By Jacob Wheeler
Sun editor
Rooms at The Homestead used to cost $5 per night. No, really!
And lakefront property cost only $8 per square foot before the BIG BANG hit Glen Arbor. Sounds like a daydream? It is – in a cozy condominium in Suttons Bay where Arthur and Helen Huey spend their days, looking out over sailboats on East Grand Traverse Bay and reflecting back to a time in Glen Arbor when they played such a pivotal role in the little town’s progression.

Art “Major” Huey is rightfully credited with having saved The Leelanau School – on the land that germinated into the sprawling Homestead resort and Camps Leelanau and Kohana up the road – in 1942 after the establishment’s founding father, William “Skipper” Beals, passed away. The nation was at war with Japan and Germany, draining Leelanau of its able young male teachers, and the Skipper had instructed his wife, Cora Mautz Beals, not to continue the risky venture after he died.
She didn’t listen, thanks to the Hueys’ interference, and anyone in the past 60 years who has learned a sonnet at the school, relaxed at the resort or gone horseback riding at the camp is indebted to her for that insubordination.
“If we hadn’t purchased the school it would have closed, and we would have left the area ourselves,” says Major, who, at 89 years of age, still rises in his seat and surrenders a broad smile when he thinks of those days. “We felt the land had potential as a resort and we also wanted to keep the school going.
“Skipper would be pleased if he were here today.”
Leelanau School evolved from a summer camp that Skipper Beals established in 1924 at the urging of the boys at The Principia, a private boarding school in St. Louis. A severe smallpox epidemic in 1921 sent the boys into the Ozark Mountains for recuperation. The boys got better, and had so much fun in the process that Skipper was coerced into tutoring them up north, the beginnings of Camp Leelanau. Teachers at Principia followed the Beals into the wilderness, and in 1929 one boy after another asked to stay for the winter. The staff worked to winterize lodgings, and welcomed the arrival of 15 boys onto their new homestead in 1929, bringing a total tuition of $110,000 with them. The Leelanau School was born.
Major Huey served as Head Counselor at the summer camp and later the school. He married Helen, Cora Mautz Beals’ sister, in 1935 – a move that would come to mean so much for the school. When Skipper passed away in 1942, Major was still only a 29 year-old chap fresh out of Amhurst College on the East Coast. Yet he convinced Cora that he would handle the situation if she promised to stay aboard and help right the ship. Major went to the Traverse City State Bank and borrowed $85,000 to buy the school, on property that stretched for nearly two miles on Sleeping Bear Bay – 1,000 acres, estimates Fiffy Petty, current alumni director at The Leelanau School: hardly an afterthought then, but numbers worthy of an empire now.
Helen admits to not knowing how many acres they actually controlled. Such a measurement was irrelevant. There was no resort for the wealthy, or condominiums knocking down one’s door. ‘Development’ and ‘real estate’ were unfamiliar terms to Northern Michigan. After all, nearby Glen Arbor was still recovering from an ice age, and only lumberjacks and fishermen were tough enough to brave such a wilderness.
Then the inevitable slowly happened. Parents picking up their boys, and girls beginning in 1940, from the rugged school then located at the mouth of the Crystal River, didn’t want to leave and drive south quite yet. So Art and Helen fixed up a few rooms in rustic cabins for the parents, and charged them $5 a night.
“We didn’t realize then that we were laying the groundwork for a resort,” says Helen. “More and more people came, and the Homestead just evolved.”
Today, of course, The Homestead is an enormous property of 700 condominiums, a downhill ski hill, a golf course, three outdoor pool complexes and home to some of the most luxurious estates in the Midwest. The resort is considered la destinacion for plenty of upper middleclass folks who have built Glen Arbor’s economy from the ground up. The Homestead has also weathered 20 years of controversy, with buzz words like Crystal River, golf course and land swap ringing all over town. But this giant is definitely the reason behind Glen Arbor’s economic boom of the last two decades.
“If it wasn’t for The Homestead, I wouldn’t be in business,” Linda Ihme, owner of Leelanau Vacation Properties, stated in a Glen Arbor Sun article two years ago. “The Homestead has made this area more upscale.”
Of course, Art and Helen Huey couldn’t foresee what would become of the land they worked and harvested, so to speak, saving a school and leading Leelanau into its “glory days” of the 1950s when enrollment reached nearly 200 students. Post-war rises in salaries and building costs all but forced them to split their life project into three entities. In the late 1960s The Leelanau School became a non-profit venture and moved to its current location just south of the Crystal River’s mouth. The camp was still operated as a limited partnership, and The Homestead was effectively born.
Wishing to retire, Major and Helen sold the resort in 1972 to their son Richard and Jim Stephens, who turned around and sold to Robert A. Kuras, Inc., The Homestead’s current owners. Costly roads and utility systems were built, upgrading The Inn and converting Tall Timber, formerly an apartment complex, into a condominium. The resort weathered that decade’s poor economy, as rooms could be had for as low as $14 a night, according to Kuras, and shot up especially in the 1980s.
“We really didn’t promote The Homestead as a resort, it just happened,” says Major Huey. “In fact, people weren’t even resort-conscious in those days. They didn’t stay indoors, spending all their time on the beach instead.”
Helen admits to missing the wild land on Sleeping Bear Bay and many old historic buildings on Homestead property that have since been condemned and removed. During those days, she says, there was little to do in Glen Arbor. They played “kick the can” on Friday nights and just floated down the river on makeshift rafts any other day of the week.
But the graceful older couple holds no regrets and would not do much differently if they had their lives to do over again.
“You can’t be bitter. You’ve got to remember the good things,” she said. “Progress can’t be stopped. People say, ‘Don’t make this area so big, we want to retire here.’ Well, don’t come if you think it should retain is original form.”