a panoramic view above the Lake Michigan shoreline at the bend of
the St. Joseph River, the elegant Whitcomb Hotel was once renowned
as the "Saratoga of the Midwest," blending elegance and
luxury with healthful activity in pursuit of the good life for all
Some things never change! The therapeutic sulfur spring baths that
attracted U.S. presidents and celebrities among thousands of other
prominent guests from across the country are gone now. Capped years
ago, they're part of this southwest Michigan community's colorful
past, but the timeless beauty and tradition of the Whitcomb live
The Whitcomb and the city of St. Joseph share a history teeming
with tales of Native Americans, famous explorers, heroic ship captains,
traders, trappers and other colorful wayfarers seeking shelter in
this friendly harbor community. Captivated by the beauty of the
region, pioneers eager to start new lives for themselves put down
roots and stayed.
In 1831 one such trailblazer, August Newell, chose a scenic spot
on the bluff overlooking Lake Michigan and built a crude log lodging
house waggishly dubbed the Mansion House. It eventually became a
popular stopover on the Chicago to Detroit stagecoach line and undoubtedly
contributed to the settlement's incorporation into a bona fide town
- Newberryport - in 1834.
Little is written about the Mansion House until the year of its
demise in 1866. New owner Charles Krieger, barkeeper/manager of
the National House Saloon on the corner of present day Ship and
State Streets, recognized the goldmine in its location and razed
it to build a truly grand establishment. In its place, the St. Charles
Hotel quickly became known as the most beautiful and opulent hostelry
in western Michigan.
The St. Charles flourished for years, in large part by providing
lodging for passengers of the Detroit and Cleveland Steamship Line
disembarking in Newberryport. In fact, owing to the success of the
partnership, the St. Charles took a new name in honor of an agent
of the steamship company and became the Hotel Whitcomb in 1891.
Coincidentally, 1891 was the same year Newberryport itself took
a new name and became the city of St. Joseph.
Then in 1905 the Hotel Whitcomb struck a real goldmine, in mineral
water piped into baths from a nearby underground sulfur spring.
The latest in health fads, mineral baths were touted by none other
than Dr. John Harvey Kellogg at the renowned Battle Creek Sanatorium.
Soon the Hotel Whitcomb began attracting a more health-conscious
clientele, among them President Theodore Roosevelt, rumored to have
visited the Hotel Whitcomb in 1907.
In 1927, the post Civil War-era structure was torn down to make
way for the present building designed by innovative Chicago architects
Pond, Pond, Martin and Lloyd. They were all highly respected by
their peers. Martin, for example, was an extremely skilled structural
engineer able to solve technical problems associated with large
industrial buildings and modern materials. Their firm was among
the first to use reinforced concrete in their structures, including
the Montgomery Ward & Co. Catalogue House on Michigan Avenue
in Chicago and a number of buildings on the University of Michigan
Prominent southwest Michigan area merchants, no doubt buoyed by
the robust economy and unaware of dark days yet to come, raised
$1 million for the new hotel during a whirlwind six-week fundraising
effort. Had the project been put off, quality features
that set the Whitcomb apart as the "crown jewel of Midwest
hotels," such as imported crystal chandeliers, most likely
would have fallen victim to Depression-era belt tightening.
Worse yet, the Whitcomb might not have been built at all!
As it was, when the hotel opened its doors to an elite
and admiring crowd on May 3, 1928 the "roaring twenties"
were still roaring, and Americans, many of them rich, albeit only
on paper, were enjoying unprecedented prosperity. Driving
their shiny new Packards, Cadillacs and other luxury vehicles they
flocked to beach resorts to see and be seen.
Not surprisingly, the Whitcomb became a gathering place for an
A-list of celebrities, among them Joe DiMaggio, Eleanor
Roosevelt and Metropolitan Opera sensation Marian Anderson.
The quasi-Mediterranean style resort boasted 225 rooms, an 800-seat
dining area, an elegant sunken garden for lounging and dancing and
a 60-tub bathhouse. Renowned as the "Saratoga of the Midwest,"
it was elegant in every detail.
Unfortunately, a combination of factors, including the Depression,
WWII and the end of steamship passenger service in the latter part
of the 1940s, caused the hotel to hit a downward spiral from which
it never fully recovered.
The competition from modern "motor hotels," or motels,
in the late 1950s proved the proverbial "last straw."
Beset by hard times, the Whitcomb closed its doors as a hotel for
good in November, 1966 - 135 years after August Newell began welcoming
the first guests through the front doors of its frontier-era predecessor.
The Whitcomb was purchased in 1969 by Michigan Baptist Homes and
reopened after extensive renovations as a retirement residence on
March 15, 1973. Since then the Whitcomb Senior Living Community
has set the standard for charm, comfort, security and good times
for active seniors.
Whitcomb Holdings LLC acquired the Whitcomb in August of
2006, and has dedicated it's resources, staff and vision toward
making the Whitcomb the most-desired location for seniors in Southwest
Michigan to reside.
Here To See What Apartments At The Whitcomb Are Like