Popular Summertime Resort on Gull Lake
The resort on the southeast side of Gull Lake known as “The Allendale” was a well-known vacation and recreational spot during the decades around the turn of the 20th century. With its large lakeside hotel, popular dance hall, and densely wooded waterfront surroundings, Allendale was one of the area’s finest summertime resorts.
“A.A. Pool, of St. Louis, is here visiting his brothers and friends in this vicinity. He is now camping at Camp St. Louis, on Gull Lake for a few days with friends and enjoying a social time fishing and hunting.”
— Kalamazoo Gazette, 29 August 1877
“Camp St. Louis”
The origins of the Allendale resort date from the mid-1870s, when George Harmon Wilson founded “Camp St. Louis,” said to be the first public summer resort on Gull Lake. According to the Kalamazoo Gazette, the resort was “in a beautiful grove containing twelve acres of ground and buildings to accommodate 1,000 as shelter; also tables in both grove and building, besides one of the best wells in the state, furnishing water 36° cold” (Gazette). A pair of dancehalls known as “Hawks Grove Hall” (later LaBelle) and “Lakeside View” (near Camp St. Louis) hosted dances “nearly every night” (Gazette). By 1881, six cottages had been built at Camp St. Louis and were available for summertime rental.
“The new boat on Gull lake is completed and made (t)he first trip Saturday last. Mr. G.H. Wilson, proprietor of the picnic grounds, intends throwing his grounds open to the general public on the 3d of July, for a grand picnic and giving all wishing an opportunity, a ride on the new boat. Fine view of Gull lake and a good time generally may be expected.”
— Battle Creek Journal, 28 July 1880
Among the most enjoyable activities at the camp was the hour-and-a-half boat ride around Gull Lake. A steamer called the “Crystal” was first headquartered at Camp St. Louis and quickly became a popular attraction. Built and operated by E.L. Hawks of Decatur, and launched in July 1881, the fully enclosed steamer was some 61 feet long by 13 feet wide, large enough to hold 125 passengers or more. “Steamboat riding and dancing were the principal amusements of the day and were enjoyed by old and young” (Gazette). A trip around the lake was 25¢.
“Mr. Wilson on the east side of the lake has fine hotel accommodations, a good rink or dancing hall, fine row boats, and all the accommodations necessary to make those happy who visit the lake. He also has fine cottages to rent. One of the attractions of his grounds is two cub bears that stand as straight as a man and are as friendly with the visitors to the grounds as a couple of puppies, eating from the hands of all who will feed them. They are especially fond of candy.”
— Kalamazoo Gazette, 9 June 1885
During the 1890s, Henry Potter became the proprietor of Camp St. Louis. Balloon ascensions and parachute drops were held whenever the weather permitted. Professor Allen P. May hosted a dancing school, while “first class” orchestras provided music during the afternoons and evenings. The bill for a room, supper, and an evening of dancing was one dollar.
“All who wish to stop at Camp St. Louis, Gull lake, will find a carriage in waiting at all trains on the C., J. & M. to convey them to the hotel. I have my buildings finished and newly furnished and can afford ample accommodations with cottages and rooms. Henry Potter, Proprietor.”
— Battle Creek Daily Journal, 13 July 1893.
Up until the late 1890s, a “drive” out to Gull Lake by horse and carriage was a day-long venture. Buying a train ticket to Augusta might have been an option for some. From there, one could hire livery operator W.R. Giddings, who agreed to carry up to eight passengers to the lake and back for 25 cents each. For those who were so inclined, a bicycle trail from Kalamazoo to Gull Lake opened in 1896 to appease the “wheel crowd.” Larger groups often would arrange for a team of horses and a hay wagon to reach the lakeside resorts. In any case, none of these methods could be considered quick or easy.
Michigan Traction Company
In 1897, a group of capitalists formed a conglomerate called the Michigan Traction Company (MTC) with plans to consolidate the Kalamazoo and Battle Creek streetcar lines, and link the two cities with a connecting interurban line, including a four-mile branch from Augusta to Gull Lake. This would, of course, be a boon to the Gull Lake resort owners. The size of the lake and the sheer beauty of its surroundings had long attracted well-to-do pleasure seekers for extended summer vacations in its quaint cottages, but there had been little opportunity for a common person of limited means to take advantage of the area’s fine offerings… but that was about to change.
Things did change when landowner Henry Potter registered a deed that would allow an electric interurban rail line to run directly to a terminal on his property at Camp St. Louis. The construction work and legal wrangling took some time, but the MTC’s electric railway project between Kalamazoo and Battle Creek was well underway by the spring of 1900.
Although the electric road out of Kalamazoo was still under construction, the stretch between Battle Creek and Augusta had been completed by July 1900, and the extension from Augusta to Gull Lake was to be opened in time for the busy Independence Day holiday. Travelers from Kalamazoo could still take the Michigan Central steam train to Augusta, and then transfer to an electric car for the short trip north to the lake. By summer’s end, the connecting line to Kalamazoo was in operation, and Gull Lake was just a 20-minute train ride away.
Dee Allen of Kalamazoo and Lauren N. Downs of Battle Creek, both officers of the Michigan Traction Company, purchased the Camp St. Louis property privately in 1898, anticipating the coming electric interurban. During the early months of 1900, Allen piloted an effort to refurbish the old camp and rebrand it as “Allendale.”
By April 1900, the work was well underway. The old hotel, billiard hall, and cottages were torn down or sold and removed. The old dance pavilion was moved to form an expanded dining facility, while a new dance hall was erected out over the water. A grocery store was added, a new dock was built, and a larger, two-story hotel with accommodations for 250 or more was built to replace the older one. The 200-foot, sixty-room Allendale hotel featured a large dining room, public telephone, airy homelike rooms, and wide verandas on both floors. Although the walk could be treacherous at times, the interurban cars brought passengers within a few hundred feet of the refurbished resort.
“Another matter that equally needs attention is the route from Allendale to the electric road. At night, the way is very dark and as there is a very steep bank to climb and numerous other obstacles to encounter, it would be well for the company to illuminate the way in some proper manner and thus tend to show that they have some regard for those who use the cars. – Battle Creek Journal”
— Kalamazoo Gazette, 26 August 1900
Dancing “Over the Water”
The focal point of the resort would be its “over the water” dance hall. The 50-foot by 150-foot structure featured an “excellent” dance floor, electric lights, and expansive windows that could be opened during nice weather, allowing the festivities to be seen and heard all along the lakeshore without disturbing the hotel guests.
“Prof. W.A. Sayles will make his second ascension at Gull lake next Saturday afternoon under the auspices of the Michigan Traction Company. They are pulling for business and will introduce other features to induce travel to Kalamazoo’s pretty resort.”
— Kalamazoo Gazette-News, 24 August 1900
By the end of July 1900, Allendale had already seen in excess of 6,000 visitors, with more than 700 registered at the new hotel, which, according to the Kalamazoo Gazette, was “a grand showing for less than a month for the Allendale’s first season.” Balloon ascensions were scheduled, and band concerts were featured, along with boat races, baseball games, picnics, and other popular turn-of-the-century activities. Resort amenities also included a new water toboggan, a bowling alley, a billiard room, swings, croquet, and other forms of entertainment. The swimming facilities were described as “perfect.”
“The Upjohn automobile, driven by Mr. Campbell, and accompanied by Miss Upjohn, from Idylwild, visited Allendale at 4 p.m. Wednesday. Their appearance was welcomed not only by several hundred people, but the heartiest expression some half dozen steamers could produce by blowing their whistles. They rode up to the dock and chatted with the captains of the steamers a few moments… Mr. Campbell exhibited great skill in handling the machine…”
— Kalamazoo Gazette, 12 August 1900
August saw the formal grand opening of the dance pavilion with a concert and dance featuring Fischer’s popular Kalamazoo orchestra. More than 100 couples attended the opening ceremony. The dances at Allendale soon became a summertime tradition and were well-attended by “the elite of society from far and near” (Gazette). Electric cars made hourly runs to and from Augusta, with the last interurban car leaving for Kalamazoo at midnight. “A delightful time was enjoyed by all who participated” (Gazette).
After an exciting opening season, the Allendale resort was forced to close for a year due to a dispute with the street railway company, but the differences were worked out and the 1902 season opened with a bang. Fred J. Griswold, a battle Creek businessman, took over as manager of the resort. A new depot was built for the interurban cars, which delivered passengers directly to the hotel doorsteps. Hotel rates were $9 to $12 per week, which included chicken dinners “like mother used to cook” (Gazette).
Attendance at Allendale remained strong for the next few years, especially among the area’s dancers. Banks Baird’s popular orchestra kept things moving during the 1903 and 1904 seasons. Some 4,000 attended the Pioneer Society’s annual picnic in 1905, while many also enjoyed the concerts given in the Allendale groves by Battle Creek’s Germania Band, the Round Oak Band from Dowagiac, the Knights of the Maccabees (K.O.T.M.) Band from Kalamazoo, and the Parsons’ Business Collage Zouaves.
After several consecutive seasons of poor weather, business at the resort began to suffer, especially at the hotel. In 1914, property ownership was converted to a stock company called the Allendale Resort Association, and new management was promised. The hotel was to be remodeled inside and out, with a coat of fresh paint, new dishes, and fresh linens. Plans were also in the works for a new building to feature billiards, bowling, a shooting gallery, and a motion picture machine. None of those projects came to be, however, and while the dance hall remained popular, the hotel was abandoned.
Things remained difficult during the years around the First World War, and a rerouting of the interurban line near Gull Lake didn’t help. The new route was designed to improve overall service to the Gull Lake area, but it eliminated the direct line to Allendale, stopping at nearby Bayview instead. Those who wished to visit Allendale would be required to walk the remaining half-mile.
After the war, Michigan theater magnate W.S. Butterfield assumed ownership of Allendale. During the summer of 1919, Kalamazoo musicians Carl Johnson and William Reifsnyder leased the dance pavilion and hosted dances every Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings featuring Johnson’s popular orchestra. Additional room was made for automobile parking, as the auto was quickly becoming the preferred means of transportation.
In July 1920, disaster struck when a group of resorters held a marshmallow roast near the old hotel and left their bonfire unattended. Stoked by a strong summertime breeze, the aging 60-room building caught fire in the middle of the night and burned to the ground.
Still, the dance hall remained a popular destination. A.G. Wesson and William Ryan kept the dances going nearly every night of the week into the Roaring Twenties. The surrounding grounds were improved, and the remains of the burned hotel were cleaned up. A baseball diamond was built, along with bath houses and concession stands. Dance classes were offered, while early jazz orchestras and “hot” bands like “Hall’s Colored Orchestra” from Columbus, George Breinig’s “Tokio Orchestra,” “The Seven Peppery Pipers” from Cleveland, “Snyder’s All Star Eight,” and the “Black Cat Syncopators” kept the dancefloor filled until the wee hours.
Still, the effort wasn’t enough to sustain the old resort. After the close of the 1923 season, the Allendale dance hall was permanently shuttered. During the cold weather months that followed, Frank Holmes, proprietor of the nearby Gull Lake Hotel, purchased the Allendale dance pavilion and moved it to his hotel at the LaBelle resort on the southwest portion of the lakeshore near Yorkville. Workmen used a team of mules and log rollers to tow the intact structure across the frozen lake to its new home.
In 1928, W.S. Butterfield subdivided the Allendale property into a residential plat called Allendale Park, which featured large, wooded lots up to 500 feet deep. The roadway, now East Gull Lake Drive, was relocated to the rear of the property away from the lakeshore to give homeowners maximum lakefront exposure. Frank Woolston, general superintendent of Butterfield’s Gull View Farm, was placed in charge of the building operations.
Dancehall in a Dairy Barn
Meanwhile, the former Allendale dance hall saw new life in its home across the way at the LaBelle resort. The dance hall remained popular throughout the 20s and 30s, and especially so during the big band years around the Second World War when it was refurbished and renamed the LaBelle Ballroom.
When the time came to remove the structure, Kenneth Dewey and his family stepped in and saved it from the wrecking ball. In 1950, Dewey dismantled the old dance hall and moved it to their farm north of the lake, where it was rebuilt to replace a dairy barn that had burned. The distinctive building, built from the bones of the old Allendale dance hall, still stands on West Hickory Road near the Gilmore Car Museum.
Today, the former Allendale area is a quiet lakefront residential district. Aside from the stories and a few old picture postcards, little else remains of the once popular lakeside resort.
Written by Keith Howard, Kalamazoo Public Library Staff, April 2023.
Gull Lake Michigan: An Ideal Place For A Summer Vacation
Cleveland, C.E. 1904.
American National Bank reprint
Richland, From Its Prairie Beginnings
McKean, Eugene C.; Marjorie M. Harrison; Carol C. McBride.
Richland Community Library. 1981.
Call Number: 977.417 M154 (CEN)
“A.A. Pool, of St. Louis, is here…”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 29 August 1877, p.1.
“Camp 13, 15, 14.”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 25 May 1880, p.1.
“The Steamer Crystal.”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 28 July 1880, p.4.
“Notice. To Pleasure Seekers:”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 12 April 1881, p.4.
“The Ways of Pleasure”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 21 August 1887, p.6.
“Camp St. Louis”
Battle Creek Daily Journal. 13 July 1893, p.3.
“A Valuable Option”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 8 April 1896, p.1.
“By May The First: The Battle Creek Inter-Urban Line Will Be Running”
Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph. 21 February 1900, p.1.
Kalamazoo Gazette. 1 June 1900, p.8.
“News Notes From Pretty Gull Lake”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 4 July 1900, p.6.
“Gull Lake Resort Is Closed Now”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 14 June 1901, p.2.
“Allendale To Re-Open”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 22 April 1902, p.4.
“Old Allendale Hotel Burns”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 28 July 1920, p.1.
“Names Manager of Allendale Pavilion”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 5 May 1922, p.2.
“Chute at La Belle Resort Delight to Many Bathers”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 1 July 1923, p.21.
“Gull Lake Gets Hotel Addition”
Battle Creek Enquirer and Evening News. 10 January 1924, p.7.
“Allendale Lots To Be Offered Public”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 28 July 1928, p.7.
“Gull Lake Lots To Be Offered Public”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 1 December 1928, p.8.
“Relocated Gull Lake dance hall doing duty a dairy barn”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 1 January 1984, p.12.
Local History Room Files
History Room Subject File: Gull Lake.
History Room Orange Dot File: Gull Lake.