Leelanau News and Events

After 50 Years, A Peek Inside Shuttered Sleeping Bear Inn

By Emily Tyra | Feb. 10, 2021

Sleeping Bear Inn, the long-vacant frontier inn within the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakehore (SBDNL), will once again open its doors to travelers starting the summer of 2022.

The National Park Service (NPS) intends to lease the 1865-era Sleeping Bear Inn and garage in the “ghost town” of Glen Haven to the nonprofit Balancing Environment and Rehabilitation (BEAR),  allowing for the restoration and adaptive re-use of the inn (pictured) and its neighboring garage.

In addition to operating as a B&B lodge, the inn will be a breakfast and lunch spot open to all visitors to the Lakeshore. Renovations are to begin this summer, but before they do, the Leelanau Ticker checked in with BEAR Executive Director Maggie Kato to find out the current state of the iconic inn, and what’s to come.

Leelanau Ticker: How actively were the inn and garage maintained since the 1970s, until this opportunity arose to rehabilitate them now?
Kato: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has definitely maintained the exterior of the buildings with fresh paint, cedar shake shingles and replacing the shiplap siding over the years, however nothing has been done to the interior. 

Leelanau Ticker: So after all those years, what does the inn look like inside right now?
In some ways it is frozen in time and there is some disrepair as well. The ceiling in the sunporch is in very good shape — as are the wood floors of the first floor of the inn — but the ceiling of the parlor is falling in. When we gathered in the inn for our October board of directors meeting, a mouse crawled out the toilet to join us. All new electrical, mechanical, plumbing, insulation and fire suppression will need to be added.

Leelanau Ticker: Wondering what the large garage was used for historically — and how it will be repurposed?
The second story of the garage formerly housed Dunesmobile drivers in eight dormitory style rooms and a bathroom. I had a wonderful conversation with [Traverse City’s] Mickey Fivenson, a former Dunesmobile driver who lived in the garage dormitory. He had wonderful memories and stories to share. We plan to convert those dormitory rooms (currently just studs and wallboard) into two 2-bedroom suites that will first house the innkeepers and will eventually be available for rental for guests. The six garage bays on the first floor will be used for equipment storage, fire suppression water tanks storage and outdoor furniture. The exterior of the garage will remain largely unchanged from the road. We will add two exterior staircases in the rear of the building.

Leelanau Ticker: Are there any particular historic details that BEAR and the historic architects are working hard to keep intact for generations to come?
The exterior of the inn will remain virtually unchanged. We will repair the brick stairs and we will include accessible ramping — however, our plan is to do this subtly with earthen ramps. We will add an accessible inn room on the west side of the first story where the innkeeper quarters were and we will have to make moderate changes in the kitchen to meet code requirements. We are going to try to keep the ceiling in the sunporch and the wood floors of the inn. We will replicate the wainscot in the dining room. All three fireplaces will be retained. At one time there were lightning rods on the roof and we will replace them. Although we can’t keep the original kitchen island, we will be replicating it.

Leelanau Ticker: Wow, that is a project. Will local subcontractors have opportunity to bid on some of that work?
Definitely. We have inserted a dropdown on the property overview tab on our website titled “Invitation to Bid.” Currently, we do not have any jobs posted, however this is where all opportunities for subcontractors to bid will be posted as we get closer to the renovation stage [projected to begin summer 2021].

Leelanau Ticker: Can you share a little more about BEAR’s architect on the project?
Shannon White is the founding principal of FUNchitecture. Shannon’s portfolio includes many projects in Genesee County, however she also has an award-winning residential project on Torch Lake and the Farmers Market in Grayling to her credit.

Leelanau Ticker: Once open, proceeds from the Sleeping Bear Inn are to be re-invested throughout Glen Haven Village Historic District, yes?
Yes! Our goal is to return profits from the operation of the inn back into all of Glen Haven. There are several other homes and buildings that need rehabilitation. There are even remains of a tennis court and curling rink in Glen Haven and we intend to restore these structures as well.

Those passionate about this preservation project can find out more about the nonprofit BEAR and the opportunity for tax-deductible donations on its website. Kato says 100 percent of donations will be used to rehabilitate Sleeping Bear Inn, the garage and historic Glen Haven Village.


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