A 192O ERA VIEW OF WOODLAND LAKE (From W.P.H.C. Collection)
Woodland Park was founded in 1921, as the fulfillment of a husband’s and wife’s vision of establishing a seasonal resort for African Americans.
Woodland Park was created during a period in the Midwest when black professionals – doctors, lawyers, educators, business owners, religious leaders, etc – were hindered by their race from enjoying the same types of summer recreations as their white counterparts and contemporaries.
WOODLAND PARK SALES PAMPHLET – 1920 CIRCA
(From W. P. H. C. Collection)
Prior to the Civil Rights Bill’s passing in 1964, most black folks’ attempts to secure sleeping accommodations in one of Michigan’s popular resort areas, dine at one of its out-of-the-way restaurants, swim at one of its populated beaches, or even fish at one of its popular public lakes, were often met with some type of resistance, such as no service, poor service, racial name-calling or some disparaging looks. As a result, tourism for African Americans involved more than the usual preparation. For example, Black people who traveled within the United States knew to rely on a guide book published from 1936 to 1964 by Victor Hugo Green titled ”The Negro Motorist Green Book.”
Therefore, the need for black people to have summer recreation places in the Midwest was first realized with the 1912 founding of Idlewild, MI, which would gain national recognition during its heyday and become known as “Black Eden.” The second and more conservative black Michigan resort came nine years later in 1921, with the founding of Woodland Park, MI.
Woodland Park’s previously recorded history does report that it was founded by “M. E. Auther and A. E. Wright, two colored real estate dealers” but this account is only partially true. In fact, Alvin E. Wright was white and not “colored.”
While Alvin E. Wright and his business partner, Dr. Wilbur Lemon, were both instrumental in the founding of Idlewild, MI in 1912, history has revealed yet another truth. “Lemon & Wright,” as this duo were later branded, functioned more like investors or supporters to the real founders of Woodland Park.
THE AUTHERS INFRONT OF THE OLD LODGING HOUSE -1921 ERA (W.P.H.C. Collection)
In 1921, Marion E. Auther, and his wife, Ella O. Auther, two African Americans of high social standing, created Woodland Park as a seasonal resort and a year round settlement for their race. Together, they fashioned Woodland Park from the remnants of a late-1800 lumbering village known as Brookings.
The Village of Brookings was located along the main line of the Pere Marquette Railroad, whose miles of tracks had connected Traverse City to Chicago. Between the years 1889 and 1900, Brookings was an important lumber point in the State of Michigan. By the early 1900’s, when the site had been cleared of its once profitable white pine trees, its lumbering conglomerate owners moved their equipment and machinery to a new lumbering site. Subsequently, their crew abandoned Brookings to follow the work. In the early 1900’s the lumbering company lost Brookings for delinquent taxes.
MARION E. AUTHER
(Courtesy of the Auther family)
Ella Auther, his wife, and Woodland Park’s co-founder, began her career in business as a teenager, when she’d owned and operated a candy store in Monroe, MI, which she’d later move to Ann Arbor, MI. Her affluent parents, James and Elizabeth Foster, owned a dairy business in Monroe as well as large portions of valuable real estate in both the city and county.
From 1921-1940, the Authers were able to attract a plethora of new visitors to Woodland Park. Some of them launched businesses, some built year round homes or cottages, while others returned every summer as annual visitors.
Those homes and cottages still survive as does the community. Woodland Park is now experiencing a renaissance, with young African American families either returning to enjoy the fruits of their ancestors’ legacy or discovering the town for the first time. In the later case, they find themselves connecting to a shared African American history that celebrates the achievements and survival of a tenacious and strong people.