Michael Cudahy was born in 1841 to a modest and hardworking family in Kilkenny, Ireland. The potato famine struck Ireland in 1845, and Michael’s family left the country when he was 8 years old to escape the famine by boarding the Goodwin bound for the United States. The family settled in the Chicago area and began toiling for a brighter future. Cudahy was only 14 when he and his brothers dropped out of school to help support the family by working in a slaughterhouse. He saved and worked his way up through the ranks, and in 1892, Michael established the Cudahy Packing Company. The impoverished immigrant boy turned respected business owner was the first entrepreneur to ship meat on refrigerated wagons, making meatpacking a year-round business.
Michael and his wife had seven children: four boys and three girls. In the late 1800s, he owned a home in Hubbard’s Annex on Mackinac Island. He sold the home to his brother Edward in 1897 when he went to California and traded in real estate to expand his fortune. Seven years later, in 1904, he returned to Mackinac Island and bought 150 acres, making him one of the largest landowners ever on the Island. Cudahy hand-picked renowned architect Frederick Perkins, who also designed what is now the Governor’s Mansion on the island, to fulfill his vision for a stunning West Bluff mansion. In 1904, construction was completed on the Cudahy Manor, now the summer cottage, which the family named Stonecliffe.
Michael Cudahy’s delight in the mansion was mournfully short; he died five years after its construction in 1910. Stonecliffe was purchased in 1915 by Alvin & Sallie Hert, who had made their fortune selling creosote-preserved wood products to the rapidly expanding railroads in the Midwest. The adventurous couple made many additions to the property, including the building that is now the site of the Grand Hotel’s Woods Restaurant, which was originally built as a playhouse for their children. Alvin Hert, like Michael Cudahy, only enjoyed the mansion for a short time. He died in 1921 at the age of 65, while attending a Republican National Committee meeting where he was “smitten by apoplexy.” After his death, his wife Sallie continued her political career in her husband’s memory and went on to become vice-chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1924-1935. Sallie Hert was strongly considered for a position on President Hoover’s cabinet as Secretary of the Interior in 1928. Sallie retained ownership of Stonecliffe for more than 33 years. She passed away at her home at age 83 in 1948 and left the estate to the Episcopal Cathedral Foundation of Washington D.C. They later sold the property to a public interest group called Moral Rearmament. The group was interested in ethics and justice in world politics and policies. The MRA used the mansion as part of its summer conference center. The Kennedys and many other world leaders were known to participate in MRA functions.
In the mid-1960s, MRA sold Stonecliffe and the conference center to a board of trustees, which founded an independent college. The president of the college was Dr. S. Douglas Cornell, executive officer of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington D.C. The new college, called Mackinac College, had a curriculum that included foreign language, sciences, and humanities.
During the college years, 1966-1970, students cleaned and insulated the Stonecliffe buildings, and their ski team cleared a downhill ski slope. The college finances eventually foundered, one class graduated, and the grounds were again put up for sale. However, this ending did not silence Mackinac College alumni, who set up an endowed Mackinac College Legacy Fund in 2005 through the Mackinac Island Community Foundation. The fund supports environmental and educational projects on the Island. In April 1971, Stonecliffe was purchased by television evangelist Reverend Rex Humbard of the Cathedral of Tomorrow for about $3,000,000, and more ski runs were carved out of the 150-acre Stonecliffe property.
In the mid-1970s, The Inn at Stonecliffe served as a ski resort. During this time, entrepreneur George Staffan purchased the estate and began running it as an Inn until 2000. Today, the Robert Pulte family is the proud owner of the beautiful Inn. While there have been many amenities added to the property, visitors arriving on the ferry to Mackinac Island find The Inn at Stonecliffe preserved with all of its history, grace, and elegance. The Inn proudly cherishes the rich traditions and ambiance that the property has brought to Mackinac Island for over 100 years.