Some visitors who head just north of Suttons Bay are now also heading back to the 19th century.
Hillside Homestead is quietly becoming a magnet for tourists, school classes, locals, and history buffs. Hillside offers farm stays - defined as any type of accommodations on a working farm. Hugely popular in Europe for decades, the idea is just starting to gain traction in the U.S.
“In 1970, nobody knew what a bed and breakfast was,” says Susan Odom, Hillside Homestead innkeeper and food historian. “At a farm stay, guests get to experience a little bit of what life on a farm is really like.”
Opened in July 2011, Hillside offers historically accurate experiences, from historic cooking and meals to gardening and farming practices from 100 years ago, and more. Visitors can visit, stay in one of the three rooms, or come for a “historic dinner.”
Odom’s seven years of experience at Greenfield Village in metro Detroit inspired her to start the venture.
“What I saw happening was that they were growing from small programs to larger ones. As I became more educated I found that guests wanted a deeper experience. They really wanted to stay, to eat, to inhabit the moment and take it a step further,” says Odom.
The farmhouse, built around 1900 in the Gills Pier Settlement, has been renovated and now contains all modern amenities, though the focus is on the old way of doing things. Cooking is done on a wood stove, breakfast consists of eggs from the farm’s chickens and pork from the farm’s pigs.
For those who visit and stay, there are three guest rooms, each with a queen bed and private bathroom. Two of the rooms feature clawfoot tubs with showers and the third room has a private sitting room. Modern conveniences like updated HVAC and wireless internet are included (but no TV). Off-season rates begin at $150 per room per night – or rent the entire Homestead for $250 for an afternoon get-together or meeting.
One of Hillside’s biggest annual events is slated for next Sunday (October 27), when it hosts a traditional “Apple Bee,” the centerpiece of which is the making of old fashioned apple butter using 19th century methods. Tours, games, and tastings will also be held. The event is free and open to the public.
“We love to have people come to the farm for these events,” says Odom. “Some just like to sit on the porch and enjoy the rolling hills and orchards. But for this event you might want to bring your muscles – we’ve got nine hours of stirring to do!”
Hillside is also poised to earn some accolades from the History Center of Traverse City. Eight architectural structures have been nominated for their outstanding historic contributions to the Grand Traverse region and the community. The Historic Preservation Awards Event will be held Mon., October 21 at the History Center.