Built in June 1876, the Horton Bay General Store shares a memorable moment in American history -- The Battle of The Little Big Horn. Although nowhere near as famous in the United States as General G. A. Custer, the store is known throughout the world by aficionados of American literature thanks to Ernest Hemingway.
Claudia and Chip Lorenger are holding a record of ownership -- 14 years. Although Claudia passed away in December of 2011, she remains a major influence in the store. The store required major renovation; many times Chip and Claudia would look at each other and ask, “What did we get into“? The store thankfully accepted two people of the same mind -- love of history and love of preservation.
A B&B was added in 2011. There are only two rooms available, one on-suite. Claudia took great care and pride in the reconstruction of the living quarters. Walking up the stairs you do not expect to step back one hundred years. The original southern yellow pine floors, the detailed woodwork and the antiques are a testament to her passion.
The store served as the center of the small lumbering community and the surrounding farms. Not only serving as a store, the local farmers brought beans to be weighed and shipped and milk to be separated. In the evenings the men would sit up on the counters discussing crop prices and politics. Women would sit together knitting and enjoy the company of others like themselves who maintained the homes. Children would run in and out of the door buying penny candy -- adding to the thrum of the evening.
The store has had many owners -- some for only a year, one from England -- who all were drawn by the uniqueness, the chance to live a dream, or the desire to be a part of history. Who knows why? There have been 27 owners and probably 27 reasons.
Many a hand pitched in to help in the task of bringing life back to the “Old Girl”. At one time there would be as many as 14 people, doctors, lawyers, teachers, carpenters, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers-in-law, (but no Indian Chiefs) -- all with crow bars, hammers ripping out plaster, old electrical wires, paneling right down to the bare bones. Without the help of good friends, the task would have been overwhelming.
It would not be fair to forget the contractors, Chris Kuhn and his crew -- responsible for stabilizing the foundation with steel donated by Arch Wright, Bob Crandell and son for hauling the steel, Chuck Williams who did the landscaping, and “Old Bill” Matelski (not to be confused with young Bill) for the beautiful finish carpentry upstairs.
At night with the windows glowing, the “Old Girl” really shows off. You can close your eyes and feel the presence of the thousands who have been enchanted by her. Chip and Claudia have never been disturbed by any bumps in the night. Quite the contrary, “When we first thought of buying the store, walking in we felt comfortable, like putting on and old pair of shoes”.
Ernest Hemingway spent a great amount of his youth on nearby Wallon Lake, but came prefer Horton Bay, he returned after WW 1 and was married in the church (now gone) next door to the store. Horton Bay, the store and other buildings in the village are mentioned in some of the “Nick Adams” stories. 'Hortons Bay, the town, was only five houses on the main road between Boyne City and Charlevoix,’ wrote Hemingway, recalling it from a cold and draughty apartment in Paris, in 1922. The store is referred to in two of his novels, although not by name.
We welcome all to share in the uniqueness of the “Old Girl” and add your story to the history in the walls. Be forewarned -- all who enter are subject to the tongue in cheek palaver that ensues with the oft-heard question “Is this Hemingway Country”?