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Idlewild, Michigan was formed as an African-American resort community in the early 1900s.

Situated just east of Baldwin, in the northwestern corner of Yates Township, in south Lake County, the community is clustered around several lakes and other bodies of water, including Idlewild Lake, Paradise Lake, Foreman Lake, Tank Lake, Spruce Lake, and Watermill Lake.

The chief route to and from the community is US-10, with runs east-west north of the community, while Forman Road is the main north-south route. Cities and villages within twenty miles of Idlewild include Baldwin, Reed City, and Luther, while the unincorporated community of Chase is less than ten miles away.

As an unincorporated community, Idlewild does not have defined borders, but the community is concentrated around the lakes, extending south along Forman Road, perhaps as far as the Middle Branch of the Pere Marquette River.

By 1912, Michigan had a small but yet significant African-American middle class, many of them professionals or small business owners in several of the state's urban centers, and elsewhere in the Midwest. While they had the financial means, racial segregation made leisure travel difficult for African-Americans. There were too many places in which they were not welcomed.

Sensing opportunity, four white families organized the Idlewild Resort Company (IRC) in 1912. Erastus Branch, one of the principals in the Company, built a cabin and homesteaded the land for three years in order to secure the land rights, eventually obtaining the title to the land.

IRC organized excursions to the area to attract middle-class African-Americans from Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, and other Midwestern cities. Advertisements offered lots at $1 down and $1 per month, sold through IRC's real estate firm of Branch, Anderson, & Tyrrell, and highlighting the opportunities for hunting, fishing, boating, and horseback riding.

Although Idlewild was founded in 1912, it was not an immediate success. In 1915, Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, a prominent black surgeon, purchased property there, where he lived until his death in 1931. His presence attracted many of his associates in Chicago, and it wasn't long before other black physicians from other Midwestern cities were buying retirement or vacation homes at Idlewild.

Known as the "Black Eden of Michigan," Idlewild became an active year-round community that was regularly visited by well-known entertainers and professionals from throughout the nation. The Pere Marquette Railway established a station at Idlewild, running its Resort Special with sleeping cars from Chicago and Detroit, via Grand Rapids, from June to September, stopping in Baldwin, where another train would take passengers another five miles to the Idlewild Station, and east to Saginaw.

A post office was established on August 18, 1923. Abraham L. Jones was offered the position as postmaster, but he declined and Susie J. Bantom took the position on September 26 of that year.

The decline of Idlewild came about with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. When other resorts around the country were no longer permitted to discriminate against the black population, several other options were opened up to middle-class African-Americans who could afford it. Many chose to visit Florida beaches and Las Vegas casinos, instead.

In 1966, the trains quit running to Idlewild, and the 1970s recession further depressed the Idlewild economy, leading to a sharp population decline. Today, although the community still has a population of roughly a thousand, many entire blocks are deserted, and buildings that were once homes and black-owned businesses are falling down. Once boasting more than three hundred businesses, the town's only remaining store, Road Runners, is a typical one-stop convenience store.

Attempts to turn the decline around continue, however. The Idlewild Historic and Cultural Center offers a self-guided driving tour of the community, the National Idlewilders Club organizes annual events, and the Idlewild African-American Chamber of Commerce continues to promote existing businesses and to seek new ones, as well as attracting visitors to the area.

The focus of this guide is on the community of Idlewild, Michigan. Appropriate topics include online resources for the community, as well as local businesses, industries, schools, churches, organizations, attractions, and events.



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