Tracking Ernest Hemingway in Petoskey

Tracking Ernest Hemingway in Petoskey

by Pamela O’Meara  reprinted with permission from Lillie Newspapers

Bar at City Park Grill – formerly the old Annex – was one of Hemingway’s favorite hangouts in Petosky, Michigan. He used to sit in the second seat from the end of the 32-foot solid mahogany bar and jot ideas down for short, stories and books.


Many people don’t know that Nobel prize-winning writer Ernest Hemingway got his start in the small town of Petoskey, Michigan, a northern resort area where wealthy families from Chicago and Detroit would spend their summers to get away from the air pollution from factories in their hometowns.

When Hemingway was a child, his family would take the train there from the Chicago suburb of Oak Park each summer in the 1910s and 1920s. They stayed on Walloon Lake outside Petoskey. Hemingway called it a “priceless place” where he loved to fish and hike. After a stint in the Army during World War I, he returned for a year and started writing.

I learned a few years ago about Hemingway’s Michigan connection after I visited Pamplona, Spain, a city he made famous in his book “The Sun Also Rises,” and I checked out his favorite bar, hotel and fishing spots there.

Ernest Hemingway with Hadley Richardson, who became his first wife.

Recently, I had a chance to explore the Petoskey area on a walking and driving tour with Christopher Struble, president of the Michigan Hemingway Society and a man with a passion for Hemingway’s life.

Struble talked about Hemingway as we lunched at the City Park Grill – the old Annex – which was one of the author’s favorite hangouts. He used to sit in the second seat from the end of the 32-foot solid mahogany bar where he wrote his ideas down for short stories and books. The short story “A Man of the World” makes mention of the Annex.

Colorful flower garden with sailboats in the background is welcoming sight to visitors in Traverse City.

Struble explained that Hemingway returned to the area after World War I, shell-shocked and with his legs full of shrapnel. His doctor wanted to amputate them but his physician father wouldn’t allow it. Hemingway ended up in pain most of his adult life. And because there wasn’t enough morphine available during the war, he turned to alcohol to dull the pain. He drank a lot and so did some of his characters.

We stopped at a number of other places that were part of Hemingway’s life – the rooming house where he spent a winter writing, the Horton Bay General Store, which had photos of young Hemingway on the walls, Potter’s Rooming House, the historic Perry Hotel and Jesperson’s Restaurant, a favorite of Hemingway and his Petoskey friend Dutch Pailthorp. Hemingway wrote a number of short stories there and his first novella, “The Torrents of Spring,” was set in Petoskey. He married his first wife, Hadley Richardson, in Petoskey before they headed to Paris to hobnob with Gertrude Stein, James Joyce and Ezra Pound.

A popular pastime is hiking up the giant sand dune at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The preserve’s beaches, streams, bogs and forests are interesting places to hike, bird watch, canoe and explore.

Ancient stones on the beach

Besides tracking the early life of the Nobel Prize-winning author, I walked along the shores of Lake Michigan’s Little Traverse Bay from the Inn at Bay Harbor to search for Petoskey stones, the designated state stone.

Quite lovely when polished, Petoskey stones are actually fossilized coral from an ancient reef when the area was a sea some 400 million years ago.

We also drove around the homes of the Bay View Association, where the entire community of colorfully painted old homes has been declared a National Historic Landmark. Bay View was part of the Chautauqua Movement that brought together religion, recreation, education and the performing arts to the public in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

I found northern Michigan is quite lovely with its woods, lakes, historic homes and unique shops, and I enjoyed the stories of the early life of its famous author, who loved the area and spent his summers barefoot hiking in the woods and fishing in the lakes.

Beach dunes, wineries featured in Traverse City

Want to climb a giant sand dune overlooking Lake Michigan, sample wines, visit quaint towns and watch sailboats skim across a shimmering lake?

The Traverse City area is one of the nation’s top small-town destinations for its beaches, vineyards and stunning lakeshore, and it’s just about an hour flight across Lake Michigan from the Twin Cities.

A sightseer gazes at Lake Michigan from the top of a sand dune at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Some dunes tower 450 feet above the lake and offer stunning views of the shimmering waters, and hardwood and conifer forests.

On our drive to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, we stopped briefly in Fishtown, an old fishing village now preserved for sightseers in nearby Leland. At the dunes, the sky was spooky-dark for a while and windy, but only a few raindrops fell as we climbed and climbed and arrived near the top of a giant dune overlooking Lake Michigan.

We enjoyed spectacular views of the turquoise lake from two sides, the changing sky, steep drop-offs, a few wind-shaped trees and lake grasses waving in the wind.

The scenic Mari Vineyards overlook Grand Traverse Bay. The vineyard offers tours of its 31,000-square-foot facility and wine tasting year round.

The Traverse City area is known for its good wineries, so we visited a few and enjoyed some samples. On a scenic drive around Old Mission Peninsula, we tasted wine at Mari Vineyards and then continued on through the rolling hills with views of the bay to Brys Estate Winery for another tasting.

We did the same at Black Star Farms and the smaller but cozy 45 North Vineyard & Winery – on the 45th parallel – the same as many European vineyards.

Mission Point Lighthouse overlooks Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay, and features walking trails and self-guided history tours. Located on a peninsula at the end of Old Mission Road, the lighthouse was built in 1870.

It was fun to sample a variety of red and white wines in one of the top wine-producing centers in the Midwest.

Once swamps, now upscale shops

Traverse City in recent years has remade itself into a delightful beach town. From 1872 to 1920s the city was industrial area with coal gasification plants, lots of natural gas, sawmills and canneries on or near the lakefront. Now the area is being reclaimed.

We stayed at brand new Hotel Indigo overlooking Grand Traverse Bay where we could see the sailboats on the water and runners in the lakeside park. Nearby on our walking tour, we stopped to peer under the water at large salmon swirling around the fish ladder which they climb up to spawn in the Boardman River downtown.

The once swampy and cholera-ridden downtown is now upscale with a variety of shops in historical red brick buildings, including Cherry Republic. Growing cherries took off when many local farmers switched from the traditional but less dependable crops to cherry orchards. At the popular cherry shop, we browsed around sampling cherry salsa with chips and chocolate-covered cherries, and our lunch featured cherry chicken salad and cherry soda.

Bay Bread Company, located in an old brick storefront not far from the beach in Traverse City, offers 40 different kinds of bread plus light meals.

The following day, we started off in the Slabtown neighborhood, so named because years ago lumber mill employees built their houses with free slabs or leftover lumber. Walking into Bay Bread Company, located in a charming old house, our mouths watered seeing 40 different kinds of fragrant, freshly baked breads, so we ordered breakfast  — a jumbo pecan roll and coffee for me.

And for those who like to step back in time, peek into the Old Mission Inn outside Traverse City. Built in 1869, it has a long hallway filled with memorabilia, including a 1935 guest register with the signatures of Babe Ruth and Joe Lewis.

Delicious eats

On the way back to our hotel we had what our guide humorously called an “emergency” stop at the family-owned Moomers Homemade Ice Cream Shop. I enjoyed every lick of the best butter pecan ice cream I ever had as I stood outside leaning on the fence watching the cows across the field.

We finished the day with a delicious dinner at the Hotel Indigo’s dining room while we reflected on our visits to wineries, lakes and dunes, and local history in this great vacation area.

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About Pam O'Meara 47 Articles
About Me Staff writer, Lillie Suburban newspapers Free-lance writer Member, Midwest Travel Writers Association I’ve been a writer for over 20 years at Lillie Suburban Newspapers in St. Paul. I’ve also done free-lance writing – for 3M business and health publications and for a running club and a speech therapy group. My special interest and focus for over a decade has been travel writing – about my trips and those of others in the United States and abroad, and I am a 10-year member of Midwest Travel Writers Association. I have a bachelor’s degree in English from Northwestern University and a master’s degree in comparative literature from the University of Michigan. I was an English teacher for almost three years before having kids. Life is good! Writing awards for Pam O’Meara 2015 Minnesota Newspaper Association -- Second place for columns on Selfridge’s in London, Missouri prison, mother’s death 2014 Midwest Travel writers Mark Twain – honorable mention for story on Hemingway in Pamplona, Spain 2013 MTWA – first place – recent travel sites – Fort Bragg and father 2008 MTWA – third place – newspaper story on Hawaii: the Big Island 2006—MTWA – second place – recent sites – South Korea – DMZ