As far back as 1872, Grand Haven residents James P. Brayton and his wife, the former Mary S. Albee, bought a piece of land near Lake Michigan for $495. The next year they built a cottage and gave it the name Khardomah. James Brayton died in 1912, and his second wife, Emma M. Sanford, daughter of Grand Haven pioneer Isaac Sanford, sold Khardomah for $2,000 on January 10, 1919 to Susan Hill Yerkes, who was co-headmistress with her sister at Akeley Institute until it closed in 1926. Susan's sister, Mary Helen, had an interest in Khardomah as well. The sisters hired August Boseker, who live across the road, to add 13 bedrooms and a dining room. They then operated it as a lodge in the summer and kept the dining room open during the winter. Otto Nuchterlein and his wife purchased the property from Yerkes around 1925 and converted it to a lodge. Unfortunately, the depression and falling revenues led to foreclosure of the property, and in 1937 the bank sold it to Jennie Smith and her husband. About that time rooms rented for $2.50 a night, and home-cooked meals were available to the guests. Mr. Smith died in 1942, and in 1945 his daughter, Helen Unger, who in managed the Lodge until 1984, joined her mother in running the popular establishment. Mrs. Smith, who died in 1973 at the age of 91, continued to help out until she was in her 80's. Unger also was assisted in the operation by her sister, Lucille Davis.
Wallace K. Ewing, Ph.D.
Copyright 1999 by Tri-Cities Historical Museum
Summer guest returns to buy Khardomah Lodge
Carole Loftis once came to the Khardomah Lodge with her friends from Grand Rapids Catholic Central High School to celebrate graduation. Today she's there ironing sheets, washing dishes and making beds.
A dozen years after her first visit to one of Grand Haven's only remaining summer resort cottage motel, Loftis has returned to Grand Haven as owner of the lodge at 1365 Lake.
Loftis will carry on several traditions at the cottage, which was built more than 100 years ago. She will keep "the cottage atmosphere that sells the place," and will follow in the footsteps of the women who have previously operated the lodge.
Helen Unger, who has been part of the lodge operation for 38 summers, sold the resort last month to Carole and Steve Loftis, natives of Grand Rapids and now California residents.
Mrs. Loftis will spend four months of the year here running the 15room resort while her husband continues his job as national sales manager of Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, Calif. A former employee at Amway's corporate headquarters in Ada, Loftis was the sales manager at the Amway Grand Plaza hotel in Grand Rapids until last fall.
Mrs. Loftis and two of the couple's three children, Jesse, 4 and Allegra, 2, arrived last week to begin preparing the cottage for its summer guests. Her son Tyler, 7, will join them when school is out for the summer and her husband will visit when possible. The Loftis family has vacationed at the lodge several times.
Women have been running the business since Jennie Smith, Mrs. Unger's mother, bought the property in 1938. Mrs. Unger began working with her mother in 1945. Mrs. Smith operated the lodge until she was nearly 70 and handled kitchen duties until she was 80 years old. She died in 1973 at age 91.
Carole, 29, and Steve, 30, learned that Mrs. Unger was considering selling the cottage last summer. At that same time, the couple was planning their move to California and didn't think the purchase was the right thing to do.
"But it stuck in the back of both our minds," Carole said.
Steve contacted Mrs. Unger's attorney and pursued the purchase. Although the property had been for sale for about three years, Mrs. Unger wasn't too anxious to sell.
"It was time for me to pull out. You have to face it you can't carry on forever." Mrs. Unger said as she sadly looked out at the tree covered dune behind the cottage. "I've had a lot of sleepless nights" over the decision to sell. When she finally sold the lodge, she said, "I thought I'd break down."
Mrs. Unger said she didn't want to sell the lodge to someone who wanted it as an investment. "I was looking for the right people. I wanted them to run the place like I did. Now people have a choice to come back."
Although she's willing to advise the new owners, Mrs. Unger said, "They are the new owners. They do as they want to do."
Carole said that Mrs. Unger has been a "real help." Steve refers to her as "the hospitality queen."
The new owners plan only cosmetic changes along with wiring and plumbing work. "She's really a worker," Mrs. Unger said of Carole.
Some things have changed during the past half century.
Mrs. Unger remembers when the rates were $2.50 in 1936. Now a double room costs $23 a night or $150 for a week. A single room is $18.
And the cottage no longer offers the home cooked meals that Mrs. Unger's mother was known for in several Michigan cities. Mrs. Smith cooked for resorts at Petoskey and Harbor Springs and ran the Oval Inn Coffee Shop in Grand Have before buying the resort. "She loved to cook," Mrs. Unger said. The resort provided breakfast and dinner, after eliminating lunch because the guests always seemed to be at the beach mid day.
Carole plans to offer a continental breakfast and guests will be able to use the downstairs kitchen to prepare meals. Mrs. Unger said most of the guests in recent years have gone out for their meals.
The new owners hope to keep the resort family oriented but will allow groups to use the cottage. Mrs. Unger stopped allowing groups after events such as the Catholic Central graduation festivities, she said.
Mrs Unger didn't allow rowdy parties and warned Carole, "You can't have someone control your place."
Family help has also been a big plus at the resort. Mrs. Unger's sister Lucille Davis has helped for 12 years. And before Mrs. Unger took over, Mrs Smith's other three children were also part of the crew. Mrs. Unger's husband, who died in 1942, helped with the carpentry work for several summers. Carole's mother is helping get the cottage ready for the season, and Steve's sister has also helped.
The neighbors are also cooperative, the former owner said. "You couldn't ask for nice neighbors than we've had."
And the guests have also been a source of enjoyment for Mrs. Unger. "This place keeps you young. You associate with people of all ages. Many families have been coming for 20 or 30 years. They're like old friends coming back. you look forward to them every year. Now the children are coming back with their children," she said.
The guest have come from all over, from St. Louis, Detroit, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky. "A lot of them call it their second home," Mrs. Unger said. The resort is usually full Memorial Day weekend and again during the moths of July and August.
Mrs. Unger said, "They seem to find a lot of things to do. We never had to entertain them." But when meals were served, the college girls hired as waitresses at the resort used to entertain the guests.
The building started as a single family cottage. James Brayton of Grand Rapids built it soon after Lake Avenue was extended to the lake in 1873. The Brayton's sold their cottage in 1925 to Mr. and Mrs. Otto Nuchterlein who remodeled the building to make it a lodge. They operated the lodge for about 10 years before selling to Mrs. Smith.
The lodge, named for an Indian chief, includes three stories and a basement. The middle story at street level has the living room with white wicker furniture, a TV, and a piano for sing a longs. A sun room at the back of the house offers a variety of games and books. Bedrooms are on the second floor and the third floor with kitchen, dining room, and the owner's quarters on the bottom floor.
For now the women behind the lodge will pursue their new ventures. Carole will also "try to keep her foot in" her dance background along with raising her three children. And Mrs. Unger will look for something new to keep her on her toes. She'll rent a cottage in Highland Park this summer. But next summer, when she returns from her wintertime in Clearwater, Fla., she may be signing the guest register at the Khardomah Lodge.