STANTON — A more than 130-year-old landmark for lakeside dining has closed its doors for good — but the reason why remains a mystery.
Early this week, the Clifford Lake Inn abruptly closed. A piece of paper is taped on each entrance door reading, “Closed. Thank you for your patronage.”
According to Montcalm County records, Larry and Connie McKeown purchased the Clifford Lake Inn in 2010. After their divorce earlier this year, Connie McKeown retained ownership of the Inn.
Connie McKeown refused several requests for comment from The Daily News, other than to say she has spoken personally with everyone who has put in a deposit for an upcoming event at the Inn.
According to Montcalm County property tax information, Clifford Lake Inn does not have any delinquent taxes at this time.
Shock and devestation
The Inn’s sudden closure left Clifford Lake Inn’s 20 or so employees reeling.
Catherine Hazekamp, 19, of Stanton, has worked at the Inn for the past three years. She was primarily a server assistant and bused tables, but she worked several other positions as well.
Hazekamp said business typically slows down during autumn and winter months at the Inn and she hadn’t worked there in the past month.
“I knew we didn’t bring in as much revenue in the fall and winter, but I didn’t think it was to the point of closure and I don’t think any other employees were aware of the closure, but I can’t say for sure,” she said. “I was just in a few days ago and no one said anything and everything seemed normal.”
Hazekamp said she has “no idea” why McKeown would close the Inn.
“I am extremely devastated that it closed because my co-workers were like a second family to me and it was such a fun place to work, especially in the summer,” she said. “I am hoping that someone else buys it and reopens it, but who knows what’s going to happen.
“It is very shocking and the restaurant will definitely be missed by the whole community,” she said.
Jodi Patton of Grand Rapids is one of many customers who has a special connection with the Inn. When her grandmother died in 2004, Patton and her family had a private funeral service at the Sidney Township Cemetery near the Inn. The family decided to honor their grandmother’s memory each year by visiting the grave to plant flowers and then have lunch at the Inn.
“When my mom and uncle were small, my grandma used to bring them to this restaurant so we wanted to keep the tradition going on the anniversary of my grandma’s death in May of each year,” Patton said. “We would always have amazing service (at the Inn) and most of the time we would be the only ones in the restaurant laughing and sharing stories about our family and our grandma/mom. Every year we looked forward to Clifford Lake Inn for Grandma Fern and it was a guarantee that all of my family would get together for her memory and for the amazing bloody Marys and sautéed mushrooms.
“We are sad to see such a historic restaurant close and something that is close to my family’s hearts,” she said.
History of the Clifford Lake Inn
According to The Daily News archives, the Clifford Lake Inn was built in 1881 in what was formerly known as the town of Richard’s Point.
In 1925, Mac and Maude McConnville purchased the Inn, but in 1930 most of the Inn was destroyed in a fire. The Inn was rebuilt the following year, despite the ongoing Great Depression.
In 1945, Doc and Lillian Bruder bought the establishment, selling it 10 years later to Ed and Edie Welch in 1955.
The Inn changed its personality through the years — from an inn to a restaurant to a rock ’n’ roll bar. However, the years took a toll on the building and in 1975 it was condemned.
Real estate brokers Norman and Dyanne Eipper took note of the eight-bedroom hotel next to their summer cabin on Clifford Lake and bought the Inn in 1976. The couple restored the hotel to its historic elegance and in 1986 the state of Michigan designated the spot as an official Michigan Historic Site.
The love of the restaurant business was passed on to the Eippers’ son, Steve, who joined the operation in 1996. The Eippers retained ownership of the Inn until 2010, when the McKeowns purchased the business.
A timeline of historic Clifford Lake Inn
1881 — Clifford Lake Inn is built in Richard’s Point (which later becomes known as Clifford Lake).
1925 — Mac and Maude McConnville purchase the Inn.
1930 — The Inn catches fire, destroying 80 percent of the building.
1945 — Doc and Lilian Bruder purchase the Inn.
1955 — Ed and Edie Welch purchase the Inn.
1963 — The Inn changes ownership multiple times, switching from an inn to a restaurant to a rock ’n’ roll bar.
1975 — The Inn is condemned.
1976 — Norm and Dyanne Eipper purchase the condemned building and restore it.
1981 — The Inn celebrates its 100th birthday.
1986 — The state of Michigan designates the hotel a historic site.
1994 — Steve and Tammie Eipper join as second-generation owners of the Inn.
2010 — Larry and Connie McKeown purchase the Inn.
2013 — The Inn closes.