Grand Ledge: what used to be the most popular resort destination of Michigan

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By Ani Stambo
Living In The Ledge

Grand Ledge is one small town in Michigan that has been blessed in the geographical lottery department. The most important aspect of Grand Ledge is without a doubt its sandstone cliffs along Grand River. Most natives to Grand Ledge already know of this town’s golden age starting in the 1870s.

“During the Victorian times Grand Ledge was the second largest touring destination because of the ledges,” Melanie May, facility manager of Grand Ledge’s Opera House, said. “They also thought the water had healing properties.”

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Melanie May, facility manager of the Grand Ledge Opera House.

The water May is referring to is the several mineral wells that were drilled for the Seven Islands Resort, which was located on seven islands in Grand River. Doctors made aware of the medical benefits of the water. The healing water wasn’t the only mystical aspect of Grand Ledge.

“This city used to be really big for séances,” May said.

This is no surprise, considering Spiritualism was very popular from the 1840s through the 1920s. During that time a spiritualists association created a campground, later to become Fitzgerald Park, where they performed séances.

Along with mineral springs, the islands also included up to eleven hotels, an animal park, picnic area, ballroom, theatre, merry-go-round, and much more. The resort islands also included what is said to be the first roller coaster in Michigan in 1891.

There was another first for Grand Ledge, a big first actually:
“After Lansing, Grand Ledge was the second town in Michigan to get electricity [in 1881],” Jay Miller, executive director at Grand Ledge’s YES (Youth Enrichment Services) Center, said.

So, what happened to it all? How did Michigan’s past second-largest touring destination, next to Petoskey, fall flat? According to the Grand Ledge Historical Society, flooding. Construction of a dam in 1887 was supposed to help but overtime, subsequent floods and neglect took its toll on the Seven Islands Resort.

If you go to Fitzgerald Park today, the Grand River Dam takes up most of the noise. The drive into the park seems off the beaten path, especially in the winter time. Nevertheless, runners still take advantage of the amazing terrain. What will always be there, no matter the season, is the ancient rock sediments – the beautiful ledges. Throughout history they have stayed around for all to see, even past the golden age of the seven islands. And, they will be around to see the next big development of Grand Ledge.

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The Grand River Dam seen from Fitzgerald County Park.

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