Most anytime he strolls into tiny Horton Bay, Christopher Struble will stumble upon a pilgrim or two.
“The Nick Adams Stories” in hand, they’re generally gazing misty- eyed toward Lake Charlevoix, he says, most often toward a particular point memorialized by legendary author Ernest Hemingway, who spent the summers of his youth on this still-inspirational lake.
On his first visit to the town, Struble remembers spotting a half dozen German tourists, jotting notes on places Hemingway used to camp and the riverscapes he so vividly described. From across the country and every continent they still come in search of what may be the most authentic experience in American literature.
“You go to Cannery Row, and it’s not what Steinbeck wrote about at all,” says Struble, president of the Michigan Hemingway Society and tour guide to regional Hemingway locales. “The only difference between Horton Bay when Hemingway wrote about it and now is there are more trees. All the buildings are there minus one. The feel is exactly the same.”
Struble’s Petoskey Yesterday tours focus on the Horton Bay of Hemingway’s childhood and the Petoskey in which a more mature, handsome Ernest spent a year recovering from war wounds. Tours pass the rooming house at 602 State St., where Hemingway once lived. Also notable is the Carnegie Library— the site of one Hemingway talk—and Stafford’s Perry Hotel. According to the author’s extensive letters, journals and notes, he stayed there in 1916 and paid 75 cents, Struble says.
The Little Traverse History Museum has a permanent Hemingway collection, including a typewriter he’s said to have used standing up, due to war wounds. Jesperson’s is worthy for the still-delicious pie that Hemingway is said to have enjoyed, as is the City Park Grille, back then a prohibition-era speakeasy that featured bare-knuckle boxing matches.
“He came back from the war with 230 pieces of shrapnel to his legs and dependent upon alcohol,” Struble said. “Every letter we have from him from that time tells of him making raisin wine on his register, telling friends to bring up booze. Speakeasies would have been appealing.”
But it’s the Horton Bay–based “Nick Adams Country” tour that features scenes that inspired Hemingway characters and writings throughout the author’s life, experts say. The childhood sojourns from the family cottage on Walloon Lake inspired novel plots, characters and a lifelong connection to nature. Even in later books like The Snows of Kilimanjaro, lead characters find themselves drifting back to Michigan shores. The circa-1876 Horton Bay General Store is thought to be the model for Mr. Packard’s store in The Last Good Country. At the Red Fox Inn, now a Hemingway bookstore, owner James Hartwell has scrawled notes on which stories were set where. And you’ll find notes aplenty.
“With some 19 or 20 stories specifically set in the area,” Struble says, “I don’t know of any small town with five houses and two roads that any artist has ever used as a backdrop more times.”
If you are a Hemmingway fan, there is no better place to be stationed than in historic Petoskey at Hearthside Grove. A perfect place to call home after the literary adventures are over for the day.
Find out more about the schedule of the amazing Petoskey Yesterday Tours here.