BIG BAY, Mich. (WJMN) – Driving through Big Bay it’s hard to miss the big, white colonial-style building that overlooks Lake Independence. Known now as the Thunder Bay Inn, this building has a history that goes back to the very beginning of Big Bay.
“There was nothing here, actually Big Bay was built for the Brunswick Lumber Company,” said Mark Bevins, co-innkeeper of the Thunder Bay Inn. “The Thunder Bay Inn originally in 1912 was a company store for the Brunswick and Lake Independence Logging Company. All of the streets are named after the logging executives, and all the houses and the immediate village are logging quarters. I like to say O.E.M. property of them. In addition to the mill that they provided the work, they employed everybody that was here including all the stores, canteens, stores upstairs, everything the town needed came through this store.”
In the early 1940s, American industrialist Henry Ford purchased the majority of the property in Big Bay, including Thunder Bay Inn, which he remodeled into the Big Bay Hotel. Ford only owned the hotel and his other Big Bay assets for a few years, until the properties were sold shortly after his death in 1947.
“Henry Ford bought it in ’44 when he was 81 years old, owned four mills already and he took this mill in Big Bay and converted it into a power plant. He wasn’t really producing a lot of lumber there. He was creating a self-sustaining community like he did through the Ford Foundation,” said Bevins. “He created this inn so his Ford Foundation that would have been at the time the Edsel Ford Hospital; doctors and nurses and Ford Motor Company executives or whoever they elected to come up and visit and stay here. They could be accommodated in the area with the family or near the family.”
Some of the original furniture put in by Ford is still housed at the Thunder Bay Inn today, including stamp steel bedframes, dressers, and desks. You can even stay in Ford’s suite that he stayed in when he visited the area. You can also reserve his wife Clara’s suite.
“This I refer to as the cultural epicenter, if this wasn’t here, Big Bay wouldn’t be here. It’d be more deer camps. So that’s the biggest inspiration is that this is the center culturally of the area.”
The Thunder Bay Inn has had multiple owners over the years until Bevins and his wife Sue purchased it in 2020.
“I inspected the Thunder Bay Inn 20 years ago and tried to purchase it and didn’t get my hands on it but it’s been in my dreams of mine my entire life.”
As for the Thunder Bay Inn’s future, the Bevins want to preserve the building and its history, while creating a community space for Big Bay residents. This includes turning one of the rooms at the inn into an internet cafe
“We feel honored actually to be the stewards of the building the current stewards of the building because it’s really been such a big part of the culture of the community for so many years. We’ve spent so much time here as a family over the years we really feel that this is part of our history as well,” said Sue Bevins.
Tune into Local 3 at 6 p.m. EST on August 2 for Our Community Tour Big Bay, where the story of how the Thunder Bay Inn got its name is told thanks to the filming of the 1959 movie, Anatomy of a Murder.