Island House Hotel

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Discover the Island House Hotel, which was originally constructed as a beachfront resort for Charles O’Malley.

Island House Hotel, a member of Historic Hotels of America since 2005, dates back to 1852.


Island House Hotel was constructed amid the great industrialization and subsequent social reform movements that impacted America throughout the second-half of the 19th century.

Initially constructed in 1852 as a beachfront retreat for Charles O'Malley, the Island House Hotel was one of the first vacation destinations on Mackinac Island. Captain Henry Van Allen purchased the location from O’Malley during the 1860s, thus beginning a family tradition that would last for nearly 75 years. During this time, he moved the hotel about 300 feet off the shore to its present location. Under Captain Van Allen's direction, visitors deemed the Island House as the "best family hotel" in the region.

Upon his passing in 1892, Captain Van Allen bestowed the hotel to his daughter, Rose Van Allen Webster. Together with her husband, they added the distinctive East and West wings in 1895 and 1912, respectively. The Island House Hotel enjoyed the benefits of those additions for the next 25 years, as socialites from the nation’s leading cities flocked to the area. These distinguished guests adored the location’s afternoon tea sessions and frequent ballroom dances.

Rose Van Allen Webster retained control over the Island House Hotel until her death in 1938. It sat dormant for the next several years, while her heirs struggled to pay off its taxes and upkeep costs. The location was then leased to an international peace organization called the Moral Rearmament Association in 1942. But the Island House Hotel would become vacant once more when the group left the premises for Mission Point seven years later.

Salvation arrived in the form of Harry Ryba and his son-in-law, Victor Callewart, in 1972. Dedicated to saving it from decay and possible demolition, the two men decided to obtain the rights to reopen the structure again as a the hotel. They purchased the building from Mackinac Island State Park, which had watched over the location following its abandonment by the Moral Rearmament Association. Ryba and Callewaert initiated a series of ambitious renovations as such, which ultimately saved the Island House Hotel. The two even had the destination recognized as a Michigan State Historic Site. Thanks in large part to their painstaking efforts, the Island House Hotel is still around today for cultural heritage travelers to enjoy.

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Nobody Asked Me, But…No. 161;

Hotel History: The Island House Hotel (1852), Mackinac Island, Michigan*

By Stanley Turkel, CMHS

From its beginning over 150 years ago as a waterfront beach house to the family-restored hotel it is today, the Island House has opened its doors to over a million tourists from around the world. With its handsome Victorian structure and family-owned intimacy, Mackinac Island's oldest hotel is a tradition not be missed.

Originally constructed for Charles O'Malley in 1852 as beachfront resort, the Island House was one of the first summer hotels on Mackinac Island. In 1865, Captain Henry Van Allen, a Great Lakes skipper, purchased the resort, thus beginning a family tradition that would last nearly 75 years. During this time he moved the hotel about 300 feet off the shore to its present location to allow for future expansion. Under Captain Van Allen's direction, the Island House was deemed the Island's "best family hotel" as Mackinac Island was voted the most popular summer destination in America.

Upon his passing, Captain Van Allen bestowed the destination to his daughter. Mrs. Rose Van Allen Webster who became proprietor of the hotel in 1892. Together with her husband, whom she met while he was stationed at Fort Mackinac, the Websters added the distinctive looking East and West wings in 1895 and 1912. The Island House enjoyed the benefits of these additions for the next 25 years as Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis and New York socialites were treated to afternoon high teas and full orchestra ballroom dancing. Mrs. Webster retained ownership of the Island House until her passing in 1938.

After Mrs. Webster's death, the hotel stood vacant for several years, as its maintenance and taxes were too burdensome for her heirs. In 1945, the state took over the destination and for a brief period the hotel was used to house the Moral Rearmament movement which came about just after World War II. The group moved to Mission Point two years later and the hotel again stood vacant until 1949.

Hoping to restore the destination, a group of investors formed the Island House Incorporated in 1949. Despite the best attempts of various stockholders, by 1969 the Island House had deteriorated so greatly that the Chairman of the Mackinac Island State Park, W.F. Doyle, believed it would need to be torn down. It was not until 1972 that the Island House would return to its early popularity. Three of Mackinac Island's well-known businessmen, Harry Ryba, son James, and son-in-law Victor Callewaert, recognized the Island House's status as a Michigan landmark.

They purchased the lease to the hotel and vowed to return the Island House to its original grandeur. Throughout its incredible restoration, every step was taken to preserve the striking architectural features of the hotel exterior, including its many columns, porch spindles, gables, windows and door styles. During this two-year project the Island House was closed to the general public, but re-opened with a spirited celebration on June 23, 1972. The final triumph came on August 11, 1973, when the hotel was acknowledged by the State of Michigan as a Michigan Historical Landmark.

Since the time of the original restoration, the Island House has undergone continuous renovations to provide the best accommodations possible for guests. From the addition of an elevator to the introduction of air conditioning, the Island House prides itself on having some of the best amenities on the Island.

After extensive renovations during the 1980s, the next major change for the Island House came in 1995. The destination underwent an extensive archeological dig to assure there were no burial grounds or fossils. This cleared the way for the first addition to the hotel since 1912. This 5,400 square foot addition resulted in an indoor pool, hot tub, sauna and three suites. Also included in this was the Ice House Bar & Grill. The restaurant was named after the Island's oldest ice house located on the northwest corner of the destination.

In this same year, the 1852 Grill Room was reconfigured, remodeled and made handicap- accessible with the addition of a lift. To accommodate all guests, a lift was also added to the veranda making the main areas of the hotel barrier free. Mackinac Island's oldest hotel now complies with all ADA regulations. Today the Island House is owned and operated by the Callewaert Family.

The Island House is the only hotel on Mackinac Island that is located within the pristine boundaries of the Mackinac Island State Park – 1,700 acres of the best that Michigan’s natural resources have to offer. With its beautifully renovated guestrooms and breathtaking views of the marina and Mackinac Harbor, the Island House Hotel offers the best of all possible worlds – past and present – and a timeless escape from the ordinary.

The Island House Hotel is a member of the Historic Hotels of America and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

*excerpted and expanded from his book Built To Last: 100+Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi


About Stanley Turkel, CMHS

Stanley Turkel is a recognized consultant in the hotel industry. He operates his hotel consulting practice serving as an expert witness in hotel-related cases and providing asset management an and hotel franchising consultation. Prior to forming his hotel consulting firm, Turkel was the Product Line Manager for worldwide Hotel/Motel Operations at the International Telephone & Telegraph Co. overseeing the Sheraton Corporation of America. Before joining IT&T, he was the Resident Manager of the Americana Hotel (1842 Rooms), General Manager of the Drake Hotel (680 Rooms) and General Manager of the Summit Hotel (762 Rooms), all in New York City. He serves as a Friend of the Tisch Center and lectures at the NYU Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism. He is certified as a Master Hotel Supplier Emeritus by the Educational Institute of the American Hotel and Lodging Association. He served for eleven years as Chairman of the Board of the Trustees of the City Club of New York and is now the Honorary Chairman.

Stanley Turkel is one of the most widely-published authors in the hospitality field. More than 275 articles on various hotel subjects have been posted in hotel magazines and on the Hotel-Online, Blue MauMau, Hotel News Resource and eTurboNews websites. Two of his hotel books have been promoted, distributed and sold by the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute (Great American Hoteliers: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry and Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi). A third hotel book (Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels in New York) was called "passionate and informative" by the New York Times. Executive Vice President of Historic Hotels of America, Lawrence Horwitz, has even praised one book, Great American Hoteliers Volume 2: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry:

  • “If you have ever been in a hotel, as a guest, attended a conference, enjoyed a romantic dinner, celebrated a special occasion, or worked as a hotelier in the front or back of the house, Great American Hoteliers, Volume 2: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry is a must read book. This book is recommended for any business person, entrepreneur, student, or aspiring hotelier. This book is an excellent history book with insights into seventeen of the great innovators and visionaries of the hotel industry and their inspirational stories.”

Turkel was designated as the “2014 Historian of the Year by Historic Hotels of America,” the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This award is presented to an individual for making a unique contribution in the research and presentation of history and whose work has encouraged a wide discussion, greater understanding and enthusiasm for American History.

Works published by Stanley Turkel include:

Most of these books can be ordered from AuthorHouse—(except Heroes of the American Reconstruction, which can be ordered from McFarland)—by visiting, or by clicking on the book’s title.

Contact: Stanley Turkel

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