The Clover Resort was once a thriving destination stop
In 1898 Sidney A. Keyes opened The Clovers resort just a mile south of the village of Omena. The road leading from The Clovers to Omena was a winding, narrow, packed dirt road, yet not too far or too rough for summer resorters to bike or walk to town. That road is now M-22.
The Clovers was a cluster of Victorian cottages which stood on a slope leading up from Omena Bay. In spring, Siberian crabapple blossoms dominated the senses, and in summer the faint aura of clovers hovered.
The resort was built to accommodate 75 guests. There were four buildings in the main cluster of cottages, known as the Main House, the Big House, the Bay Cottage, and the Little Cottage. In addition, there was a cottage for employees, a barn, and an icehouse. It was close enough to the railroad that it warranted its own stop on the line. Keyes had decided to make his resort a showcase of Victorian Queen Anne architecture, which was in vogue at the time. Early photographs show that the two main houses were adorned with many colors to accentuate their decorative architectural features.
Both of the bigger houses had hipped roofs with lower cross gables. The Main House had double cross gables and the Big House had a single The Main House placed front and center a three-story, square tower with windows facing in all directions. One of the most distinctive features of the entire resort was the concave tent roof of that tower, with its sides cropped at the top, but with one little gable peeking out towards the bay. The Big House also had a tower, but one more in keeping with the building’s smaller size. Instead of a room tucked beneath the hexagonal, pointed tower, it topped a second floor balcony. Both buildings had long porches, offering visitors a spacious place to view the bay.
The resort included 75 acres of orchard, where guests could find apples, cherries, pears and plums. From the garden came fresh vegetables. In 1903, the resort advertised that there vegetables were grown under the care of “an expert gardener from New York”. Visitors were encouraged to bicycle and to fish in the local trout stream, something that none of the other resorts had so close at hand. On the bay, guests could use one of the resort’s row boats, sail boats, canoes, or even, new in 1909, “a neat little motor boat”. There was also a tennis court and croquet.
Sidney Keyes had arrived in Leelanau Township 30 years earlier, in 1868, when he was twenty-eight. He came with his parents, William and Samantha, and his brother, William, Jr., and his brother’s young motherless family. When they first came to Omena, they operated the Mission Farm on Omena Heights for a year. William Jr. was a carpenter and joiner, and Sidney ventured into business. The 1870 and 1880 censuses listed his occupation as, respectively, “Wood merchant” and “Farmer.” By 1881, both owned considerable land south of Omena, William with 40 acres and Sidney with at least 110 acres. In “Omena — A Place in Time,” Mary Foltz recalled seeing clear traces of a long dock in the water off the shore from the resort, and that some of the pilings were still visible in 1980. There Keyes conducted the sale and shipment of Leelanau County lumber, from which he made most of his money. He also had a store in that vicinity, as well as his own residence.
In 1881, Sidney became the third Omena Postmaster and operated the Post Office out of either his store or residence until late 1886. A retired merchant himself, Sidney’s father William Sr. most likely helped him in the business, since Sidney and his parents lived together.
In November, 1886, Sidney departed this area for southern Iowa. By 1889, he returned home, apparently tempted by the offer to superintend the Hotel Leelanau on Omena Heights. A further inducement may have been his budding relationship with the widowed Mrs. Jeannette Ballard. In 1889, at the age of 49, he married for the first time. In 1881, her husband had owned at least 770 acres in Leelanau Township, including extensive lands around Bass Lake, Mougey’s Lake (at one time known as Ballard Lake), along the shore about a mile south of Northport, and adjoining the Keyes property south of Omena on Omena Bay.
Operating the Hotel Leelanau with his new wife must have convinced Keyes that he had a knack for resort management. The whole Grand Traverse region was becoming a summer destination, and Keyes decided his potential patrons were looking for a different experience than a large hotel. He offered a cluster of houses in a farm-like setting where city people could experience fresh air and eat food grown on the premises.
Sidney Keyes ran The Clovers until 1911, when he sold it to William Wilberforce and Eliza M. Foltz. In 1926 they turned it over to their son Benjamin and his wife Hazel Dell Foltz. Many people who were in Omena in the 1920’s and 30’s remember meals they ate there during that period. It was not unusual for families who summered on Omena Point to have Sunday dinner at one of the local resorts. The Clovers remained in operation as a resort in the Foltz until 1936 when it was sold to A. Stein who later sold it to Leo Lesser.
After the resort closed in 1955, the owners left the buildings and grounds unattended. For a few years in the 1970’s, it was a commune called the Manna House. When it was left vacant again, vandals stole the staircase. In the winter of 1980, all of the buildings of The Clovers were intentionally burned to the ground — the end of an era. The lot still stands vacant north of Freeland Road and Omena Cut Flowers.