MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. – When you first see the Grand Hotel, what we’re about to tell you couldn’t possibly seem true.
But it is. Ready?
This is a facility that has seen five U.S. presidents, it has hosted Thomas Edison and Mark Twain, features a 660-foot porch and 397 guest rooms and has a large and luxurious dining area. The hotel on Mackinac Island is one of the most posh in the world.
It was also considered as the site for the 2020 G7 summit, as then-President Donald Trump’s administration checked out the Grand Hotel before deciding to hold it at Trump’s golf resort in Florida, according to Crain’s.
So, how on Earth was this beauty built in just 93 days? And how was it built so quickly in the late 1800s, before cars and planes were invented?
It’s tale of an insanely tight deadline, unparalleled creativity and ambition to meet that deadline -- and a rumored large carrot dangled in front of the man in charge of the project.
Pulling off construction miracle
You probably couldn’t blame Charles Caskey for saying, “What did I get myself into?”
The joy Caskey probably had when he initially was awarded the construction contract for a large hotel on Mackinac Island probably turned to some serious stress when he found out the desired timeline of completion.
After being chosen to head the project in the fall of 1886, Caskey found out the hotel needed to be ready for business by the following summer because rooms had already been sold, giving him less than nine months to complete construction.
Caskey was a contractor who specialized in building cottages, but he took a year off from that to focus on the hotel construction, according to baileylineroad.com.
Not only was finding labor a challenge because of a lack of available workers, but so was getting materials to the island, particularly with an entire winter looming.
After borrowing a large sum of money, Caskey solved the first problem by agreeing to pay 600 workers double the standard wage back then, and he solved the second problem by using horses to sled lumber across the frozen waters that surrounded the island.
Eventually, there was such a large pile of lumber that could be seen on the island that locals called the project “Caskey’s Folly.”
The workers were housed in a tent village and split up into three different shifts, with the night workers using lanterns and candlelight when construction began in March 1887.
There was a temporary labor dispute, with workers eventually demanding triple wages, but Caskey didn’t back down and the pay scale remained double the standard wage.
Rumor has it, there also was another significant source of money dangled as a reward.
The ultimate motivation
Go on a horse carriage tour around Mackinac Island these days, and the guide will say there was another reason why Caskey and his crew were motivated to finish construction of the Grand Hotel so quickly, and it had nothing to do with rooms already being booked.
Guides tell visitors that Caskey would have been paid a $1 million bonus had the project been done within 90 days.
There’s no confirmation of that fact on the hotel’s website, but if it were true, Caskey missed getting that bonus by three days.
The hotel officially opened for business on July 10, 1887, and has been a summer tourist hotspot ever since.
In February 2019, U.S. News & World Report listed the Grand Hotel as among the top 10 all-inclusive resorts in the U.S.
The hotel was bought in 2019 by KSL Capital Partners LLC, a private equity firm, which paid an undisclosed sum to purchase the property from the Musser Family, the owners and operators of the hotel since 1933.
While future transformations of the property from the new owners remain to be seen, it will be hard to top the past, and more specifically, the construction miracle that saw one of the country’s iconic travel destinations built in 93 days.
This story was first published in 2019. It has since been updated.