Charlevoix, MI

The Mushroom House Tour in Charlevoix Will Satisfy Your Childhood Fantasies

Tracy Stengel
The Thatch House.Photo courtesy of the author.

If you crave a little whimsy in your life, you need to go to Charlevoix, Michigan!

Hobbits, anyone? A fairy tale house fit for Snow White? Get lost in a daydream and take the Mushroom House Tour!

Earl Young, a man small in stature, reaching a dwarf-like 4-foot 11-inches was a giant of a man who hauled stone with his teem of employees and horses in the 1920s. He built incredibly gorgeous, fanciful homes throughout Charlevoix with stone, wood, and other organic materials.

Sure, he went to the University of Michigan to get an architect degree, but the rules and structure abraded his senses. After all, he was an artist, not an architect. It didn’t matter that he was building his daughter a honeymoon house and realized too late into the project there wasn’t land to continue. He cut the project short … and the result was half a house. But a beautiful house it was!
The Honeymoon House.Photo courtesy of the author.

He cobbled together stone taken from Little Traverse Bay with sixteen horses and chains to build his legacy. There wasn’t one machine used, yet, self-taught, and through trial and error, Earl Young created 26 unique stone houses straight out of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. He didn’t stop there. He also built four commercial properties.

The fireplace in the Weathervane Restaurant in Charlevoix is something to behold. The nine-ton rock in the center was found during the cutting of a road in Boulder Park. The striations in the stone reminded Earl of the highway system of Michigan. He had his men bury it at another location until he could decide what to do with it. It remained hidden for 26 years.

When he tried to install it in the Weathervane, he realized too late he had confused the measurements. The space allotted was eleven inches too narrow. Earl explained his error by saying the rock was buried so long it must have grown underground. After he made adjustments, the crane, once again, attempted to place the boulder. Turns out, it was too heavy for the floor which crumpled. Steel reinforcement beams were laid as the huge stone dangled from the crane for four days.
The Weathervane fireplace.Photo courtesy of the author.

On the 50-minute Mushroom House Tour, you can see 22 of Earl Young’s creations. The guides are friendly and informative, pointing out the unique characteristics of each house. For instance, Earl often hid the front door around a corner and built bathrooms and ceilings to fit his diminutive size. Several of the homes have a stone fence that is unlevel and laid in a swirling pattern that mimics the waves of Lake Michigan.

All of Earl Young’s designs are truly works of art and treasured by Charlevoix residents. He didn’t believe in blueprints and scoffed at traditional ways to build houses. While most are private residences, several are used as rentals, allowing the public to have a chance to experience a storybook vacation.

The Mushroom House Tour is a delight for children and adults. Let Earl Young inspire you to throw away the rule books and tap into your own creativity. If you have been on the Mushroom House Tour, I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments.

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Tracy explores the world with a positive eye, an open heart, and a sprinkling of humor. Without laughter, she would be lost.

Onsted, MI

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