In 1887, a twelve-year-old boy from Eyrarbakki, Iceland, arrived with his parents to Washington Island. By age fifteen Ben Johnson was sailing the Great Lakes on a four-masted ship, working as a cook and steward. Years later, his bride Evaline Gislason, urged him to build a hotel looking upon the Island’s picturesque Detroit Harbor. Johnson listened, and opened the Hotel Washington in 1904 thanks to a $500 loan from Chester Thordarson and a “handshake loan” from Mac Gunlaugsson.
It didn’t take long for the Hotel to become the hub of Island life. For the next 42 years, Ben, noted for his jovial disposition, and Effie, “a hostess without equal,” served up fine food, lodging and great memories to their many guests. Subsequent owners contributed their own important chapters to the Hotel’s story.
We’re proud to continue the tradition that Ben & Effie Johnson began. Whether you visit as part of a wedding celebration, a retreat or workshop, or much-needed solo getaway, we hope you’ll find peace and renewal during your stay in this grand old Hotel, shadowed by giant oaks and refreshed by lake breezes. I look forward to welcoming you!