Seven Islands Resort - Grand Ledge, Michigan
Posted by: Groundspeak Regular Member GT.US
N 42° 45.338 W 084° 44.751
16T E 684462 N 4736142
Quick Description: The Seven Islands Resort was an amusment park on the Seven Islands of the Grand River in Grand Ledge, Michigan.
Location: Michigan, United States
Date Posted: 7/16/2009 6:35:23 PM
Waymark Code: WM6T5K
Published By: Groundspeak Regular Member the federation
Views: 14

Long Description:
A photo gallery is at (visit link) .

In 1891 J.S.Mudge built a roller coaster on the Seven Islands Resort. It is believed to be the first coaster in Michigan.

The website at (visit link) tells us by way of republished newspaper article (please click through for the full text):
"By 1885 The Seven Islands Resort was providing a huge boost to the local economy. Some of the visitors even settled down here. The population of Grand Ledge had risen to 1,606 in 1890. The population soared 35% to 2,161 by 1900. The rising population demanded more schools. Two fine brick schools were built in 1887. The shortage of houses caused a building boom. Bridge Street saw most of its buildings built during this time. Factories started to locate in Grand Ledge. And as proof of the popularity of the town, in about 1887 Grand Ledge became the first town in the State, after the Capital in Lansing, to get electric lights.

The Resort reached its zenith from 1890 to 1905. During this time trainloads of tourist poured into the small village. It was said that as many as twelve trains arrived in a single day. Carrying about 120 passengers each, they brought over 1,400 visitors in a day. It was during this heyday that Grand Ledge became the second most popular resort in the Lower Peninsula. Only Petoskey had more tourists. The fame is hard for us to envision today, but people from Michigan, Ohio, Chicago and beyond took the train to visit our Ledges. Railroad advertising of the time would list GRAND LEDGE in large bold print on top of other less popular destinations like Pine Lake in Lansing, Detroit and Grand Rapids. Just as today when we travel long distances to vacation at Mackinac Island for its natural beauty and atmosphere, so they once came to our town. Over 70,000 tourists visited the Resort every year during this period. A special Passenger Depot was even built to handle all the trains.

In what might have been his last attempt to add to the resort, J. Scott Mudge developed Mudge's River View Park in 1909. This consisted of 19 riverside building lots overlooking the Resort along Terrace Avenue at the foot of Ingersol Street. These lots featured a narrow public Boulevard for strolling along the riverbank. To my knowledge only two homes were ever built there, one still remaining.

By 1910 the flow of tourist was dropping off. New destinations and the new horseless carriages drew visitors to other towns. But the Islands still remain popular. Many annual picnics were still held there. By the 1920s most of the buildings were gone, but the hotel remained. Dances became the new attraction. In 1927 J.S. Mudge passed away. Within a few years the City purchased the seven islands. The old hotel was kept in use as a community hall. It had been remodeled and opened up inside to allow for roller skating and dancing. The hotel remained in use until about 1964 when it was finally torn down, the last remnant of a fabulous era of Grand Ledge history."


"The coaster was tiny by today's standards at about 400 feet long and 20 feet high. But it had all the thrilling elements just the same. Starting behind the Hotel on Second Island, a small four-seat car was pulled up an incline before zooming down the track, over a another bump or two before ending it's run at the Casino on Third Island.

Construction was completed in the Spring of 1891. I am sure the undertaking was an expensive one. Mudge began looking for local businessmen to invest in the coaster enterprise. One of the men who seemed the most interested was his good friend E.A. Marvin, a well known local photographer.

Before Marvin made his investment, Mrs Mudge, Mrs Marvin and two of their friends took a ride on the coaster on July 16th, 1891. During the ride the car containing the four women leapt from the wooden track and fell down onto the island below. All passengers sustained injuries. Mrs Marvin had both her wrists broken in the fall. Dr. Walter E. Wilson was called immediately to care for the injured. Mudge was understandably upset by the accident and paid all the medical expenses for the women. It was noted at the time that Mr and Mrs Marvin were perfectly satisfied that Mudge had done what was fair and right.

It seems that no investors could then be found for his new attraction, and the accident depressed him so much that he was put off the whole roller coaster business. Mudge was not disappointed at all when in the Spring of 1893 a devastating flood swept down the Grand River. Large blocks of ice destroyed the fragile coaster. The framework that remained was soon torn down.

Three years later in April 1896, after the Marvin family had moved to Detroit, J. Scott Mudge was suddenly hit with two lawsuits over the accident. His former friends and potential business partners had filed two cases totaling $40,000! An incredible sum for the times.

The trial in May 1896 was the talk of the town. As the paper noted A dozen or more residents of Grand Ledge have testified for the defense, while Mr and Mrs Marvin and Dr Wilson were the only witnesses called by the complainant and the evidence of the later was more beneficial to the defendant.If the determination of the suit hinges on evidence, it would not seem that the jury would have to leave their seats to find no cause of action.

The jury did however find some cause, and awarded a verdict of $125 to Marvin. The Editor of the paper noted the verdict illustrates, as has been done thousands of times before, the crudeness and inconsistency of the jury system. Truly, there is no knowing what to expect of the modern jury."


"J.S. Mudge continued to make the Seven Islands Report a fashionable destination. He built an addition onto the front of the hotel. This new wing included a new lobby and a large square four-story tower. A photo of the lobby shows many counters and display areas all lit with kerosene lamps. The new lobby also boasted elaborate Victorian gingerbread woodwork made of solid cherry.

Mudge's first steam boat was the Island Queen. However in later years it was replaced with the larger and more famous steamer Lanota. For fifty cents you could ride the steamer from Second Island down to the dam while being serenaded by musicians.

About 1890 Mudge improved Third Island with the construction of the Island Casino. Victorian casinos were not the gambling places of today, but music halls where you could dance and listen to music or theater. The Island Casino was used for just this purpose and hosted musicals and vaudeville shows. The design of the building was very similar to casinos built in New York and New Jersey during this same time. The large pavilion had a central section for audience seating. On the front was a wing used as the main entrance and lobby, on the rear was a wing for the stage and dressing rooms. It was an open air building. Open arches were around the audience while moon windows (round windows without glass) were set high in the walls to let light deeper into the interior.

Tourists loved the many natural attractions of the resort. On Second Island was the famous Picture Tree, a great tree with a huge hollow base. It was all the fashion for ladies or a couple small children to stand inside the living tree and have their photograph taken. At the end of Third Island was Prospect Point where the willows hang low an old group of willow trees with great crooked branches reaching down to the water. Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Islands were small and left in their wild states. Seventh Island was also called Half-Mile Island and was a popular picnic spot. Couples would rent row boats from the Resort and picnic on Seventh Island before setting out to explore the Ledges at Hemlock Point. The Point, where Sandstone Creek joins the River, features a stand of hemlock trees estimated to be hundreds of years old. A natural sandy beach under the hemlocks provided a popular spot for boat landings. Lion Head Rock was a great bluff of ledge that overhung the river path above Hemlock Point that was perfect for climbing and exploring. Stone House was a natural shelter under Lion Head between two great pieces of Ledge. Couples favored Lover's Glen. This secluded area along Sandstone Creek was perfect for romantic strolls. "


"After nearly a decade of running the Seven Islands Resort, Samuel Hewings sold the properties to Julian Scott Mudge in 1886. J.Scott Mudge was born in Wisconsin in 1850. By 1880 he was a furniture dealer in Lyons, Ohio. Mudge was defiantly a showman who was willing to build the Resort into a first-class enterprise.

Mudge immediately began to make major improvements. Like his predecessor, he wanted a deep pool of water to run steamers and pleasure boats. The Island boat livery offered over 70 row boats for rental to tourists- often couples looking for a romantic adventure. He removed the temporary dam built by Hewings and replaced it with a taller permanent Stone Dam that still remains today. Not only did this provide the water depth he wanted, but he also promoted this as the perfect fishing spot. Many anglers fished from the rocks near the shore or propped their boats right on the edge of the dam itself.

To accommodate more tourists, Mudge saw that he needed more room. He replaced the narrow spindly foot bridge between Second and Third Islands with a permanent, wider causeway. This was constructed by filling in the gap between the two islands with a narrow strip of land, edged with stones. This doubled the continuous land he had to work with. This legacy remains with us today. What we call Second Island is really Second and Third Islands joined together. Mudge's causeway has been widened over the years, but can still be seen as the narrow strip of land between the two wider islands.

Mudge's most notable improvement was the construction of the building he called The Round House. This three-story pagoda tower was built right on the edge of Second Island; half of the tower foundation was on the island and half was built out into the river. During the construction he kept the purpose of the unusual structure secret. This caused much speculation in the local community. Mudge eventually revealed his grand plans behind the design of his Round House. The tower was designed to have the second story rotate at a slow speed, while the third story rotated faster and was topped by a centrifugal swing that would whirl the adventurous rider out over the river. What an amazing sight to have witnessed young Victorian youth flying through the air! Many tourists would have been drawn to such a thrilling attraction. Sadly, these mechanical wonders never came to be. At the very final stages of construction during a devastating spring flood large chunks of winter ice pushed the building off its foundation and it nearly toppled over. Although the building was saved, the mechanics of the tower were destroyed and the potential of the building never came to be.

The Round House remained however and became the most recognizable symbol of the entire resort era. The building has come to be called Mudge's Folly. This has a double meaning. While a folly can be a costly and foolish undertaking, it can also describe a picturesque structure built as an ornament, but without a real purpose. "


"Samuel Hewings continued to develop and refine the Seven Islands Resort. After building the Island House Hotel, he added fountains, a bandstand, and an animal park on First Island. In later years he would launch a new larger steamer called The Swallow.

Advertisements of the time describe the atmosphere of the Resort better then I could:

An 1880 account notes:
"Mr. Hewings, being a man of taste and means, is doing a great deal to add to the
attractions of the vicinity, a spacious hall, beautiful little steamer, row-boats, bath-
houses, bathing-suits, hammocks, archery, croquet-grounds, swings, rustic-seats,
fountains, animal-parks, refreshment-stands, and everything for the pleasure and
comfort of visitors, are provided. Beautiful camping-grounds with plenty of pure spring- water. No liquors sold on the grounds. There is a fine mineral spring on one of the islands, said to possess curative properties of a high order, and invalids looking for a place to spend the hot months will find the Seven Islands offer superior inducements."

Another account states:
Heretofore little has been done to develop or preserve the natural attractions of the scenery. The present proprietor, Mr. S.M Hewings, however is devoting his time and means to that end. And those who have learned to love the river, cliff and glen as well as those who behold them for the first time, will alike be gratified with his efforts to make this a first class rural watering place. A spacious hall, bandstand, steamer, numerous boats, swings, croquet grounds, animal parks etc etc will furnish ample chances for amusement and diversions, while everything objectionable will be carefully excluded. In short, those in search of amusements or repose can repair thither with a full assurance that the heart, the eye and the mind will be gratified and that their enjoyment will be cared for by Mr Hewings, whose watch word is welcome! and who finds his chief enjoyment in promoting the happiness of his fellow man. Mineral water from the artesian well on the Island invalids will find very beneficial and along the banks of the river there are numerous springs coming from the rocks of the purest water. Splendid camping grounds for parties wishing to camp out. Superior inducements are offered to picnics, Sabbath schools and Excursion parties. Good fishing and hunting. No liquor sold on the islands. Bathing suites furnished.

As you will note fishing and bathing were big attractions at the Resort. This may be hard for us to imagine now, but at that time the Grand River was unmarked by the industrial revolution in Lansing and towns upstream. The River was pure and crystal clear down to the river bottom. Swimming was a popular summer pastime. Fish were very plentiful- some said to weigh in at well over fifty pounds.

Additional info at the Grand Ledge History site at (visit link)
Date Park Opened: 01/01/1870

Date Park Closed: 01/01/1910

Grand Ledge, MI USA

Current Use or Function:

Is the park still there?: No

If not, what is in its place now?:
A park

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