The U.P.’s ‘premier resort’
MARQUETTE — Many Yoopers have passed by Blaney Park as they travel down M-77, near the U.S. 2 junction, on their way downstate — but how many would guess that Blaney Park was once a premier summer resort?
Dr. Jim Surrell gave a special presentation on Feb. 8 on the history of Blaney Park to a large audience at Brookridge Heights Assisted Living and Memory Care’s new memory care facility.
Surrell had the inside scoop on what the resort was like in its heyday — he worked as the social director while he was a student at Northern Michigan University, a position so enjoyable that he said he “almost felt guilty accepting a paycheck.” So, he shared the history of the resort, his personal experiences at Blaney Park and a whole lot of humor with the audience.
“It is a very significant part of the history of the Upper Peninsula,” Surrell said. “It was known as the premier resort in the Upper Peninsula, if not the premier resort in the entire Midwest, when I was blessed to work there.”
The Blaney Park Resort was massive — 22,000 acres at its main site, with an additional 11,000 acres on the shores of Lake Michigan. The resort had the only heated swimming pool in the U.P. at the time, and housed a dude ranch; private airstrip with a 2,500-foot runway; a private lake, Ann Louise; a golf course and tennis courts; as well as fine dining.
“Absolutely, positively gourmet food,” Surrell said of the offerings, noting that tourists and locals alike would travel to enjoy a meal at the Blaney Park Resort. On Saturday nights, guests could “come for the food and stay for the entertainment,” as the resort had a long tradition of live entertainment, featuring dance bands and “Saturday Night Skits” put on by staff who would tell jokes, sing and dance for guests. The food and entertainment at Blaney Park Resort were much loved by many, Surrell said with a smile.
Beyond the food and entertainment, Blaney Park Resort had many unique offerings, including a world-renowned ornithologist, who attracted wildlife to the area, extravagant lunch smorgasbords and a “designated driver” program for horse riders who had a few drinks.
Surrell also shared stories of the people who owned the Blaney Park Resort, the Earle family, who also owned the Wisconsin Land and Lumber Company. The land that Blaney Park Resort would be built on was logged in the first decades of the 20th century. It was converted to a resort and given the name “Blaney Park” in 1926.
The first building constructed to host guests was called “Celibeth” — named for the Earle family daughters, Cecelia and Elizabeth. Celibeth still stands to this day, and was even operated as a bed and breakfast until a few years ago. The resort would eventually build private cottages and the “Lodge” in the coming years as the resort attracted more guests.
Surrell said the Earle family treated their staff exceptionally well and encouraged them to openly socialize and be friendly with guests — even the famous ones.
“They really took care of the people that worked there. It was fantastic, it was like you were family (it was) really, really special,” Surrell said. “It was the premier summer resort for about 40 years … Guests would come back, we’d get to know them, they’d get to know us. Lot of people were very wealthy, were very noted people; movie stars came.”
While Blaney Park Resort was much beloved by guests and staff alike, all good things must come to an end.
The resort closed in 1963 or 1964, Surrell said, noting that the expansion of highways and expressways changed the nature of the American vacation, leading to decreased popularity of Blaney Park Resort and similar operations.
“There weren’t a lot of expressways when this was in it’s heyday … (People would) go somewhere and they’d stay there for a couple of weeks,” Surrell said.
As it became easier to travel to many places more quickly, people began seeking vacations that were different from the resort experience of staying and relaxing in one place for a few weeks, he explained. While the shift eventually led to the closing of the resort, Blaney Park lives on in the memories of many who had the opportunity to spend time there as guests or staff — as evidenced by an impressive number of attendees at the Blaney Park Staff Reunion of 2007.
“We thought we’d get 20, 30, 40 people … About 150 people showed up,” Surrell said.
This may have been a testament to how many staff had fond memories of their time at Blaney Park Resort and bonds they formed with the owners, guests and their fellow staff at Blaney Park — which existed in a truly special place and time.
Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.