Architect Earl Young designed more than two dozen fairytale stone cottages around Charlevoix in the 1930’s and 40’s, often referred to as “hobbit houses.” This video tour of the exteriors of some of Young’s slanty-roofed dwellings displays the thick wooden shingles topping unique structures and details crafted from fieldstone, limestone and boulders hauled in from an Onaway quarry.
Each of these 27 structures begs closer examination, and a leisurely walking tour along Charlevoix’s crooked, tree-lined streets is the best way to catch a peek into Young’s fantasy world. Pick up a map from the Charlevoix Area Chamber of Commerce (109 MASON, 231-547-2101, charlevoix.org) to begin your tour. Start with the southern cluster of homes overlooking the Lake Michigan shoreline. The enchanting homes are privately owned, but they still have great curb appeal—so practice a no-trespassing policy and admire from the end of the driveway.
As you walk the route, keep your eyes open for Young home look-alikes. Some Charlevoix houses imitate the famed architect’s quiet style and sloping rooflines. The triangular block bordered by Grant, Park and Clinton Streets is a pure pie-shaped wedge of classic Young designs.
Earl Young had no degree in architecture and no background in construction. He was an insurance salesman and a real estate developer whose fanciful, flowing houses were never really discovered outside admirers in Northern Michigan. Just like Frank Lloyd Wright, Young felt that his structures needed to blend with their natural surroundings as well as utilize construction materials that were indigenous to the region.
While Earl Young’s hobbit houses are viewed only from the exterior, you can get a taste of the interiors by making Stafford’s Weathervane Restaurant on the river in Charlevoix your dinner or lunch destination. In the 1950’s, Young transformed an old gristmill into an elegant riverside bistro, now Stafford’s Weathervane Restaurant (106 Pine River Ln., 231-547-4311, staffords.com), and completed the ambiance with nautical touches and century-old street lamps from Copenhagen. Don’t miss the centerpiece—an impressive stone fireplace—but ask for a seat on the terrace for your twilight repast.