When Frank & Elsie Esser left Germany to build a better life in America, they probably never imagined what their legacy would be today, the Duneland Beach Inn. In 1825, the United States government appropriated $3000.  for a federal highway which was laid out along an ancient Indian Trail, the U.S. 12 Heritage Corridor connecting traveler’s from Chicago to Detroit. So many traveled along the sometimes impassable route that there was a tremendous demand for lodging places and conventional inns popped up all along the route with few remaining today.  U.S 12 was packed with whiskey smugglers carrying booze from Detroit’s Purple Gang to Al Capone’s organization in the 1920’s and ‘30s.

The Esser’s built the Duneland Inn in 1924.  It was built as a comfortable Lake Michigan Inn for road weary travelers, but soon became a popular gathering place for generations of Chicago families on weekend “vacations” with the automobile bringing new use to the newly paved highway. The Duneland Inn was modeled after  European Inns with 16 tiny guest rooms, each room having a sink and one shared bath for all which remained until the early 1970’s. Next to the stairs was a small kitchen. Elsie Esser was known as an uncommonly good cook, and word of the table she set soon spread to the city. The original building was constructed of wood with no insulation or drywall, relying on the lake breeze for cooling in the summer. Over time the Duneland Inn evolved into  the Duneland Beach Inn of today. In the 1940’s an addition was constructed and the kitchen was relocated and the name became the Duneland Hotel. The original sign hangs behind the reception desk today. Four guest rooms were added to the second floor with access to the attic which became the innkeeper’s quarters until 2008.

Over the years, the restaurant has thrived with different owners offering different meals from brunch by the grand piano in the parlor, to holiday meals for the neighborhood. Today customers reminisce about riding their bikes to the Inn to get ice cream which was located on the front porch in large vats, dining on tapas, or stopping by to visit the chef/owner lounging in a wing backed chair in the parlor drinking scotch, to ask if he would prepare dinner for them that night, depending on his mood.  By the 1970’s the latest chef-owner Carl, had reduced the Inn to 9 guest rooms with private baths. He named the restaurant “The Hunter” painting the interior Hunter green, It was formerly referred to by the owners before him as the “His” Inn as a religious reference.

The walls were still made of press board material made from pressed corn cobs, and wall papered over in many layers.  Air conditioning was minimal. Thereafter, the next owner, a licensed ship captain and her partner operated the inn. Captain Lisa’s family owned the original Delta Queen Steamboat on the Mississippi. They turned the front porch into a small bar which quickly became a neighborhood hot spot.   The guest rooms are today yet in her family’s namesake. It was later sold and extensively remodeled, losing none of its original charm. In remodeling they discovered the Chicago common brick was simply added over the wood siding probably in the 1940’s. The wallboard removed revealing layers of ownership from Indiana blanket wall patterns to blueberries, to yellow roses.

There were layers of newspapers between the layers of flooring from 1926 used as insulation. Air conditioning was added and the small kitchen was remodeled to accommodate the summer demands.  A patio was added and side deck to give guests more area to enjoy as well as extensive landscaping. The bar was relocated and remains a favorite gathering place for friends to enjoy a cocktail and have dinner today.  The menu was designed around the recipes that had been with the Inn for years using only the fresh ingredients. For the past 94 years the Duneland Beach Inn has hosted many famous celebrities, philanthropists, political families and generations celebrating their special connection to the Inn.