A Return Visit to the Deserted Neighborhoods of Idlewild, Michigan
You can visit and enjoy 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.
I've traveled to Idlewild a few times and every time I'm there, I notice something different. Either that, or I'm just too old to remember what I've already seen. Now it's time to go back once again.
Idlewild was called "the Black Eden” from 1912 through the mid-1960s. It was a recreational haven...and heaven...where African-Americans could live, work, play, and simply exist in peace without the hassles of racism and away from discrimination.
For a while it was the most popular resort area in Michigan...actually, in the entire Midwest! During the peak of the summer season up to 25,000 visitors and tourists would descend upon Idlewild to enjoy swimming, dancing, live music, camping, boating, fishing, roller skating, hunting, and riding horses – away from the rat race and in one of Michigan's forest areas.
The Flamingo Club and Paradise Club were where the action was for all the adult night time activities. And, when big names came to perform – like the Four Tops, Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, etc. - all ages were usually welcome.
So how did it all start?
In 1912, Erastus and Adelbert Branch, Wilbur Lemon and A.E. Wright from Chicago, and their wives formed the Idlewild Resort Company. They picked out a number of acres in Michigan's Lake County and set about building and getting ready to make their 'dream community' a reality. By 1915 Idlewild opened for business as a resort getaway, with African-Americans arriving from all over the Midwest. Tours were given to prospective buyers...and did they ever buy! Many came, bought cottages and land, and visited every summer. Pamphlets permeated Michigan that shouted Idlewild's perks as “beautiful” and “a hunter’s paradise,” with “myriads of game fish”.
So why is it now considered a partial ghost town? With Idlewild's enormous success in the 1960s, it gave way to other African-American resorts. Soon there were other places to visit, buy land, and vacation. With that, many residents left Idlewild and left it a ghost of what it once was.
Even though it's called a ghost town, it's more of a shadow town. Whole neighborhood blocks may be littered with abandoned and crumbling homes and businesses but in another part of Idlewild there remains a good number of loyal residents who are hopeful the glory will someday return to Idlewild. Blues guitarist B.B. King was very fond of Idlewild and was ready to help out by coming back and performing...but he passed away before he got the chance.
Located in Lake County, 37 miles east of Ludington, Idlewild is a cool place to visit, even though driving down those deserted neighborhood streets can creepy, especially at dusk. Why was it called 'Idlewild'? Legend (or is it a rumor?) says it came from "idle" men and "wild" women" that previously lived on that land.
Return Visit to Idlewild
The U.P. Ghost Town of Winona