Charlevoix: Rich in stone and beautiful

Charlevoix in northwest Michigan is located on three lakes. So water plays a major role in Charlevoix. Sandy beaches, promenades, harbor basins with sailboats, a canal with a lift bridge, fishmongers and a bright red lighthouse provide a lush maritime backdrop. Small boutiques, cafés and restaurants complete the picture and make Charlevoix a popular vacation resort on Lake Michigan.

Stafford's Weathervane Terrace Restaurant am Round Lake Kanal. Charlevoix, Michigan, Vereinigte Staaten / © Foto: Georg Berg
Stafford’s Weathervane Terrace Restaurant on the Round Lake Canal was designed by Earl A. Young / © Photo: Georg Berg

Charlexoix is 80 kilometers north of Traverse City. Another 80 kilometers north is Mighty Mac, the iconic bridge over to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Anyone traveling through Michigan by car and heading north should make a stop in Charlevoix. The city confidently calls itself The Beautiful. Even if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, one thing can be said without a doubt about Charlevoix: this place is rich as a rock. And for two reasons.

Petoskey Steine wurden erstmals im Ort Petoskey, Michigan gefunden. Auch am Strand von Charlevoix findet man den Stein, der aus versteinerten Korallenskeletten besteht. Feuchtet man den Stein an, so wird ein wabenförmiges Muster sichtbar / © Foto: Georg Berg
Petoskey stones were first found in Petoskey, Michigan. The stone, which consists of fossilized coral skeletons, can also be found on Charlevoix beach. When moistened, a honeycomb pattern becomes visible / © Photo: Georg Berg

Petoskey stones on the beach of Charlevoix

If there were heraldic stones, the Petoskey Stone would probably be the heraldic stone of Michigan. This stone with its striking hektagonal pattern can be found on Charlevoix beach. The Petoskey stone is a calcareous sandstone with deposits of fossilized coral on its surface. The pattern is particularly recognizable when the stone is wet and the exoskeleton chambers of the coral become visible. The Petoskey stones were first found in Petoskey, just 17 kilometers from Charlevoix. Less well known is the Charlevoix stone, whose honeycomb pattern is smaller.

Stürmischer Tag am Strand von Charlevoix mit Charlevoix South Pier Leuchtturm im Hintergrund / © Foto: Georg Berg
Stormy day on Charlevoix beach with Charlevoix South Pier lighthouse in the background / © Photo: Georg Berg

The Petoskey Stones are estimated to be 350 million years old. After stormy days with high waves, the chance of finding beautiful specimens is particularly high. The stones can be found along the coast from Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsula to Petoskey. To make the honeycomb structure more visible, the stones are polished with fine sandpaper. If you don’t have any luck on the beach, you can also go to a souvenir store, where polished stones are available from five dollars. So it’s worth looking for them.

Steinhaus in Charlevoix. Earl A. Young mit Kamin aus großen Steinen. Er wollte mit seinen Entwürfen zum Ausdruck bringen, dass ein kleines Steinhaus genauso beeindruckend sein kann wie ein Schloss / © Foto: Georg Berg
Stone house in Charlevoix by Earl A. Young with fireplace made of large stones / © Photo: Georg Berg

The stone houses of Earl A. Young

Earl A. Young is probably Charlevoix’s best-known personality. It is no exaggeration to say that he dedicated his life to stones. However, his passion for collecting was not the small Petoskey stones, but large boulders and rocks. Over a period of 52 years, he designed and built 28 buildings in Charlevoix. Earl Young was not a trained architect. He taught himself how to build with stone. His work as a real estate broker and insurance agent provided the money for his first building projects. In 1919, Young constructed the first stone house. He was fascinated by the natural and rounded shapes of the stones. He mainly used limestone, fieldstone and boulders that he found in northern Michigan.

Reetgedecktes Steinhaus von Earl A. Young in Charlevoix. Die Entwürfe des Autodidakten, der nie als eingetragener Architekt arbeitete, ähnelten oft Schweizer Berghäusern, hatten aber auch orientalische und gotische Elemente / © Foto: Georg Berg
Thatched stone house by Earl A. Young in Charlevoix. The houses are privately owned, some are rented out as vacation homes / © Photo: Georg Berg

Master builder in stone

After a year at the University of Michigan’s School of Architecture, Young turned his back on traditional training. He returned to Charlevoix with the idea of transforming his hometown into a fairytale place. His houses are made of stone and wood, with curves and artfully placed natural stone. Even the smallest of his houses were something special. The Great Depression of 1929 thwarted his grand plan for a fairytale town. Nevertheless, Earl A. Young was able to build 25 residential houses and three commercial buildings, including the first motel in the USA. This was enough to make him and his buildings internationally famous.

Typisches Mushroomhouse von Earl A. Young. Er arbeitete hauptsächlich mit Stein und verwendete Kalkstein, Feldstein und Felsbrocken, die er in Nord-Michigan fand / © Foto: Georg Berg
Typical mushroom house by Earl A. Young / © Photo: Georg Berg

Although he did not study architecture, Earl A. Young in Charlevoix is now known as a master builder in stone. His houses, on the other hand, are referred to as mushroom houses, dwarf houses or even hobbit houses. An inappropriate trivialization that has unfortunately become established. So-called mushroom house tours are offered. What sounds like Disney at first turns out to be an interesting tour through Young’s work.

Touristen auf einer geführten Tour entlang der Pilzhäuser von Earl A. Young in Charlevoix. Der Autodidakt baute überwiegend Häuser aus Steinen und Felsbrocken, die er in Nord-Michigan fand / © Foto: Georg Berg
Tourists on a guided tour along Earl A. Young’s mushroom houses in Charlevoix / © Photo: Georg Berg

Most of his houses are located in a development on Lakeshore Drive and Park Avenue in Charlevoix. Visitors can take a golf cart through the streets or book a walking tour. It quickly becomes clear that only a few of the designs actually look like mushrooms. The art of his stonework is particularly evident in the houses with large exterior chimneys and door and window arches made of fieldstone. Young wanted to show that a small stone house could be just as impressive as a castle.

Steinhaus von Earl A. Young in Charlevoix. Die Entwürfe des Autodidakten, der nie als eingetragener Architekt arbeitete, ähnelten oft Schweizer Berghäusern / © Foto: Georg Berg
Stone house by Earl A. Young in Charlevoix. Here, the style of a Swiss mountain house was combined with Gothic elements / © Photo: Georg Berg

Irene Harsha-Young. Artist, site manager and wife

The old saying ” Behind every successful man is a strong woman ” also applies to the marriage of Earl Young and his wife Irene Harsha-Young. This role model has worked for centuries and is a cornerstone of the patriarchal social structure. The husband takes care of the business and the wife has his back. In the end, his name is written in the history books, while the woman remains unmentioned. In Charlevoix, however, Irene Harsha-Young is also given a stage. Her contribution to her husband’s work is recognized. Her name appears in brochures and advertisements and her artistic sketches are exhibited in the Harsha House Museum.

Großer Kamin im Weathervane Terrace Inn & Suites. Earl A. Young versteckte den großen Stein fast 30 Jahre lang in den Wäldern, bevor er ihn für den Kamin verwendete. Man sagt, der Hauptstein ähnelt einer Landkarte von Lower Michigan, mit den Adern, die die wichtigsten Highways markieren / © Foto: Georg Berg
Large fireplace at the Weathervane Terrace Inn & Suites. Earl A. Young hid the large stone in the woods for nearly 30 years. It is said that the main stone resembles a map of Lower Michigan. The white veins represent the major highways / © Photo: Georg Berg

As a former student at the Art Institute of Chicago and successful artist, Irene Harsha-Young knew how to translate her husband’s ideas into drawings. Earl Young completely lacked this talent. It was she who gave form and structure to his ideas, which were often described as crazy. Without her sketches, people in Charlevoix are certain that the builders would not have been able to realize the highly individual stone houses.

Typisches Mushroomhouse von Earl A. Young. Er arbeitete hauptsächlich mit Stein und verwendete Kalkstein, Feldstein und Felsbrocken, die er in Nord-Michigan fand / © Foto: Georg Berg
Typical mushroom house by Earl A. Young / © Photo: Georg Berg

Weathervane Terrace Inn & Suites

Travelers can also stay or dine in a real Earl Young house. The Weathervane Terrace Inn & Suites was the first motel in the USA and Stafford’s Weathervane Terrace is a popular restaurant in the town. The 25 homes, on the other hand, are privately owned. Some are marketed as vacation homes. Irene and Earl Young’s family no longer own any of the houses of their creative ancestors. But the guided mushroom tours end at Irene Harsha-Young’s childhood home, which is now the town museum.

Parkplatz des Weathervane Terrace Inn & Suites in Charlevoix,  Earl A Young plante es als Luxus-Motel mit 60 Zimmern / © Foto: Georg Berg
Weathervane Terrace Inn & Suites in Charlevoix, Earl A. Young planned it as a luxury motel with 60 rooms / © Photo: Georg Berg

More about Michigan

Our journey through Michigan starts in the capital Detroit with classics and new attractions of a city in transition. The huge Michigan Central station, once a ruined line, celebrated its comeback as a research location for mobility in 2023. However, the options for getting around Detroit have long been extremely diverse, as mobility in Motown works pretty well even without a car. The journey continues to Traverse City on Lake Michigan with the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park. Mission Point Lighthouse is one of these lighthouses with a history. Why the lighthouse in Grand Traverse County is particularly popular with women is explained in the story about Sarah Lane and the keeper program. We continue on to Charlevoix. The town has a maritime flair and lots of stones. There are Petoskey stones on the beach and Earl Young’s famous stone houses in the town. USA without cars? A fact on Mackinac Island. The success story of Michigan’s heavy industry began with a defeat.

The research was supported by Visit Charlevoix and Pure Michigan

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