild Clubhouse.
IIA sold property to such notables
as NAACP co-founder, Dr. W.E.B.
DuBois, cosmetic entrepreneur
Madam C. J. Walker, Lemuel L.
Foster, president of Fisk University,
Dr. Albert B. Cleage, Sr. of Detroit,
and the famous African-American
novelist Charles Waddell Chesnutt.
Madame C.J. Walker, who was the very first
self-made woman millionaire of ANY Race or Ethnicity in
the United States , owned property in Idlewild , Michigan .
IIA was also responsible for recruiting other
middle-class professionals such as William
Pickens, field secretary of the NAACP, the
Reverend H Franklin Bray, a missionary and early
settler in the community, along with his wife, Virginia
Bray -- who together founded the first formal church
in Idlewild -- and Pastor Robert L. Bradby, Sr.
of Second Baptist Church of Detroit, who was
instructional in significantly contributing to the
development of the Idlewild Lot Owners Association.
IIA encouraged this new influx of community
leaders in order to foster pride, economic
development, decency, and respect to Idlewild.
One activity that garnered much respect from
outsiders (including the Michigan Republican
Governor Fred Green) was the annual Idlewild
'Chautauqua' organized by Pastor Bradby.
These `Chautauqua events', which lasted
for one week, added a unique intellectual
favor to the recreational life in the community.
People came from everywhere
to participate in the event.
The height of popularity
Idlewild, by then known throughout the United
States as "The black Eden of Michigan", had
become one of the few places middle-class
people -- who were also members of the
African-American Ethnicity -- could find peace
of mind, and could escape systematic practices
of racism and discrimination in North America.
Presence of notable organizations
As this new intelligentsia began to settle in the
community, some relocated as activists and
some as and others as potential investors.
However, for the majority of these
professionals who brought their families,
the idea of land ownership conveyed social
status and membership within this community.
Idlewild quickly became the intellectual center for
economic development and community progress
within the various African-American Ethnicity
communities during the Pre World War II era.
The ILOA (Idlewild Land Owners Association), for
example, had become a national organization with
members from over thirty-four states in the country.
In addition, the Purple Palace , Paradise Clubhouse
and the Idlewild Clubhouse, Rosanna Tavern, and
Pearl 's Bar -- provided summer entertainment for
tourists and employment opportunities for seasonal
and year round residents in the community.
The Pere Marquette Railroad built
a branch line to the area by 1923.
A post office opened that same year, with
Susie J. Bantom as the first postmaster.
The Idlewild Fire Department was established,
and a host of new entrepreneurs began
entering the community.
Paradise Palace became
McKnight's Convalescent Home.
Idlewild during the Post World War II era
attracted what some sociologists have labeled
the new African-American "working" middle class.
With the construction of a few paved roads in
Idlewild, a reinvestment in the township's only
post office on the island, and greater availability
of electricity, a new generation of entrepreneurs
who were members of the African-American
Ethnic grouping began to invest in Idlewild.
Phil Giles, Arthur "Big Daddy" Braggs,
and a host of other African-American
businessmen and women took advantage
of the market by purchasing property on
Williams Island and Paradise Gardens ,
and began developing these areas into an
elaborate nightspot and business center.
Dr. Louis Cleage and his brothers, Hugh and Henry,
expanded the original cottage that his father, Dr.
Albert B. Cleage, Sr. had started in the 1940's.
Warren Evans, Dr. Cleage's nephew is the
current Sheriff of Wayne County, Michigan.
He spent almost every summer in Idlewild,
from the early 1950's on with his brothers,
Dale and Blair and a sister, Jan and cousin,
Dr. Ernest Martin and their families.
Famous entertainers who performed in Idlewild
Phil Giles Flamingo Bar hosted many major
entertainers in the 1950s and early 1960s.
The face of both nightspots, The Flamingo
and Paradise Clubs, featured well-known
entertainers, who when they performed
elsewhere were forced to submit to segregation.
Della Reese, Al Hibbler, Bill Doggett, Jackie Wilson,
T-Bone Walker, George Kirby, The Four Tops, Roy
Hamilton, Brook Benton, Choker Campbell, Lottie
"the Body" Graves, the Rhythm Kings, the Harlem
Brothers, and many other performers, entertained
thousands of Idlewilders and White citizens
in neighboring Lake County townships
throughout the 1950s and early 1960s.
The names Phil Giles, Dr. Louis Cleage and
Arthur Braggs became synonymous with Idlewild.
Braggs' produced singers, dancers, showgirls,
and entertainers, which helped Idlewild to
become the Summer Apollo of Michigan .
Phil Giles, on the other day, was a
respected businessman in the community,
and eventually became mayor of Idlewild.
Dr. Cleage was one of the only resident
physicians who owned property on Idlewild lake
and served the community in the Summer months.
With the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
(which banned all open-discrimination against
individuals and groups based on their racial
make-up); the many rebellions that occurred
in the Unted States starting circa 968, the
Vietnam War; and the national-recession which
occurred in the early 1970; and the inability
of seasonal business owners in Idlewild to be
competitive with other vacation outlets in the
United States (which were now no longer allowed to
practice open discrimination), the Idlewild community
suffered a significant social and economic loss.
The children of many of the old families who were
born in the community were now forced to relocate
to other cities in Michigan and elsewhere to find
suitable employment to care for their families.
As the community underwent a significant
population decline, Idlewild became
a lesser-known family vacation
and retirement community.
The community began to take on a new identity.
An increasing number of new retirees,
many who visited the area during its
prime, relocated to the community and
launched an intensive revitalization effort.
Blight and other negative occurances were
concerns that demanded the immediate
attention of citizens in the township.
With these changes and other community
concerns, Township officials organized a
planning commission, zoning board, and
other in-group initiatives as a way to
encourage community input and to offer specific
practical solutions to improve the community.
Community Development Block Grants (CDBG)
were obtained for demolition, additional roadwork,
and other structural changes, which resulted
in a complete, make over of the island.
By 1977, under the leadership of Harry
Solomon, Yates Township Supervisor at
the time, the community formally renamed
"The Island" to " Williams Island " as a
tribute in honor of Dr. Daniel Hale Williams.
While the Yates Township (which surrounds
Idlewild) population began to slowly
increase, it continued to do so through
a disproportionate number of retirees.
However, the projected growth in business and
employment opportunities that would serve the
needs of these new residents was not occurring.
A heavy burden was placed on seasonal
residents to pay for community facilities
and services for year around
homeowners with limited incomes.
By the early 1990s funding
was becoming scarce.
The community's attention was turned away
from building projects and turned toward the
renovation of existing township properties.
Continued clean up of the community and
community pride among all citizens were
high priorities for the township government.
Although these pragmatic developments
were taking place, the community
continued to suffer from a poor economy.
Then under the leadership of the Clinton-Gore
Administration came a pilot rural policy initiative,
which followed a pilot urban policy development
that fostered collaborative partnerships between
business, government, grassroots organizations,
and organized community agencies.
Community participation in
Idlewild and Lake County , Michigan
resulted in a vision for social change.
This vision was partially fulfilled when the federal
government designated Lake County , Michigan ,
as an Enterprising Community, a designation,
which encouraged two important major
economic development projects,
a sewer system and natural gas.
Although Idlewild's tourism has significantly
declined from it's heyday, many members of the
African-American Ethnic grouping, throughout
the United States often still maintain strong ties
to the community through frequent visits and their
involvement in the National Idlewilders Club annual
celebrations including the Idlewild Jazz Festival.
The National Idlewilders consists
of local chapters in six cities.
In addition, the National Lot Owners Association
with local chapters in eight cities contributes
to the community's significance.
Finally, the memories and activism of year-round,
seasonal, and former Idlewild residents and
visitors who now live throughout the United
States and abroad are evidence of the
continuing significance of the community.
Re-birth of business development
During the year 1992 the community
of Idlewild witnessed the entrance of
several new small business owners.
Harrison R. Wilson, a longtime resident, was on the
verge of retiring as Lake County Commissioner in
order to provide the necessary leadership needed
to nurture the Yates Township DART System.
Larry's Nursery and Landscaping, owned by Larry
and Judy Portis, was fully operational, so was
Burns Construction Company, which is owned by
former Yates Township Supervisor Norman R.
Burns, the East Meets West Boutique,
owned by James and Larnell Cox, as well
as Morton's Motel, owned by John O. Meeks.
The accomplishments of these new establishments
may have been gradual signs of proof of economic
development and rebirth in the community, but
none were more significant than the community
services to follow by Mr. John O. Meeks.
Having relocated to Idlewild from Detroit , after
retiring from the Detroit Public Schools system
and a successful dry cleaning business, Meeks
purchased the old Morton Motel in Idlewild in
1989, and immediately began renovating it in 1991.
Being a visionary by seeing a need for motel
accommodations in the community, Meeks was
creative when he added a multi-purpose room to the
17-room motel with kitchenettes in ten of the units.
However, Meeks' work did not end there.
He purchased a second motel in the
area, and began to look for other
ways to promote the community.
Hoping to spark others' interest, Meeks founded
the Mid-Michigan Idlewilders and was able to get a
charter through the national Idlewilders organization.
Mid-Michigan has since grown to a
membership of one hundred active
members, and a waiting list of fifty potential
members wanting to join the organization.
By always working to promote Idlewild, Meeks, the
founding president of the Mid-Michigan Idlewilders,
who is now president emeritus of the group, recently
took on to another pet project, which involves
the redevelopment of a defunct chamber of
commerce in Idlewild, an organization that
was originally founded by Phil Giles of
the Phil Giles Enterprise in the 1950s.
During the summer of 2000, Meeks founded
'The Idlewild African-American Chamber of
Commerce' for the purpose of promoting
existing local businesses and for
attracting newer ones to the area.
Within a year's time, the organization has
grown under Meeks' leadership from
one to ten business members.
In 2006, Idlewild, like most of Lake
County , is well on its way to revitalizing
community life for its residents.
Attendance at the annual summer festivals
has steadily increased since 2000.
The Idlewild Jazz Festival attracts performers and
fans from all over the Midwest , many without
any idea about the rich history of the area.
Long time summer residents enjoy the 4th of
July Parade and Idlewilders' Weekend with
their children, grand and great-grandchildren.
Middle-aged adults are starting to take over
long abandoned properties, remodeling
them, buying jet skis, and installing
satellite dishes to accommodate the
more modern tastes of their children.
While the competition of major tourist destinations
will keep Idlewild from becoming what it once
was for individuals and families who were of the
African-American Ethnicity, the area is slowly
moving towards repairing decades of neglect.
Some residents view Idlewild as `an Eden
community', some embrace this designation
and want it to be both a retirement and family
community -- while others seek to revitalize
it and make it into a new resort-community
in post-modern North American history.
By either account, the Idlewild historic
resort area is clearly on the comeback.
Museum of African-American History
- Idlewild: The black Eden of Michigan
by Professor Ronald J. Stephens,
University of Nebraska
by Nella Larson
- The black Eden: the Idlewild community
by Lewis Walker and Benjamin C. Wilson
- Our kind of people:
inside America 's black upper class
by Lawrence Otis Graham
- The sweet hell inside:
the rise of an elite black family in the segregated south
by Edward Ball, Edwina Harleston Whitlock
- Charles W. Chesnutt Stories, Novels and Essays
by Charles W. Chesnutt
- Treasured African-American
Traditions, Journeys & Icons
by Patrik Henry Bass, Karen Pugh
- The black pioneers of science and invention
by Louis Haber
- Charles W. Chesnutt Stories, Novels and Essays
- African-American Inventors
by Otha Richard Sullivan
- Extraordinary women scientists
by Darlene R. Stille
- African-American healers
by Clinton Cox
- What looks Like crazy on an ordinary day
by Pearl Cleage
- African-American healers
- Idlewild African American Chamber of Commerce
- Idlewild: The black Eden of Michigan
(Book by Professor Ronald J. Stephens)
University of Nebraska
- "The Luxury Resort that Discrimination Built"
(Detroit News article by Jenny Nolan)
- History: Dr. Daniel Hale Williams and Idlewild
(Book by Professor Ronald J. Stephens)
University of Nebraska
- "Michigan's Other Motown"
(Lakeshore Guardian article by Randy Karr)
- Idlewild, Michigan on Google Maps
(Satellite Images Available)
- Idlewild, Michigan Census Data
from U.S. Census Bureau
- Buildings of Michigan
by Kathryn Bishop Eckert