John Burtch was the first to recognize the potential of the natural beauty to be found in the river and islands. In 1872 Burtch launched the steamer â€˜Dolly Varden',named after a Charles Dickens character. Burtch also built a small one-story plank hotel on the Island.
In 1877 S.M. Hewings purchased the resort and launched the steamer â€˜Gertie', named for his daughter. In 1878 Mr Hewings turned the islands into a first class resort by constructing the Island House Hotel on Second Island. This hotel was 144 feet long by 25 feet wide, including the veranda. The hotel featured a ballroom on the second floor.
Hewings also built a temporary dam, near the site of the current dam, made of stones and logs. The top layers of the dam would be removed in the Spring to allow for the flow of ice. This dam allowed for deeper water for boating. Hewings also had wooden foot bridges to join some of the islands which were also take up in the winter to avoid
the river ice.
An 1880 account notes:
"Mr. Hewings, being a man of taste and means, is doing a great deal to add to the attractions of the vicinity, a spacious hall, beautiful little steamer, row-boats, bath-houses, bathing-suits, hammocks, archery, croquet-grounds, swings, rustic-seats, fountains, animal-parks, refreshment-stands, and everything for the pleasure and comfort of visitors, are provided. Beautiful camping-grounds with plenty of pure spring- water. No liquors sold on the grounds. There is a fine mineral spring on one of the islands, said to possess curative properties of a high order, and invalids looking for a place to spend the hot months will find the Seven Islands offer superior inducements."
Another account states:
Heretofore little has been done to develop or preserve the natural attractions of the scenery. The present proprietor, Mr.S. M Hewings, however is devoting his time and means to that end. And those who have learned to love the river, cliff and glen as well as those who behold them for the first time, will alike be gratified with his efforts to make this a first class rural watering place. A spacious hall, bandstand, steamer, numerous boats, swings, croquet grounds, animal parks etc etc will furnish ample chances for amusement and diversions, while everything objectionable will be carefully excluded. In short, those in search of amusements or repose can repair thither with a full assurance that the heart, the eye and the mind will be gratified and that their enjoyment will be cared for by Mr Hewings, whose watch word is welcome! and who finds his chief enjoyment in promoting the happiness of his fellow man. Mineral water from the artesian well on the Island invalids will find very beneficial and along the banks of the river there are numerous springs
coming from the rocks of the purest water. Splendid camping grounds for parties wishing to camp out. Superior inducements are offered to picnics, Sabbath schools and Excursion parties. Good fishing and hunting. No liquor sold on the islands. Bathing suites furnished.
Julian Scott Mudge
In 1886 J.Scott Mudge bought the resort and immediately began to
make major improvements. A new dam was built, the current dam,
to make the water a suitable depth for pleasure boating. The lower dam, or Stone dam, was a popular spot for fisherman.
Mudge's most notable improvement was the building of the Round House. This pagoda like tower was built on Second Island. Mudge had grand plans for his Round House. It was designed to have rotating levels topped by a centrifugal swing out over the river. Sadly, these mechanical wonders never came to be, perhaps due to flooding. The Round House remained however and became the most recognizeable symbol of the entire resort era. The building has come to be called Mudge's Folly. Folly's were often built as picturesque ornaments to add to landscapes, but had no real purpose.
The Island House hotel also got improvements with the addition of a wing on the bridge side, this included a three story tower. This addition is thought to have added a new lobby to the hotel. The woodwork was solid cherry. Other additions to the hotel were also probably made over the years at the other end of the building.
A causeway, or land bridge, was constructed to join Second and Third Islands. Second Island as we know it today, is really the two joined together. Third Island was further improved with and building of an Island Casino. Victorian casinos were not the gambling places of today, but were a social gathering place where one could dance and listen to music or theater. The Island Casino was used for just this purpose.
The design of the building was very similar to casinos build on the east coast during this time. The building had a large central section which was the audience seating area. On the upstream side was a wing used as the main entrance and lobby, on the downstream was a wing used to hold the stage and dressing rooms. This was an open air building, with open arch windows around the audience with moon windows set high in the walls to let light deeper inside. The Casino hosted musicals and vaudeville shows.
In 1891 Mudge thrilled the public with a roller coaster. This is believed to be the first roller coaster in Michigan and was built over the water next to the causeway. It seems to have been a one way ride starting at Second Island and finishing next to the Casino on Third.
Mudge launched the most famous of the river steamers the ˜Lanota'. This larger steamer and the other improvements made the Seven Islands Resort the most popular resort in all Lower Michigan and the second most popular in all
the Lower Peninsula, after Petoskey. Thousands came by train to enjoy the natural wonders and the attractions here. Many hotels in town catered to the tourists. At its height, nearly 70,000 tourists visited the resort every season.
In the 1910s and 1920s the popularity of the resort waned as tourists could use motor cars to travel further and see new attractions. In the late 1930s the resort property was sold to the City. The Hotel was used as a community building for another twenty years before finally being demolished. In 1976, during the National Bicentennial, the island was again reborn with a gazebo and began to be used for many annual festivals.