From 1912 through the mid-60’s Idlewild was known as “The Black Eden” where scores of famous black entertainers from around the mid-west (and further) would come to entertain their fellow African-Americans in a classy resort community. This became a very popular spot for the well-to-do where they could unwind and enjoy their idle time. Folklore says the name may have originated from “Idle men and wild women”.
The Idlewild development was started in 1912 by four white land developers (2 from this area and 2 from Chicago) who marketed excursion trips from the African-American neighborhoods of Detroit, Chicago and other mid-west cities to this area. They sold home sites to visitors looking for the peace and serenity that they didn’t have in the big city.
In it’s heyday, Idlewild’s summer population would grow to over 25,000 as folks came from far and wide to enjoy camping, swimming, boating, fishing, hunting, horseback riding, roller skating, and night-time entertainment.
Over the years, the area grew by leaps and bounds because of all the top-end entertainment that was featured at the Dance House and other watering holes that had opened. This was a resort where black folks could come to where they felt welcome.
However, the end of an era came when the Civil Rights Act was enacted in 1964 and thereafter the folks who had traveled to Idlewild, could now enjoy leisure entertainment wherever they wished, often closer to home, due to the end of segregation.
Now Idlewild is a sleepy little village that still offers a lake, a post office, a bar/tavern but little else. Many of the old cottages built in the 30’s and 40’s are now in disrepair although many folks still live here and thankfully there is an effort underway to revive Idlewild to attract new residents.
I was only a boy of 10 when the Civil Rights Act was passed. Growing up in Detroit, I really hadn’t a clue about segregation, integration had already begun. Although I believe in equal rights for every human being, still, it’s a shame to see that the end of segregation, so good and right for everyone, put an end to what was once a thriving economy for those that had the opportunity to travel here.
I hope that their efforts to revitalize the area are successful. To see a short video about the history of Idlewild and the efforts to bring it back to life, see the Detroit Free Press story (written in 2014) by following this link.
To learn more about Idlewild, follow this link to the Wikipedia page