Michigan Roadside Attractions: The Island House, Elk Rapids
Michigan Roadside Attractions is a periodic feature on Travel the Mitten that will explore the many interesting things that can be found on the highways, byways and back roads of Michigan, ranging from the interesting to the unusual.
Northern Michigan is home to many unique and historic buildings. On a summer trip to the Elk Rapids and Charlevoix area we stumbled across a Michigan historical marker and the Island House, an 1865 residence that now serves as a library. We took a walk around the island and visited the footbridge that crosses the Elk River to connect the “island” to River St. Things look different now than when this house was being used as a residence (the “island” is now more of a peninsula), but it’s always fun to visit a piece of Michigan history.
The historical marker provided some background on the house: “Edwin S. Noble (1838-1922) designed and built this house for his family in 1865. Noble, an expert accountant, was associated with the Dexter-Noble Company, first as secretary-treasurer and later as a full partner. The company was involved in logging and the production of chemicals, flour and high-quality pig iron. It also operated a store and a brick yard. By 1882 the firm, then known as the Elk Rapids Iron Company, had become the largest employer in town. Edwin Noble, a driving force behind the iron company for over two decades, transformed a four-acre sand dune into this scenic island area by covering it with clay and dark loam and planting over sixty species of trees on it. He built a broad bridge over the river to connect the island with the town. In 1949 a part of the Island House became a public library.”
Harbor Dr. and Cedar St. intersect near the library and the marina, and then Isle of Pines Drive continues to the library and the island. This is an awesome spot to stop for a picnic, go for a short walk, or check out the scenic views of the Elk River as it works its way towards Lake Michigan. We’ve visited a couple times now and have seen paddleboarders in the river, young children trying their luck at fishing, and families enjoying wading in the cool water of the river on hot summer days. The water has a turquoise color to it and with the river’s sandy bottom it almost looks like something you’d find in the Caribbean. This is a truly beautiful area!
It’s great to see a historic home be repurposed for another use that benefits an entire community! We also loved seeing some art outside of the library, like the “Grandpa’s Gift” sculpture shown above. The Elk Rapids Garden Club has done a great job of making sure the flowers here look beautiful as two of the ten gardens they maintain are at the Island House property (one by the library building and one by the pedestrian bridge).
Learning that proposed expansion of the library has been incredibly controversial was a bit of a surprise, and if you want to learn more about that you can read the excellent Northern Express article from 2017. Based on everything else we saw in town, expanding the library doesn’t seem like it would be the best fit with the way the library property currently exists or the small town feel that Elk Rapids has.