Seems many great family stories start with an eccentric, creative and fun relative. Legs Inn’s story is no different. Current owner George Smolak’s Uncle Stanley came to Northern Michigan in the 1920’s looking for a place that would remind him of his homeland, Kamionka, Poland. He wanted a place that would let him explore his many talents. Uncle Stanley loved to make sculptures out of the trees in the region.
Stanley Smolak (1887-1968) was a polish immigrant that settled in Cross Village in 1921. Before heading north, he worked in the auto factories in both Detroit and Chicago. It was in Chicago that he met his wife, Eleanor. They had one child, a son Joseph that was killed in a car accident in 1953.
He saw the natural beauty of the area, the trees, rocks, beaches, all of it fed his fascination with Northern Michigan. He shared the area with the Chippewa and Ottawa Native Americans and a thriving industrial center that included a stove manufacturing company (important part of Leg’s Inn history).
Exploring the area he found the trees, roots, and driftwood in the woods perfect for inspiration and creation of his sculptures. He also was intrigued with the large stones in Lake Michigan. Both these stones and the wood he found would be used to create his one-of-a-kind structure on the shores of Lake Michigan.
He made sure to have his building share the influence of his polish heritage with the natural beauty of Northern Michigan. How does the Stove factory fit into a wood and stone structure? Well, we know Stanley was a visionary and saw art and beauty in items most would not think of. He used hundreds of inverted cast iron stove legs along the roof line forming a parapet. Hence the name Legs Inn.
Stanley started building in the 20’s and continued into the 1940’s creating what some have called a restaurant within a museum. Besides living quarters, Stanley included a curio (gift) shop, and tavern. The restaurant specializes in authentic polish fare.
Stanley’s son was a gifted artist as well and worked along side his father creating sculptures for the Inn, his death put Stanley’s legacy in danger. Stanley reconnected with family in Poland and was able to reunite with his brother John who came to the U.S. in 1963 accompanied by his youngest son George. Soon John’s other children Alex and Anna arrived in the U.S. Everyone was excited to support Uncle Stanley’s dream.
Unfortunately, the Inn could not support everyone, and John decided to pack up his family and head south. They chose Chicago for its large Polish population. A week after arriving George would meet Katherine a young Polish girl at a Halloween party. A few years later in 1968 they were married.
Stanley died in 1968, 6 months after losing his wife Eleanor. His brother John returned to Cross Village and ran the Legs Inn until his death in 1972. John’s oldest son Alex took the helm, and the Inn had its first real expansion since Stanley’s original building. Adding a new restaurant kitchen and improvements to the lakeside cottages. Alex was a colorful character and Legs Inn soon evolved into more of a bar with live music.
In 1987 George and Kathy took ownership and management of the Inn and have been actively involved since. In 1989 they obtained the Historical site status and created one of the most unique family dining experiences in Northern Michigan.
Today they are joined by their sons Mark and Christopher who are committed to preserving the legacy of Uncle Stanley’s lifetime of work.
Make sure to plan to spend time when you visit. Give yourself time before and after your meal to explore the rooms and the many art pieces. There are massive indoor fireplaces built of the same Lake Michigan stone as the outside of the building. His carvings include a giant bear, totem pole, benches tables and of course “Struggles.” Everyone knows Struggles, Uncle Stanley’s beloved wood carved creature. Struggle greets visitors at the stone entry of the inn and is on every menu. Even allowing extra time it will take multiple trips to truly discover and appreciate the dedication and talent that was required to complete Stanley Smolak’s dream.
Leg’s Inn is a destination all on its own. But as long as you are there take a drive in the Tunnel of Tree, scenic drive regardless of the season. But it is really spectacular during fall colors.
Two World Wars and the Depression (1915-1945) – Registered in 1990 and erected in 2003 – ID #L133
Located at 6425 Lakeshore Drive, Cross Village Township – Lat: 45.64592300 / Long: -85.02999500
The Legs Inn, named for the stove legs that trim the roofline, is one of Michigan´s most exuberant and unusual landmarks. The building reflects Stanley Smolak´s creativity and the craftsmanship of local Odawa (Ottawa) Indians. A Polish immigrant, Smolak came to the United States in 1912 and settled in Cross Village in 1921. During the 1930s Smolak enlisted the labor of Odawa and other area residents to construct the inn from locally gathered timber and stones. A self-trained artist, Smolak used tree roots, limbs and driftwood to carve fantastical creatures into the furniture and decorative objects used in the inn. He called the carvings “nature´s oddities.” Until his death in 1968 at age 81, Smolak continued his creative work at the inn, which had become a social center for the community.
The Legs Inn (in Polish)
Legs Inn jest jednym z najbardziej orginalnych i niezwyklych zabytkow w stanie Michigan. Nazwa pochodzi od bialych, zelaznych nog piecow wmurowanych na froncie dachu. Budynek jest obrazem tworczosci Stanislawa Smolaka i artystycznego rzemiosla Indian szczepu Odawa (Ottawa). Smolak, polski emigrant przybyl do U.S.A. w 1912 roku, w Cross Village osiedlil sie w 1921. W latach 1930-tych, przy budowie Legs Inn pomagali Smolakowi Indianie Odawa i inni mieszkancy okolicy, ktorzy wykorzystywali znalezione w pobliżu drewno i kamienie. Smolak, artysta samouk wyrzezbil z kamieni, galezi drzew i drewna wyrzuconego przez jezioro niezwykle przedmioty i meble, ktore nazwal “osobliwosciami natury.” Legs Inn stalo sie centrum towarzyskim dla lokalnej spolecznosci. Smolak kontynuowal