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The Old Story: Bay View

PHOTO: Robert Cleveland


By Mary Ellen Geist

Bay View Association closed this weekend. Before the cottages were all shuttered for the year, we caught up with the author of a new book about the assembly. Mary Jane Doerr thinks most people who see the Victorian homes of Bay View and attend a concert or lecture don't know it grew out of the 19th century Chautauqua movement.

Doerr says the community of 450 cottages east of Petoskey was born during the era of "The uplift movement."

"After the civil war, the country was beleaguered and depressed," she says. "They wanted to improve and get better. They thought this was the way to do it, with education and culture. We have a saying here in Bay View: It's, 'The Bay View Idea.' Like the terraces."

Bay View is one of a dozen Chautauqua camps in the U.S. that claim to have operated since the late 1800s. The first was in Jamestown, New York, started in 1874.

The Methodist Church held a camp meeting at Bay View a year later and soon established a summer institute.

At its peak, Doerr says crowds as large as 10,000 would gather in Bay View for music, and to listen to public figures such as William Jennings Bryan, Carl Sandburg and Helen Keller.

"The politicians came here because there were large numbers of people," Doerr explains. "The Methodists came here originally because they had their camp meetings. The cultural assembly brought these famous people who wanted an audience for their campaign. There was no media, no TV or radio. So they could reach the populations in a place like this."

Doerr has been coming to this summer resort north of Petoskey every year since she was a little girl. She decided to write a book to let people know how Bay View began, and to explain what an important cultural center it was at the turn of the century.

In 1989, Bay View was named a National Historic Landmark.

Doerr's book, called "Bay View, An American Idea," is filled with photographs never seen by the public before, going back to the days when steamers and cruise ships plied the waters of the Great lakes, crowded trains brought thousands of resorters to northern Michigan on a daily basis, and huge hotels lined the shores.

Some of the photos show women and men in Victorian dress holding picnics next to tents on open land at Bay View where the beautiful homes now stand. 

These days, about 1000 people live in Bay View each summer, in about 450 historic homes.

Doerr says, even if the crowds aren't as large as they were in the old days, the residents are just as passionate.

Bay View is closed November through April.

Residents like to be the first in and the last out.

"Sometimes at the end, people will have a rivalry for who will be the last one out. And then in the spring when they come, you can come in at midnight. People stand outside their cottage until midnight and then walk inside and go to sleep! It's the first weekend in May. You're allowed in the Friday before, Doerr says.