Island House Hotel
From its beginning in 1852 as a beach house to the historic waterfront hotel that 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-operated intimacy, Mackinac Island’s oldest hotel offers a complete and authentic stay on Mackinac Island.
Initially constructed for Charles O’Malley in 1852 as a 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, visitors deemed the Island House the “best family hotel” as Mackinac Island becomes the most popular summer destination in America.
Upon his passing, Captain Van Allen bestowed the property to his daughter. Mrs. Rose Van Allen Webster became proprietor of the hotel in 1892. Together with her husband, whom she met while he was stationed at Fort Mackinac, the Webster’s 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 enjoyed 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. The Island House was leased by the Moral Rearmament Association (MRA), an international peace organization, based in Switzerland, from the Mackinac Island State Park and served as the organization’s headquarters from 1942 until 1949. The group moved to Mission Point two years later, and the hotel again stood vacant.
Preserving a Michigan Landmark
Aside from a brief occupation by the MRA in the 1940s, the Island House sat vacant, deteriorating so much that the Chairman of the Mackinac Island State Park wanted it torn down. Harry and Victor recognize the hotel’s historical significance and rescue the Island House from pending demolition. Together, they paid $60,000 to buy the rights to the hotel from the owners and to lease the building from the park commission. In the words of Victor Callewaert, “When we got the keys to the building in July 1969, I was amazed at what I found. A box of keys with no names and no door numbers on them, nothing. I went through the hotel, and when a key opened a door, I left it right in the lock. I would open one door and find six rooms behind it. That’s if you called them rooms. When we took over the building, it had over 200 guest rooms.”
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 reopened with a spirited celebration on June 23, 1972 with 98 guest rooms. Another triumph came on August 11, 1973, the State of Michigan anointed the Island House as a Michigan Historic Landmark. And again in 2004, when the treasured estate was anointed to the Historic Hotels of America.
After widespread renovations during the 1980s, the next significant change for Island House came in 1995. The property underwent a thorough archeological dig to assure there were no burial grounds or fossils, clearing the way for the first addition to the hotel since 1912. The 5400 square foot addition included an indoor pool, hot tub, sauna, three suites, and the Ice House Bar & Grill, named after Mackinac Island’s oldest ice house located on the northwest corner of the property.
1852 Grill Room
In this same year, the 1852 Grill Room was reconfigured, remodeled, and a lift was added to the veranda, making the main areas of the hotel barrier-free.
In 2013, the 1852 Grill Room once again was transformed by the addition of floor-to-ceiling windows giving way to a gorgeous bay view, along with updated seating in the dining room, lounge, and outdoor patio.
Two thousand nineteen marked the 50th anniversary of the Ryba-Callewaert family rescue of the Island House Hotel from impending demolition by leasing the historical estate from the Mackinac State Historic Parks. In celebration a $4 million multi-year renovation was completed including updates to the guest room amenities and decor, the expansion of the Ice House BBQ, as well as the addition of an outdoor hot tub on the deck of the annex and high-speed WIFI property-wide.
The Island House Hotel is named one of the top ten Midwest hotels by Condé Nast Traveler and receives an Award for Excellence by Historic Hotels of America naming the Callewaert family Legendary Family of the Year for their commitment to the preservation of the historic hotel. At any given time, you will find multiple generations of the Ryba-Callewaert family working throughout the family businesses.
Ryba-Callewaert Family History