2017-01-26 / Life in Leelanau

The Log Cabin at the Bluffs

By Dick & Sue Hanson
For the Northport Area Heritage Association


THE GARTHE family had a presence on the bluffs west of Northport from the late 1800s through 1990. THE GARTHE family had a presence on the bluffs west of Northport from the late 1800s through 1990. (We thank Kathy Garthe for added historical detail.)

Perhaps one of the most memorable places to have a one-of-a-kind dining experience was The Log Cabin located on the Garthe Bluffs, which dates back to the early 1900s. The land was purchased by Steiner Garthe in 1871. The site sits just a few feet from a very high cliff which drops down to Lake Michigan. Thus the name – “The Bluffs.”

It was located 2 ½ miles west of Northport. The geography of this location I believe would be reminiscent for the Garthe family to their Norwegian heritage. Therefore, one can see a certain Scandinavian flair in the Log Cabin and its surrounding grounds.

Before talking about the Log Cabin in particular, I will mention a few things about the Garthe family. Steiner Garthe married Elizabeth Estendotter Bailey in 1878. We cannot discuss the entirety of the Garthe family, but let us just say Steiner and Elizabeth were the parents of 10 children who are named below.


LOCAL FISH and produce was served by the Garthes in this dining room with the first dinner party hosted in 1920. LOCAL FISH and produce was served by the Garthes in this dining room with the first dinner party hosted in 1920. The Log Cabin location projects a nice quiet serene environment. People found it a pleasant place just to go for a walk or perhaps run their horse and buggies around the area on beautiful sunny days. Weather-wise, the prevailing westerly winds off Lake Michigan could occasionally reach gale force, which could put a crimp in outside activities.

The Log Cabin was designed and built by Charles Garthe. Erling Bruseth also helped in the construction process. It was completed in July 1920. The Log Cabin was built in the shape of a cross. There were three areas for dining room guests and one place for the preparation of foods.


BUILT AND designed by Charles Garthe, the Log Cabin at the Bluffs, was home to a restaurant from 1920 through 1953. BUILT AND designed by Charles Garthe, the Log Cabin at the Bluffs, was home to a restaurant from 1920 through 1953. The Log Cabin restaurant was managed and operated entirely by the Garthe family. The Steiner Garthe family consisted of their sons – Seth, Ludwig, James and three daughters – Merit, Gertrude and Anna. There was another daughter – Christine (Mrs. Nels Fredrickson), and two sons – Esten and Charles. They were married and lived away from the Garthe farm but on occasions when available they helped. As the years progressed, other Garthe generations and friends began to help in the food preparations and service.

The task to run the Log Cabin included purchasing food, table dishes, dining table linen and silverware, and all the kitchen pots and pans and utensils.

Concerning the raw foods, it was their goal to always either raise their own food and/or purchase locally. It was interesting to find out that they were able to catch their own Mackinaw lake trout and whitefish from Lake Michigan in the early years. Later, they started to use fish that was caught by the Northport commercial fisheries. They probably bought from Nelson’s or Carlson’s docks.

There was much excitement as the first dinner party was scheduled on August 11, 1920. Mr. Orin Ward from Northport Point brought a group of Northport Point cottage owners for the event. (Mr. Ward was the co-owner of the peninsula that became Northport Point and also he was owner of Cedar Lodge hotel on The Point,) The dinner engagement was a great success. Over the following years, guests came from Northport Point, Omena Point, Leland Indiana Woods, Traverse City, Old Mission, and many other places. It became a great place for those who wanted a unique dining experience.

After using the facility for a period of time and also because it was getting popular – especially with Northport Point, it became apparent that more room was needed. One thing, the kitchen was too small and storage facilities were limited; therefore, an expansion was built. A picture shows the original Log Cabin, and another picture shows the expanded facility. Both the Sitting Room and the Dining Room contained a beautiful stone fireplace. Note the pictures of these two rooms.

It’s hard to place into words the uniqueness of The Log Cabin at The Garthe Bluffs. People not only came to have a wonderful cooked meal by appointment, but other things intrigued them: the picturesque scenes of Lake Michigan, the beautiful sunsets, even just a place to have a picnic.

Back in the 1940s when I was a teenager, we had a delightful experience on a beautiful fall Saturday afternoon. My family had an occasion to have a meal by appointment at the Log Cabin. I don’t remember what the celebration was but we had eight or 10 family members for the event. I remember that I had whitefish with all the other main course trimmings. I recall I had homemade pie for dessert – either cherry or apple, I don’t remember which. The one thing I do remember, all of the ingredients were local.

The Log Cabin handled the appointment groups in a special manner. The first thing that the dinner group did when arriving, was to enter a Sitting Room, which used a very rustic decor. When the Garthe sisters had the first course ready, the dinner group was taken to tables in the Dining Room, which contained seven or eight tables ready with proper dishes and silver.

As the original Garthe family began to age, it was time for younger members to do more of the work. The last ones to run the Log Cabin were Anna Garthe and Randa Fredrickson. It closed for business August 31, 1953. It closed for a number of reasons: government rules, a lack of help (the original Garthe family was getting older), and financial costs of meeting the new health standards and rules. After it was closed it was rented out as a family dwelling. Then in 1990, it was sold to a private party and is no longer in the ownership of the Garthe family. But let us not forget the history of the Log Cabin at The Bluffs. For it was here that so many came to enjoy Lake Michigan scenes, the beautiful sunsets and finally, the wonderful food that was served by the Garthe family for over 30 years.

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