Recently I spent a couple of days at one of Michigan’s most historic spots: the North Branch Outing Club in Lovells. Don’t let the name fool you…it started life as a general store and then a hotel, both built by Thomas E. Douglas.

From Canada to Saginaw and finally Grayling in 1893, Douglas came to the area to manage the Hansen Lumber Company. In 1898, itching to go into his own lumber business, Douglas moved 20 miles northeast to Lovells. Here he built a sawmill and a general store, to accommodate the loggers and their families. The store burned down in 1903, quickly rebuilt by Douglas, with living quarters above.

By 1916 Douglas sensed the lumber trade was on a decline, thanks to the depletion of lumber and closed railroads. In order to keep the tourist trade coming to Lovells, he built the Douglas House, a hotel and club for fly-fishermen. He pushed the fishing angle and made sure word got around to some of the distinguished, big-names of Michigan. Soon, this became not just any old hotel – thanks to his promotions, Douglas was catering to the wealthy, the elite, the prominent people of Michigan. Among the frequent customers of the Douglas House were Henry Ford, Edsel Ford, Thomas Edison, the Dodge Brothers, Charles Nash, Walter Chrysler, and John D. Rockefeller.

Wealthy & prominent, indeed.

If those names weren’t enough, members of European royalty were informed about the place by their wealthy American counterparts, and made the trek across the ocean just to come to the North Branch Outing Club for some relaxation and fly-fishing.

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Upon his retirement, Thomas Douglas handed the reins of the hotel over to his daughter, Margaret. The hotel finally closed down in 1971 and Margaret remained living there until she passed away. 25 years later, the place was renovated and re-opened once again as the North Branch Outing Club, continuing the tradition of a haven for fishermen.

The old mill that Douglas built was located across the road, across the bridge, and supplied power to the hotel and its accompanying buildings. The mill is long gone, but you can still find some of its old foundations within the brush, trees, foliage, and weeds. There are pieces of other foundations that are still on the grounds if you look hard enough: those of an old pavilion, ice house, and lumber shed.

It’s now a Bed & Breakfast - sitting alongside the Au Sable River - and what an awesome place…definitely a place to stay for a couple of nights. Creaky stairs, dark corners, an unidentified noise or two, and history that just fills the air… will feel it. Take a look at the gallery below!

North Branch Outing Club


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Big Seven Travel has named the River Road National Scenic Byway as Michigan's "Most Scenic Drive" for 2021. It is a gorgeous stretch of road filled with forests, trails, scenic overlooks and runs parallel to the historic Au Sable River

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