Paris, Havana, Key West, Pamplona, Petoskey.

Northern Michigan, where Ernest Hemingway spent the summers of his youth, may not be as well known as the more exotic locales associated with the globe-trotting writer, but before there was “Papa,” there was Petoskey, a Victorian era resort town on Lake Michigan.

In 1899 Dr. Clarence and Grace Hemingway built a cottage called Windemere on Walloon Lake, near Petoskey, as their summertime retreat from Chicago. This is where young Ernie roamed the woods and learned to hunt, fish and love the outdoors. It’s where he returned in 1919, seeking refuge after being wounded in Italy during World War I. And in 1921 at a church in the village of Horton Bay, it’s where he married his first wife, Hadley Richardson.

“Horton Bay was ground zero for his literature and his time up here,” says Chris Struble, owner of Petoskey Yesterday Tours, which offers well-researched information, anecdotes and insights into local history and the Hemingway family’s connection to the area. As Ernie grew up and was old enough to escape contentious times with his mother, he’d leave Windemere and head to the speck of a village across Walloon Lake to swim and carouse with other young people, fish Horton Creek, make friends with the Ojibway at their Indian Camp and hang out on the porch of the Horton Bay General Store. “He was getting away from the cottage,” says Struble, who is also president of the Michigan Hemingway Society. “Horton Bay is where he chose to be.”

Later, Hemingway would tap those experiences for his semiautobiographical Nick Adams Stories. But at the time he didn’t  attract any undue attention, says Michael Federspiel, author of the book Picturing Hemingway’s Michigan. ”When he was here he wasn’t famous. There was no indication he would be famous.”  After the writer gained notoriety, laughs Struble,  “Everyone has a Hemingway story. All of a sudden Hemingway slept here, ate here, drank here…” But at Petoskey Yesterday Tours, “We articulate what we know for a fact.”

A tour of Hemingway country begins in Petoskey’s pastel painted Gaslight District, which has catered to the tourist trade since the late 1800s, after the lumber boom went bust and local businessmen re-imagined the area as a vacation destination. The clean air, pristine waters and “million dollar sunsets” of the Little Traverse Bay region appealed to city dwellers that flocked north aboard Great Lakes steamships or trains. By the early 1900s Petoskey—a city of 6,000 residents—had 125,000 summer visitors, the Hemingways among them. Travelers arrived at two railroad stations, and both still stand. The Pere Marquette depot at the waterfront now houses the Little Traverse Historical Museum and a “Hemingway’s Michigan Story” exhibit.

Struble’s tours highlight sites associated with Hemingway, his Nick Adams character and The Torrents of Spring, his 1926 novella set in Petoskey. Many locations are described in a free, downloadable, self-guided tour brochure ( Plaques mark 11 Hemingway locations around town, including Stafford’s Perry Hotel, a sunny yellow inn that is the last example of the grand summer places that once filled the town. Jesperson’s Restaurant, known for its berry pie, was likely the setting for his story “Killers,” and it’s thought that City Park Grill, known as The Annex when Hemingway claimed a stool at the 32-foot-long mahogany bar, inspired his tale “A Man of the World.”

Potter’s Rooming House at 602 State Street is now a private residence, but in 1919 when Ernie returned from Italy he rented a second floor bedroom and began to work on his stories. “It’s where he first put pen to paper as a professional writer,” says Struble, adding, “He didn’t make any money.” Hemingway also spent time at the local Carnegie Library that winter, honing his writing skills and on one occasion treating the Ladies Aid Society to his tales of war.

The Horton Bay wedding church is gone, but still standing are Shangri-La cottage, where the groom and his men stayed the night before the marriage, and Pinehurst cottage, scene of the post-wedding breakfast. The couple honeymooned at Windemere, which is now the private residence of Hemingway’s nephew.

About a half-mile west of Horton Bay at the Little Traverse Conservancy Rufus Teesdale Nature Preserve, a footpath leads to the clear, rippling waters of Horton Creek. It’s easy to imagine the young Ernie fishing the stream, making memories of Michigan that he’d carry with him the rest of his days.

“You can’t think of Key West or Ketchum or Cuba without thinking of Hemingway,” says the author Federspiel. “But really, there are more stories here.”


PETOSKEY VISITOR, (800) 845-2828

PETOSKEY YESTERDAY TOURS: Guided walking and driving tours are offered year-round.,  (231) 330-9657

LITTLE TRAVERSE HISTORICAL MUSEUM: Open seasonally.,  (231) 347-2620

STAFFORD’S PERRY HOTEL: Hemingway slept here. And undoubtedly drank in the Noggin Room, too., (231) 347-4000

HOTEL WALLOON: New, boutique inn on Walloon (Hemingway swam here) Lake., (231) 535-5000

This article originally appeared in the 2016 spring/summer issue of Experience Michigan magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.

No portion of this article or magazine may be reproduced without prior written permission by the publisher.


Kath Usitalo is the author of three books, “Secret Upper Peninsula: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure,” “100 Things to Do in the Upper Peninsula Before You Die” and “100 Things to Do on Mackinac Island Before You Die.”