Riverside Inn History
Antoine Manseau founded the town of Leland in 1852, and at that time, the town was primarily a logging town. Jacob Schwarz, a German immigrant to Leelanau County, constructed the original Riverside Inn in 1901. Mr. Schwarz had previously been involved in the logging industry, partially owning three different saw mills. As a former resident of Indianapolis, Indiana, Schwarz recognized a potential market for Leland in the summer tourist trade. Wealthy residents of Indianapolis, Chicago, Cincinnati and Detroit were looking for locations for their summer getaways. This wealthy group was just discovering Northern Michigan. Schwarz took his profit from the lumber business and built The Riverside Inn, almost single-handedly.
Jacob Schwarz realized that in order for this area to become a destination for the wealthy tourists, a hotel with “city” amenities would be required. Indoor plumbing, hot water, heat, and electricity were fairly rare in a rural setting such as Leland, but Jacob made sure The Riverside Inn had all this. The wealthy summer residents felt comfortable in the setting, thus, the same guests returned year after year.
In the early days of The Riverside Inn, Jacob ran a steamboat called the “Number 3" down Lake Leelanau to Fouch Landing to pick up his summer guests in Traverse City. Jacob Schwarz realized he had to make it possible for these wealthy travelers to arrive in Leland. In later years, the steamer ‘Leelanau’ was also commissioned for this task, making stops along the coast of Lake Leelanau. Leland was the final stop in a two-hour journey from Fouch Landing, stopping at several other locations. The Leelanau dropped passengers right across from The Riverside Inn.
In October of 1924 disaster struck the Inn. Ozzy Cordes recalls driving past the inn while making deliveries in the Leland Mercantile truck with his brother. They spotted flames leaping from the top floor of the inn. They shouted fire and rang the bell in front of the inn to alert the volunteer fire fighters but little could be done. Strong young men from the community ran into the building and began to throw out furnishings from the top floors. Dressers, beds, even sinks ripped from the plumbing on the walls of the rooms came flying out of the third story of the inn, but few pieces survived the fall. The dry timber and the windy conditions combined to quickly engulf the inn in flames. The Catholic priest from Lake Leelanau was luckily on the scene of the fire. His loud voice was the only one the salvagers were able to hear. He alerted them that the building was leaning terribly, and the men had barely enough time to get out of the building safely. No one was hurt in the fire, but the inn was completely destroyed and very little beyond the sign was salvaged.
Jacob Schwarz also owned land across what is now River Street. In 1902 Schwarz had built a structure that served as boat storage, but by 1903 a new structure had been built to serve as Schwarz’s Dance Hall. The building faced the river, and since it was not winterized was used primarily for summer functions. Dances were held on the weekends and private parties were often booked for the building. The dance hall had a small kitchen for serving food at such functions. It also had rooms upstairs that housed the summer workers for the inn.
This second property became the new Riverside Inn. The dance hall was raised from its foundation and turned around to face what is now River Street. The rooms upstairs were remodeled to accommodate guests and the kitchen was enlarged. The side porch dining room was added. The new inn reopened in early summer of 1925, still named The Riverside Inn. The popularity of the inn did not diminish but continued to flourish, both as a hotel and restaurant. Jacob Schwarz’s daughters, Anna and Blanche continued to run the inn. Anna passed away in the 1930's and Blanche ran the inn single-handedly until 1957.
The Subsequent Owners:
In 1957 Blanche sold the inn to Dr. & Mrs. Kozelko. For ten years, the Kozelko’s ran the inn, in much the same way as the Schwarz’s had. In 1967, Mr. Murphy purchased the inn, but her sold it just two years later to Dan Hitchens. Mr. Hitchens held the inn until 1980 when he sold the inn to Barbara and Ed Collins. Unfortunately, according to the Collins, Mr. Hitchens removed most of the original furnishings of the inn, all the guest registers and memorabilia. The Collins remodeled the inn, and successfully ran the inn for six years. They served amazing breakfasts and hosted dinners on Friday and Saturday nights throughout the summer months. Their fish boils and ethnic dinners were the highlights of the summers in Leland. In 1986, the Collins sold the inn to Kevin and Sue Burns. Kevin set up a successful French menu, and they served breakfast and dinner daily throughout the summer. The Burns were able to purchase a full liquor license and built the bar. The Burns sold the inn to Clayton Weeks in 1994. Mr. Weeks ran the inn for three summers and then sold it to the current owners, Barbara and Kate Vilter.
Barbara and Kate Vilter, a mother-daughter team, have owned the inn since March of 1997. The Vilter’s are originally from Cincinnati, but their family has been summer residents since the 1930’s. The Vilter family has a tremendous tie to Leland and to the Riverside Inn. Kate’s grandparents and great aunts stayed at the Riverside Inn when they visited Leland looking for property. Barbara and Bill Vilter met and married in Leland. Kate’s older sister worked for the Collins and Kate worked for the Burn’s. The Vilter’s feel a stewardship for this inn and it’s important role in this community.