Torch Lake Inn

Posted on April 9, 2010

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The other day Tim Hosper gave me a tour of the old inn that dozes in the sun in Torch Lake village.  If you live in the distribution area of the Elk Rapids News, you can read the story in this week’s edition.  If you don’t, well, here  you go.  (Please note: this is not Tom and Sue Keena’s Torch Bay Inn, the modern, comfortable, and fully operational lodgings two miles up the road in Eastport!) 

The old inn stands by the side of the road. The white paint has peeled, and the windows are dull. It looks every year of its age, but it sports a red metal roof and a good attitude. It is full of stories.

Tim Hosper bought the property nine years ago. He and a partner, both touring musicians, planned to fix it up, but it turned out they had different visions of what the inn should become. They went their separate ways. The economy took a turn for the worse. Life, says Hosper, can be that way sometimes.

The inn’s first owner, Samuel Oberholtzer, understood that. He fought for the Union at Chancellorsville. A musket ball shattered his skull. Another hit his leg. He lay wounded for three days, while other soldiers passed by, thinking he could not survive. But he did. The man just never gave up. He was sixty years old when he built his boarding house in Torch Lake Village. It was 1883, and the lake town bustled with industry. The Oberholtzers served good meals at the big dining table, and their rooms were always full of workers from Arch Cameron’s sawmill. As the economy shifted from lumbering to tourism, the boarding house was enlarged and became a popular resort hotel.

Over the years other owners continued the inn. The Johnsons prospered there in the 1920s. Bud Bence was the host in the 1930s. Tim Hosper says the kitchen turned out its last meal in 1962. In the 1970s the building was a rental, and the tenants did a lot of damage to the interior. Over the next 30 years different dreamers thought they’d fix it up, make it a showplace. All of them, one after another, gave up the daunting task.

Tim Hosper says it will cost $200,000 to bring the building up to present-day codes. He guides a visitor through the old dining room, where bits of cheery wallpaper remain here and there. Most of the interior has been stripped to the lathe, or to the wide wooden boards that Samuel Oberholtzer nailed in place 127 years ago. Here and there are signs of work in progress, or work suspended when someone finally gave up and walked away from the job.

Hosper isn’t going to walk away. He doesn’t have $200,000, but he has patience. He respects the stories that echo in the old inn. Every now and then someone stops to visit and gives him a piece of the history. Someday, he says, he’ll have to write a song about it.

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