The Charlevoix Mushroom Houses: Hobbits Houses of Northern Michigan
If you’re into Michigan architecture, you’ve probably heard about the Charlevoix Mushroom Houses.
Scattered across the small city of Charlevoix, Michigan, in northern MI, are a series of unique houses known as the “Mushroom Houses.” Sometimes referred to as “Hobbit Houses,” “Gnome Houses,” “Harry Potter Houses,” “Hansel and Gretel Houses,” and several other nicknames, these structures are organic in appearance and blend well with the surrounding landscapes.
They were all designed and built by creative visionary and architect Earl Young in the early- to mid-1900s, and still remain as beloved treasures to the city of Charlevoix, to this day.
Read on to discover everything you want to know about the Charlevoix Mushroom Houses.
Visiting the Mushroom Houses of Charlevoix MI
Visiting the Mushroom Houses is a great travel idea, with both guided and self-guided tours available. Let your imagination roam free and discover these artistic and photogenic structures. I’ve provided some history and other helpful information to give you a taste of what to expect when viewing Young’s houses.
Note: These homes are privately owned residential properties and must be respected as such. You can look and take photos, but please do not disturb the residents or try to go inside. Thank you!
History of the Mushroom Houses in Charlevoix MI
Earl Young began designing and building the Mushroom Houses in 1918, with the first being the home he and his family lived in.
Over the span of 52 years, Young designed and built 31 structures throughout Charlevoix, Michigan. While he claimed to be and was considered an architect, he was never registered as one, and dropped out of the School of Architecture at the University of Michigan after just one year.
The reason was because he was influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright’s philosophy about how architecture should respect the surrounding land, and he was discouraged by the lessons at U of M that didn’t reflect this philosophy.
He never received further schooling after that, and instead taught himself through books and magazines, as well as talking to stonemasons and construction workers.
Boulder Park Charlevoix, MI
Young designed and built 10 of the houses in Boulder Park in Charlevoix near Lake Michgan, but it is a common misconception that he built all of the houses there.
Many of the houses in Boulder Park were commissioned to reflect the “style” of Earl Young and weren’t actually designed by the man himself.
A tour guide or self-guided map can tell you which of the houses are his creations. The most well-known home built by Young in Boulder Park is the Boulder Manor, which was considered a turning point in his career. This is a particularly notable house, and I’ll explain why later.
The houses were built with limestone, fieldstone, wood, and other natural indigenous elements, as well as boulders and rocks which he found throughout Northern Michigan.
Amazingly, Young never used blueprints and instead built based on vision and rough sketches he gave to his crew.
He built based on the shapes of the boulders which he had towed himself by work horses, shaping the houses naturally with the land. He could be, what we would call in more modern terms, a “boulder whisperer,” as he had claimed to be able to listen to the voices of the boulders.
The Rise to Popularity of the Mushroom Houses
While Earl Young’s Mushroom Houses are magnificent works of architectural art, they gained very little recognition for a long time.
This was because he wasn’t formally licensed, worked strictly in Charlevoix, and most people didn’t understand his vision, especially for the low ceilings and cramped kitchens (Young didn’t find much importance in cooking).
It wasn’t until 2004, 29 years after his death, that his creations began to really gain recognition.
This was all thanks to David Miles, the son of one of Young’s friends. He had received a panicked call from the Charlevoix Chamber of Commerce that the tourists aboard on a bus tour were getting bored and didn’t want to shop around.
Miles got a brilliant idea and boarded the bus to direct the driver to Young’s Mushroom Houses, giving commentary as they drove around. This was a huge success, and Young’s creations have since become a popular attraction.
The Boulder Manor in Charlevoix MI
As I mentioned earlier, the Boulder Manor has significance in the fact that it was considered the turning point in Earl Young’s architectural career.
He purchased the land in 1924 (later Boulder Park) and began construction on the house in 1928.
Unfortunately, the Great Depression hit the following year, which forced Young to lose possession of the unfinished structure and sell it to the bank. However, this major setback didn’t stop him.
For several years he worked on other houses until he finally regained ownership of the Boulder Manor in 1937, finishing it around 1940. With this, he made a strong comeback.
The Boulder Manor still stands proudly as a magnificent structure with an impressive fireplace and a giant arched window that gives a fantastic view of Lake Michigan. There is even a miniature replica of the house in the back which served as a playhouse for his children during the manor’s construction.
This awesome playhouse was complete with working electricity and a fireplace. You’d better believe that the kids became popular after that. Who wouldn’t want to hang out in a playhouse like that?
Mushroom House Tours
Interested yet? If you’re planning on making a visit to Charlevoix to see the Mushroom Houses, it’s a great idea to plan your tour so you don’t miss anything.
You can take a self-guided tour by picking up a guide map from the Charlevoix Visitor Center or printing out one found online.
The self-guided Charlevoix Mushroom house tour is one of the most popular activities in the autumn months, when the wavy roofs, cedar shake roofs and stone walls of these “Hobbit Homes” are striking against the bright colors of the changing fall foliage.
If you would like an expert to provide commentary, there are also tour guides who will be happy to show you around. There are both public and private options, all sponsored by the Charlevoix Historical Society Museum. You can walk, take the tour bus, or cruise comfortably in a private vehicle.
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Must-See Mushroom Houses
Here’s a list of some of the most popular and frequently photographed Mushroom Houses, as well as a little bit of information on them:
The Mushroom House
This Earl Young house shares its name as a nickname for the rest of the houses, but this one especially looks like a mushroom due to its rounded walls and wavy rounded roof.
The Half House
The Half House gets its name due to it appearing as though the house is literally cut in half.
The Owl House
The Owl House is a very unique home with two rounded windows in the front, looking just like the face of an owl.
306 Park Avenue
306 Park Avenue doesn’t have its own unique name, but it has two chimneys at the top that appear as though they’re melting. Earl Young and his wife Irene lived here after their children moved out of their previous home.
The Thatch House
The Thatch House has a thatched, sweeping roof that comes up in an arch. It was recently remodeled but still has Young’s charm.
The Sucher House
The Sucher House appears to naturally blend with the surrounding landscape on the coast of Lake Michigan, appearing to have a perfect balance of land, sky, and lake. This house has particularly low ceilings which characteristically reflect Young’s short stature.
Local Establishments in Charlevoix Built by Earl Young
Situated in the downtown area are two establishments which Earl Young had built, as well. These include Stafford’s Weathervane Restaurant and Weathervane Inn & Suites, as well as Hotel Earl (formerly named The Lodge). The Weathervane establishment used to be the location of Young’s office before he passed away in 1975. You can still eat and stay at these places today.
More About Charlevoix’s Mushroom Houses
If the Mushroom Houses have piqued your interest yet (which I’m sure they have), there is a museum in Charlevoix called the Harsha House Museum, which has an exhibit all about Earl Young and his creations, located on 103 State Street.
The Mushroom House Tours of Charlevoix is run by Edith Pair, and she or one of her employees can offer you a private Global Electric Motorcar (GEM Cars) tour to see 28 of Young’s Mushroom Houses while you enjoy a relaxing cruise through the neighborhood. It’s said that Pair’s commentary is lively and informative. GEM Cars are located at 106 Park Ave., Charlevoix, MI 49720
The Charlevoix Historical Society also has a photo book titled Mushroom Houses of Charlevoix, which is a great way to get to know the houses before your tour.
Vacation in A Mushroom House
Did you know that some of the Mushroom Houses are available for rent? Here are some of the options available!
Six Bedroom Mushroom House
The Six Bedroom Earl Young Home sleeps six and offers both a lake view and beautiful garden view with a comfortable patio.
Four Bedroom Mushroom House
This Four Bedroom Mushroom House sleeps seven and offer 1500 square feet of comfort, including a fireplace and porch.
Three Bedroom Mushroom House
This Three Bedroom Mushroom House sleeps 10 and includes a lrage living room with a comfortable sofa for relaxing.
One Bedroom Mushroom House
The One Bedroom Mushroom House with a loft also features a dining room and patio.
Upscale Earl Young Charlevoix Cottage with Deck
This Upscale Earl Young Vacation Home has 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, bed linen, towels, a TV with cable channels, a fully equipped kitchen, and a patio with lake views.
“Charlevoix the Beautiful,” located on the shores of Lake Michigan is one of Michigan’s top travel destinations. There is so much to do here year-round, from swimming at Lake Michigan Beach Park to shopping Bridge Street in downtown Charlevoix, this is one spot that should be on your Michigan bucket list.
It’s also just a short drive from other popular Michigan travel destinations like Traverse City, Mackinac Island and the Upper Peninsula just across the Mackinac Bridge. If you’re planning to see these unique Earl Young built houses in Charlevoix, consider extending your stay so you’ll have the opportunity to really explore this amazing spot.
Theer are more than 26 Earl Young-designed Mushroom Houses in Charlevoix, ranging in both size and setting.
More to Explore in Northern Michigan
About the Author-
Aiden Peltier is a content writer for My Michigan Beach who is currently in their senior year studying at Grand Valley State University, with a major in Writing. They have enjoyed writing and drawing since they were a child, and they take a lot of inspiration from music and nature. They are currently exploring many opportunities in the writing field and plan to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree in December 2022.