Welcome to Idlewild

Idlewild featured in Dennos Museum Center exhibit

“For sheer physical beauty -for sheen of water and golden air, for nobleness of tree and flower of shrub, for shining river and song of bird and the low, moving whisper of sun, moon, and star, it is the beautifulest stretch I have seen for twenty years; and then to that add fellowship-sweet strong women and keen-witted men from Canada and Texas, California and New York, Ohio, Missouri and Illinois-all sons and great-grandchildren of Ethiopia, all with the wide leisure of rest and play-can you imagine a more marvelous thing than Idlewild?”  —W.E.B. Du Bois, Crisis, 1921

TRAVERSE CITY - The Dennos Museum Center at Northwestern Michigan College will host the exhibition “Welcome to Idlewild: The Black Eden of Michigan,” Jan. 14 to March 13.

The exhibition was organized and travels as part of the Michigan State University Museum’s traveling exhibition program and is being presented at the Dennos in observance of Martin Luther King Day and Black History Month.

Idlewild, located in Lake County - in rural northwestern Michigan - holds a special place in the nation’s segregated history.

For many years, this “Black Eden” was one of only a few resorts in the country where African-Americans could vacation and purchase property. From 1912 through the mid-1960s, Idlewild was an active year-round community and was visited by well-known entertainers and professionals from throughout the country.

At its peak it was the most popular resort in the Midwest and as many as 25,000 would come to Idlewild in the height of the summer season to enjoy camping, swimming, boating, fishing, hunting, horseback riding, roller skating and night-time entertainment.

When the 1964 Civil Rights Act opened up other resorts to African-Americans, Idlewild’s boomtown period subsided but the community continues to be an important place for vacationers and retirees. Idlewild also holds special meaning as a place for younger generations of African-Americans seeking to learn about their heritage.

This exhibition, created in collaboration with current residents and scholars of Idlewild, consists of photographic interpretive banners and a reproduction of an Idlewild history quilt by Michigan quilter Deonna Todd Green. It traces through words and images the development of the Idlewild community from its inception in the early twentieth century to the present day.

It glimpses beyond the often told stories of Idlewild’s entertainment scene during its resort heyday period to tell the full story of a community that has survived the challenges of historical change.

This traveling exhibition is supported by grants from the Michigan Humanities Council, Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, National Endowment for the Arts and the Research Council for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, with in-kind support from the Idlewild Historical Museum and Cultural Center and Michigan State University Museum.

The Dennos Museum Center is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Saturday, until 8 p.m. on Thursday and 1 to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Admission is $6 for adults, $4 for children and free to museum members. For more information on the museum and its programs, go to dennosmuseum.org or call (231) 995-1055. The Dennos Museum Center is located at East Front Street and College Drive, Traverse City, MI 49686, at the entrance to the campus of Northwestern Michigan College.