On the road again: Manistee

By Steve Ellis

In early May, a group of old friends and I head up to Manistee for three days of golf and a little mountain bike riding. We stay at the Manistee National Golf and Resort and play three days of golf including the challenging Arcadia Bluffs.

On the way up, a few of us stop at the Lake Michigan Recreation Area in the Manistee National Forest, just south of Manistee. It offers miles of beach, sand dunes, walking and bike trails and butts up against the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area. We ride bikes through the woods with gorgeous views of the lake.

Manistee has a great historic downtown with the Manistee River running through the middle of town and then out to Lake Michigan. Dozens of classic restored brick buildings line the streets with many having decks off the back.

Last May, we had a great dinner at Taco Bout It, with views of the river out the back.

After dinner, we walked down Main Street past great antique shops, Anne’s Bookstore, the historic Vogue Theatre and the Ramsdell Inn – a classic old bank building converted into a boutique hotel and restaurant.

Just off the main street is the Ramsdell Theatre, built in 1903. In the early 1900’s the Ramsdell was comparable to the best opera and vaudeville houses in the country. James Earl Jones, who grew up nearby in Brethren, got his start here and was a regular performer in the 1950’s. He came back in 1993 for a book signing that drew huge crowds.

Snyder Shoes houses a life-sized statue of Robert Wadlow, the world’s tallest man (8’ 11”, 430 pounds, size 37 shoe) who died in Manistee in 1940, after visiting for a parade.

Bluefish Kitchen + Bar is a very popular restaurant in another one of the great old buildings with a large deck off the back.

The east side of US-31, which is an older industrial area, has recently seen the renovation of many its old buildings. We had dinner one night at the legendary Painted Lady Saloon, the oldest bar in the area. It is a fun family place, full of antiques.

The neighborhoods surrounding downtown are full of gorgeous restored Victorian houses and churches and well worth a drive through.

There is a great river walk behind the storefronts lined with boats. At the end of downtown is a gorgeous beach and park area.

Just north of downtown, docked at the edge of Manistee Lake is the S.S. City of Milwaukee, a 77-year-old Great Lakes ship that is transformed into a ghost ship for the holiday season.

Manistee has a rich and varied history.

On October 8, 1871, downtown Manistee was destroyed by fire; the same day as the “Great Chicago Fire.”

In its heyday, Manistee was home to a booming logging industry and during the lumber boom of the 1880s, Manistee had more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in the United States.

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