The beach, the sunset, and the cool air of northern Michigan have attracted tourists and resorters since Frankfort was Frankfort. By 1871, even before the entrance to the harbor was improved, the Frankfort Express boasted that, “Each daily boat brings into our town a goodly number of visitors.” So began Frankfort’s “Summer Season,” when people from warmer climes come north to escape the heat and sample the treasures of northern Michigan.
Excursionists came by boat at first and later by rail as the Ann Arbor Railroad offered excursion fares. Too few hotels prompted residents to rent out rooms in their houses early on, and later, many a carriage house on the alley was converted to summer living quarters for the family so they could rent out the main house to summer guests. The entire town came to own a stake in the tourist economy.
The local newspaper reminded Frankfort’s citizens each spring to spruce up their yards in readiness for the summer. In fact, the village council ordered it. Business owners and employees parked in the alleys in order to leave open parking spaces on Main Street. The Chamber of Commerce maintained an information booth to connect visitors looking for a place to stay with citizens looking for someone to rent out their place. The old fish docks have been converted to slips for summer pleasure craft coming in from the lake, and condominiums have been built to ease the need for summer housing.
As they did before many businesses today open during the summer and close for the winter. Today’s reporter might see the same scene his counterpart observed in August of 1890, “the beach lined with people every evening who gather to witness the grandeur of a Lake Michigan sunset.” The town is packed in summer, the parking places are taken, there’s a line out the bakery door and people are walking everywhere you look eating ice cream cones. Yet, just as true is the old Frankfort saying: “Come Labor Day, you can shoot a cannon down Main Street and not hit nothin’.”