Passing Time in Arcadia

by Bruce Jenvey
Reprinted from Society News, the newsletter of the Arcadia Area Historical Society
April 2021. Volume 27 Issue 1.

Last summer I rediscovered an older article about Arcadia that I think other Arcadians would appreciate reading, especially during these depressing down-times. It was written by a boater, Bruce Jenvey, who had sailed into our little harbor and was discovering Arcadia for the first time.

Mr. Jenvey was then publishing editor of Great Lakes Cruiser: The Boater's Travel Guide and had written this article for the April 1997 edition. Many of you will recognize Mr. Jenvey as the popular Michigan author who has authored such prominent works as Angela's Coven, the Cabbottown Witch Novels, and the award winning My Father's Ashes. It seems notable, that after all the many bay-towns this avid boater had visited, he was yet so impressed with Arcadia.

It is always interesting to see what visitors note about our little town. This 24-year-old article can also make us realize how drastically things can change in a relatively short time. But, maybe, it can also help us recognize things most important--and to remember why we, or our forebearers, made this area "home" in the first place.

We thank Bruce Jenvey for his permission to reprint his article.
-- Ed Howard


Along Lake Michigan’s eastern shore, is a sleepy little village that time has passed by. Arcadia was a hub of industrial activity a hundred years ago. There were lumberjacks, saw mills, a furniture plant and many other associated shops and businesses that an active, growing community would need. But that’s all gone now. For whatever reasons of economic expansion, convenience and availability, Arcadia became the lumber town that wasn’t. It was no longer valued for the contributions it could make to the economy… and it went to sleep.

But the standards by which communities are measured change with time. Today, we value a different set of qualities than the last century’s industrialists. And now, the very factors that may have led our fathers to pass this town by, are now the very reasons you should put Arcadia at the top of your destination list this summer!

Arcadia is a quiet place where one of the highlights of the day is the setting of the sun. Whatever matters may be pressing you, they can wait at least until this wonderous phenomenon has finished. You’ll notice in the title of this story, I referred to it as “passing” time… not “spending” time. To me, “spending” time makes time sound like such a precious commodity. Not in Arcadia. There is time here. Plenty of time for everything you never had time for before. Just tie up for a while and let time pass. Let’s get started!

Approaching the Harbor

Arcadia is located along the west coast of Michigan approximately halfway between Manistee and Frankfort. This is another one of those communities common along this shore were [sic] a river created a lake that in-turn, found its way across the dunes to Lake Michigan. What is left is a very protected inland lake (in this case, Arcadia Lake) with direct access to open waters.

This was perfect for the blossoming shipping and lumber industries in the last century and many successful towns still exist on the shores of such lakes (Muskegon, Frankfort, New Buffalo, Pentwater, Holland, Saugatuck and Whitehall, just to name a few). But Arcadia is so sheltered, it is possible to pass by it completely. You can stand on the shores of the inland lake and never know the big water is just over the dune. This is seclusion!

To find the entrance to Arcadia Lake, find the red and white buoy about a half mile off shore (L44°29.1’W, Lo86°15.5’N). This will line you up directly west of the breakwaters forming the harbor entrance. Fixed lights that flash read and green respectively near (but not on!) the north and south pierheads will guide you in. The south light is on top of a thirty foot tower, flashes every 2.5 seconds and is visible six statute miles at night.

Once in the channel, stay to the center. It’s narrow, I know, but the sides near the sea walls shoal up to less than two feet! The center will keep you in excess of ten foot depths. As you enter the lake, bear to the left and follow the narrows to the north for about a half a mile.

Places to Stay

As you reach the northern end of the lake, you have a couple of options. This is a well-protected anchorage and you are more than welcome to drop your hook. Out of courtesy, don’t settle down in the center of the lake. It blocks traffic in an area of limited maneuverability. Try to hang your line near the western beach but be careful of underwater obstructions. The area more towards the northwest shore was once home to the lumber docks where schooners tied up to take on their loads. The docks are still there… part of them anyway, and they’re just below the surface. Put a recovery line on your anchor and if you happen to have a diving mask on board, you might go home with a new collection of discarded ground tackle.

If you prefer a dock, you might be able to find transient dockage at Arcadia Marine (616-889-4555) along the lake’s northern most shore. While their transient facilities are limited, they do have ice, a haul-out to 30 tons, a mechanic, hull and rigging repairs and a well-equipped ship’s store and bait shop.

However, my preferred place to stay without a doubt, is the Veterans Memorial Municipal Marina (616-889-9653) located on the east shore of the northern end of the lake within easy sight of the other marina. This is a Michigan Waterways Harbor of Refuge, which means the very reasonable, state controlled dockage rates are in effect. Also, a state renovation project was implemented last spring that doubled the size of their dockage and provided a beautiful, modern, bath house/laundry facility for your use. There is also landscaped picnicking and a full service gas dock with pumpouts.

This is truly a beautiful facility in beautiful surroundings. And you won’t find better service and a friendlier smile any place. Harbor Master Nick Goutziers runs a tight ship ensuring you a pleasurable stay. You’ll find Nick’s office at the opposite end of the marina in the “old” building (believe me, it’s not a far walk at all!). There are bathrooms here too and until the recent renovation, this was it! The new construction puts Arcadia up there with some of the nicest facilities on the lakes.

If you prefer a night or two off the boat, or take this trip by land yacht as I did, you have a choice of establishments.

The Ebert Haus (616-889-3738) is the village’s only bed & breakfast. Your hosts, Raymond and Carolyn Ebert will not only make your stay comfortable, but if you ask nice, they may even share the rich history of this lovely home with you. The Ebert family was one of Arcadia’s first settlers and this house is the old family homestead, one of the first built in town.

The Pleasant Valley Resort Motel (616-889-4194) is right in town and offers about every accommodation from single room to cottages and kitchenettes. There’s also a pool and well-groomed picnic facilities with spacious parking for cars with trailers.

Less than a mile north of town is the Sunset Valley Resort Motel (616-889-5987). This facility offers a great location for land yacht cruisers. It’s right next to Lake Michigan with a sugar sand beach and right at the foot of the scenic turn out bluff. Here, you have easier access to the famous sunsets than the boaters in the marina do!

Places to Eat

There is not a wide selection of eclectic eateries in Arcadia. Fortunately, what there is, is very good. You can get breakfast at the Arcadian Cafe (616-889-4263). They open early as this is also a favorite with the locals on their way to work. The owner always has something on special and a true lumberjack meal is just minutes away.

The Big Apple Bar (616-889-5908) is really more restaurant than watering hole. The menu features lots of soups, sandwiches and dinner specials every day. Of special note is their prime rib special! I love a good cut of prime rib and at the Big Apple, the small cut is 16 ounces, the big one is a full 22. Also, baked whitefish is offered up on Fridays and you can get truly delightful steamed shrimp every Saturday.

With only two restaurants in town, you may want to eat a meal or two aboard. Sam’s Market (616-889-4348) is where you can restock the galley. It’s at the corner of Lake Street (which runs inland from the northernmost end of the lake) and the Highway (M-22, which is really Arcadia’s main street).

Things to Do

Arcadia is not a shopper’s haven, and that, in its own right, can be very refreshing. We did find one little retail establishment you might want to check out: Sally, up at Pleasant Valley Resort Motel runs a small gift shop inside the motel’s office. She calls it Baskets and Bears and besides the obvious, she sells dolls, fold art, wooden ware, stenciling, candies and more. Virtually all the items are handmade Americana, are unique and definitely one of a kind.

But the best thing to do is explore! This is a small village. Everything is within easy walking distance and if you recall my love for old buildings, you’ll understand how I could lose myself here. There are grand old homes and one glorious church within sight of your dock, but trust me, everything you see will make much more sense if you make one side trip first: Whatever you do, “Don’t Miss” the Arcadia Area Historical Society’s Museum.

What is it? That’s a good question. When I was there, it was crammed into a small abandoned storefront on Lake Street near the highway that was once apparently a meat market. However, if you take the walk out to this location, along the way (on Lake between Third and Fourth Streets) you will pass by the museum’s new home which will hopefully be open by the time you take your trip.

You can’t miss it. In the middle of a large vacant lot on the north side of the street now sits a grand old Victorian home in the process of reconstruction. This was originally the H.E. Gilbert house and was located just north of town. Howard Gilbert was a school teacher in Ohio when he decided to move to the Arcadia area and help his brothers run a saw mill in nearby Onekama. Apparently the lumber business treated Mr. Gilbert well, and soon, he built his own mill right here in Arcadia and then, in 1884, he built this ornate, mini-mansion. The old home was donated to the Historical Society and was recently moved to its current location. A large watchtower that was once part of the original structure will be rebuilt.

I encourage you to visit the museum, wherever you may find it. They have done a wonderful job at preserving and presenting the community’s past and in Arcadia, that means old houses! There are many old houses to see and photograph and while the village may be small, you’d hate to miss one. The Historical Society will help you find them and put some meaning into the pictures you’ll take.

Among the old structures you’ll see are the Trinity Lutheran Church at the corner of Third and Mill Streets. This one’s hard to miss. It’s the tall steeple with the clock tower you can see from just about anywhere in town! The church dates back to 1888 and as I understand it, the clock is of about the same vintage… but you wouldn’t know it. The structure is impeccably maintained and as I stood under the large shade tree on the front lawn to take the picture you see here, it felt like more of a time travel experience than research. The clock chimes and if your stay includes a Sunday morning, you also hear the notes of the antique organ calling the faithful. This church is right out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

Another historic structure you won’t want to miss is the Henry Starke House at the corner of Mill and First Streets. It’s visible from the marina. The home dates back to 1881 and was built by Arcadia’s foremost entrepreneur. It not only served as the Starke family home, but it was a boarding house for new Starke employees and the home’s basement was the town’s first store. Henry Starke either owned or was a partner in every major business in Arcadia from sawmills and the furniture factory to real estate and railroads. Today, the home is privately owned by Ed and Joyce Howard and while it’s currently not open to tourists, they have restored and maintained it to its original grandeur. It’s a heck of a photo opportunity.

The famed Henry Starke House near the marina. This was the home of the community’s foremost entrepreneur. It is currently privately owned.
-- Photo by Ed Howard

"Arcadia is a quiet place where one of the highlights of the day is the setting of the sun."

Municipal MarinaThe Municipal Marina facilities in Arcadia have recently been expanded and renovated by the State of Michigan. Besides these new docks, there is a new bath house/laundry facility in the background.
-- Photo by Bruce Jenvey

First class service! Harbormaster Nick Goutziers poses with one of the marina's permanent residents and a nifty plastic owl. Incidentally, these boat owners call Ann Arbor, Michigan home. They love Arcadia so much, they drive up for long weekends.
-- Photo by Bruce Jenvey

"But the best thing to do is explore! This is a small village. Everything is within easy walking distance and if you recall my love for old buildings, you'll understand how I could lose myself here."

SamsMarketAt50Sam’s Market. It’s the only place in town to restock the larder.
-- Photo by Bruce Jenvey

MuseumFirstat50Arcadia enjoys a very active historical society. This old storefront is their current home, but they should soon move into “more appropriate” quarters.
-- Photo by Bruce Jenvey

The future home of the Arcadia Area Historical Society. This is really the H.E. Gilbert house, built north of town in 1884. Restoration is currently underway to bring this Victorian mini-mansion back to its full grandeur.
-- Photo by Bruce Jenvey

Arcadia has many old homes left over from the lumber days. Most have been carefully restored and are lovingly maintained. This makes a walk through the village a treat!
-- Photo by Bruce Jenvey

This is Trinity Lutheran Church at the corner of Third and Mill Streets. The perfectly maintained structure dates back to 1888 and still houses an active congregation. The steeple is visible from just about everywhere in the village and the chiming clock can be heard out over the open water.
-- Photo by Bruce Jenvey

Other things to do in Arcadia reflect the casual pace of life in this community. Just east of town is the Chestnut Hills Golf Course. This is nine holes of challenging golf set in a scenic environment.

Fishing is big time in Arcadia too. If you don’t like the idea of bobbing around on the big water, many of the big ones come into Arcadia Lake for their own form of relaxation. Just over ten years ago, a world record brown trout was caught just northwest of the memorial marina. While that record has been broken elsewhere, big ones still flourish here… just below the surface.

Arcadia Daze is the annual event that brings this sleepy village to life. Held the fourth weekend of July, the celebration features live music and dancing in Finch Park (on Lake Street in the center of town) on that Friday and Saturday nights, followed by a big parade on Sunday.




I have saved the best for last. The absolute best thing to do in Arcadia, truly, the biggest event of the day, is to watch the sunset over Lake Michigan. It’s quiet here except for the hushed voices of those who have gathered with you. The air is clear and cool lake breezes greet you. These are some of the most spectacular sunsets you will ever see and in my opinion rival anything the Caribbean or South Pacific have to offer.

To help you enjoy these sunsets, the area Lions Club has graciously donated something called The Sunset Station. This is a wooden deck and planter structure at the end of Lake Street adjacent to Veterans Park. It has a commanding view of the open lake and is the perfect venue for the non-competitive sport of sunset watching. It’s only a short walk from the marina and makes a wonderful evening constitutional.


The Sunset Station was built at the end of Lake Street by the local Lions Club. Its sole purpose is to enhance the enjoyment of the setting sun.
-- Photo by Bruce Jenvey

Veterans Park on the dune overlooking Lake Michigan. It’s at the end of Lake Street right next to the Sunset Station and is another great place to share one of the locally famous sunsets.
-- Photo by Bruce Jenvey

If you have a car or are up for a walk, you can also enjoy the sunset from the Arcadia Scenic Turnout just about a mile north of town on the highway. This is a majestic (no other word for it!) deck/walkway/platform built into the side of the bluff high over Lake Michigan. The structure is actually a triple-decker platform with connecting stairways that wind to the top level, 45 feet above the main deck. When I was there last August, the top deck was nearly complete and should be ready for you this season.


The Arcadia Scenic Turnout is a multi-level observation platform built into the side of the bluff, high over Lake Michigan. The view is awesome.
Photo by Joe Noverr of the Benzie Advisor


Taking Your Leave

What can you say about a town where the biggest attraction is the setting sun? A town where most of the recent municipal construction has been aimed at improving your visibility of this daily phenomenon? I know what I can say about such people: They travel to a slower drummer. They are not afraid to enjoy what is around them now, rather than worry over what they may not have acquired by tomorrow. Here, life proceeds one day at a time and day by day, time passes. If you were to spend some time here, you’d be missing the point. The point is to tie up here… and let time pass.

Author Bruce Convey is the publishing editor for Great Lakes Cruiser: The Boater’s Travel Guide.





Originally built for artifact storage, the first floor is filled with exhibits. People donate stuff. We try to display as much as we can and rotate artifacts to keep exhibits fresh and share what everyone has shared with us.