Madame La Framboise Harbour View Inn Preserves the Story of a 19th Century French/Indian Mackinac Island Entrepreneur

By the time the Bacons bought the home, most outward traces of the great woman and her times were long since gone. A second-story porch and Ionic columns had been added to the front of the house in the 1920s, and in the 1950s a homely addition was tacked onto the back. In the home's original core, the Bacons found pine floors hidden under red carpet, walls covered in flocked paper with a gold-leaf motif, and pine and oak trim smothered with layers of paint.

Looking past the surface, Bacon envisioned an upscale inn that would fit with the direction he sees the island heading. "The island is really becoming recognized across the country and internationally as a sophisticated place to vacation," Bacon says. "Trinkets and tomahawks are giving way to sophisticated hotels and gift shops."

To develop their plans, the couple worked with Harbor Springs architect William Fuller and Mackinac Island's historic architect, Richard Neumann, whom the Mackinac Island City Council hires to review building plans for historic authenticity. But the Bacons broke from custom: Instead of waiting for Neumann to review the plans, the couple went to him with their concept.

Through Neumann's eyes, Bacon began to see the importance of the home. Even 75 years after La Framboise built the place, it was one of the most prominent in the Midwest, for the island's bluff-top mansions weren't even built until 1895.

Bacon's enthusiasm built as layers of modern patina were stripped away. One of the most exciting moments came when the plaster and lath walls were sanded down to the hand-hewn timbers at the core of the home. Bacon was so taken with the timbers that he arranged for a 4-foot-by-10-foot swath of the old exterior wall to remain exposed. Today, covered with Plexiglas, the cutaway faces the inn's new lobby. Bacon was also intrigued by the lath, which was made from a mixture of hay, horsehair and wood chipped into tiny pieces with a tomahawk. Where he could, Bacon preserved the original walls.

At this point, Bacon was so swept up in the home's history he began researching La Framboise. Among his finds are the oldest photograph of the home, taken in 1860, and drawings of La Framboise's relatives. There are no known drawings of her while she was alive. For a portrait of her, Bacon commissioned an artist to use the drawings and written descriptions. And relying on the historical documents, he traced and visited the site of La Framboise's fur trading post near Grand Haven.

But it is La Framboise's Mackinac Island retirement that has moved Bacon most. Bacon's own self-evaluation has prompted him to volunteer with the island's recreation program. And he contributed to an extensive renovation of St. Anne's church last year.

"I kid people a lot," says the father of three. "I say to them, 'Gee, I know you guys would rather have me take up drawing or piano.' "

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