By Steve Ellis
Sawyer is located at exit 12 on I-94, a little more than an hour’s drive from Kalamazoo.
It had its humble beginnings in the mid-1800’s, when an Ohio judge, Silas Sawyer, grew weary of the courtroom and decided he would migrate west. Sawyer bought a hundred acres and cleared half of the land, planting it with fruit trees. He continued logging the area and hauled his timber on a horse-driven railroad to Fuller Pier where Warren Dunes State Park is now. The town grew as an agricultural center and eventually established an open-air market, where buyers transported their products by train and truck to population centers. The community also had a thriving lumber trade.
In the 1920’s, a man named John Flynn arrived and started his Palm Tea Room as well as the Flynn Soda Grill. The Flynn Building became Sawyer’s most famous and for many years also housed the Flynn Theater, which staged live productions. There were recurring rumors that Flynn had ties to a notorious Chicago mob, but in Sawyer, he was nothing but a leading citizen attempting to bring culture to a town better known for its apples and grapes.
Sawyer’s largest area attraction is the Warren Dunes State Park, which provides 1,952 acres of recreational opportunities along the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan The rugged dune formation rises 260 feet above the lake, offers spectacular views and is excellent for hang gliding. The park has three miles of shoreline, six miles of hiking trails and is open year-round.
Sawyer has grown tremendously over the past few years and the small downtown has become a popular hot spot for tourists and year-round residents.
One of the main attractions is the Greenbush Brewery—one of the fastest growing breweries in the state. Since our first visit, just a handful of years ago, Greenbush has continued to evolve and add more space.
The Sawyer Garden Center is wonderful and offers much more than the name implies. It has great gourmet food, a large selection of beer and wine, kitchen gadgets, home décor items, unique clothing and accessories, garden and lawn art, pots in all shapes and sizes and a huge selection of trees, bushes, plants and flowers.
The Sawyer Market is a great little store with a large selection of beer and wine and a deli in the back with a large sandwich selection.
Infusco Coffee Roasters is a very popular coffee spot.
Two new watering holes that have really taken off are: Susan’s Restaurant-Bar and the SideYard. Susan’s is a new cocktail lounge and restaurant with a cool name and atmosphere that, according to its website, is “Bringing a little taste of Chicago city vibes to SW Michigan in all the right ways.” It’s located in the historic 1923 Flynn Building and a place we need to check out on our next visit.
SideYard is a new popular spot in town across from GreenBush. It has a large outdoor shaded seating area with games, fire pits and a wide selection of local micro-brewed beers, cocktails and food trucks. We sipped a beer outside and will definitely be back.
One of my favorite stops is Joe Hindley’s Art Gallery in the old Flynn Theatre building (mentioned above). Joe is continually evolving his style of art and whatever he does, he is great at it. Hindley’s large cow paintings, old bridges and industrial landscapes (think Edward Hopper) are hanging in many of the restaurants in this part of the state. Stop in to see his large old building full of art and his studio with dozens of “paintings in progress.” It’s well worth the visit.
We typically stay at either the Lakeside Inn or The Gordon Beach Inn, a few miles down the road. Both are relatively inexpensive, historic inns reminiscent of lodgings from days gone by.
If you enjoy exploring little towns, Sawyer is the place for you!
By Steve Ellis