Vintage Photos of Idlewild, “The Black Eden”, 1909-1950s
It was known as the “Black Eden”, a place in Michigan where African-Americans could live, work, play, and simply exist in peace without the hassles of racism and away from discrimination.
Idlewild was founded in 1912 by Erastus and Adelbert Branch from White Cloud, Wilbur Lemon, A.E. Wright from Chicago, and all four wives. These eight people formed the Idlewild Resort Company. The land they chose to move to was a perfect spot in Northern Michigan in Lake County.
Erastus built a cabin and lived on the lake island for three years, homesteading and testing the waters to make sure this little piece of paradise was the right place for their dream community. By 1915 this ‘Shangri-La by the Lakes’ opened for business, and black Americans from all over the Midwest came here, bought cottages, and vacationed every summer. The developers printed out pamphlets that touted the perks of Idlewild as “beautiful,” a “hunter’s paradise,” and having “myriads of game fish”. Tours were given to prospective buyers, of which there turned out to be many.
Idlewild's popularity had soared to the top with the population and with entertainers. Top performers continuously came to Idlewild to perform: Aretha Franklin, the Four Tops, B.B. King, Della Reese, Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, Jackie Wilson, Sarah Vaughn and many, many others (in fact, when I visited Idlewild, I spoke with the motel manager who told me B.B. King was very fond of Idlewild and wanted to perform there again; but he passed away before he got the chance). In the 1960s, Idlewild’s incredible success opened the doors for more black resort areas; and with these new ones opening, Idlewild was no longer the only place to go...and soon a good portion of people left the town.
Don’t let some sites fool you: Idlewild is NOT a ghost town. Yes, there are deserted “ghost” neighborhoods where homes, cottages, and an apartment building stood, which are very cool to drive thru and see. Block-after-block of deserted homes and yards. Visit the town’s webpage and read the entire history of this awesome town, located in Lake County, 37 miles east of Ludington.
One last thing: so where did the name "Idlewild" come from? Nobody knows for absolute sure, but the legend says it came from the "idle" men and the "wild" women" that inhabited the land before the resort was established.
To see photos of what Idlewild was like up to over 100 years ago, check out the gallery below. Once you see those photos, you can see some of the current deserted & abandoned homes and cottages by clicking here.
(If you DO visit, there are plenty of photo opportunities and places to explore, but remember to be very respectful of old homes and properties by obeying any 'No Trespassing' signs.)
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