So, I will tell you what we know. Originally (many moons ago) a building stood here with the purpose of feeding the many lumberjacks that lived and worked in the area. This was the common chow hall for the workers.
Later, it was acquired by the Efting sisters who, at the time, ran a lovely little hotel/inn called the Maple River Inn. This inn was directly across Woodland Road and is a private home now. The Maple River Inn was famous for, you guessed it, fried chicken and noodles, and we have heard rumors they were famous for much more in prohibition times! We have copies of their menu still. The Efting sisters purchased this big ole building with the intention of moving the inn over here. For some reason this never happened. I believe a wedding was involved, since a wedding dress was gifted to us that belonged to one of the sisters, but we will never know for sure. We do have reports from some customers, and more than a few from those who have stayed here over the years, of a mysterious woman in white. She seems to favor a certain bedroom upstairs and likes to stand at the foot of the bed or sit on it. Some customers have felt her touch at one particular table in the dining room too! But on with the story….
In the 1940’s the building was home to a nightclub called “The Clubhouse”. It was a high end dance club with a number of big bands that played. One of our customers reminisced about sneaking here as a youth with his friends and peeking in the windows to watch and hear the bands play and people dance. It operated as that until around 1947.
Fast forward a few years (and a bit of un-named scandal) and you come to Ken and Kathy McLaughlin. Ken and Kathy would come up north and often stopped at a restaurant in Sterling, Michigan called Iva’s. They loved it so much that they decided to open a restaurant here. So in 1953 the Dam Site Inn was born with homage to the menu of both the original Maple River Inn and Iva’s. It was so named because of the huge power dam down the road. You can still see the ruins of this dam if you drive down Woodland road and around the corner. The dam was the property of Consumers Power Company and the power it provided was impressive.
In 1960 Ken, an avid fisherman, had the dam you see now built. He had originally planned an entire golf course. While the golf course never materialized, the dam did. He also had many weirs to stock the river with trout of all kinds.
The Dam Site Inn was built on the premise of a bed and breakfast, but the day time hours were so filled with preparing the food for the evenings meals that the choice to close the lodging area was made, giving them the time necessary to make the biscuits, noodles, gravy, soups, dressings and desserts for the evening, just as we still do today!
In 1977 Ken and Kathy McLaughlin sold the Dam Site Inn to Betty and Joe Church. Betty and Joe have a long and impressive history in the restaurant business and knew that the Dam Site was a place to treasure and maintain…not a place to change! They lovingly cared for the Inn until they wished to retire. At that time, my mom (Betty) approached me and asked if my husband and I would like to purchase the family business. Ray and I jumped at the chance, and here we are. Both our children Erica and Olivia grew up here and now, as adults, work here at night and help us by day. We are blessed to be a part of such a heritage.
Now for a few tidbits:
The chairs in the bar are designed by Eero Saarinen who also designed the St. Louis Arch and the JFK airport. At the time he worked with Charles Ames for the Knoll furniture company in Grand Rapids. The chairs are in the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York. They were re-issued for a short time in the 90’s but ours are all original, along with the cocktail tables.
The first night of business, there were 7 customers. All of them have since passed on.
The dining rooms all have names to tell them apart for the staff. The one you step down into is called the N room, so named because it was the “new” room in 1960.
The N room is also the room most often associated with “hauntings”.
The M.A. Hadley dishes in the cabinets when you come in the front door are all, except two pieces, painted by Mary Alice Hadley herself.
All of the dining rooms, and the bar, were originally screened in porches.
None of the gardens were here before 1989, except 4 peony bushes that are the most delightful shade of white and pale pink…double heirloom blooms.
The chicken fryers were custom built to replace 25 cast iron skillets.
We have one of the oldest large Hobart mixers around…and we still use it to whip your potatoes after they are steamed.
The pasta cutter that Ray and Erica use was a hand crank machine from Europe that was modified with an electric motor. It has been in use for more than 50 years.
Pam’s grandfather was the Maître’d and wine steward at the London Chophouse, the Caucus Club and the Wunderbar in Detroit in the 40’s and later had restaurants of his own in Grosse Pointe and Mt. Clemens. He emigrated from France and was the personal wine steward on the Fischer family yacht. He also set up the Ponchatrain Wine Cellars selection at it’s inception. His name was Charles Vanassche.
Dam Site Inn
BY THE DAM ON THE MAPLE RIVER