The passing of a legend

One hundred years ago, our two Charlevoix newspapers seemed be reporting all too many passings of longtime Charlevoix citizens who had helped give the town the worldwide reputation it enjoys today. One of them was an anomaly in her times, and would even today stand out for her razor sharp business acumen, ability to handle people from all walks of life with total ease, and philanthropic generosity throughout Charlevoix and the area. Her name was Martha Elston Baker, and she became a Charlevoix legend.

 Martha Elston, an only child, was born in Exeter, Ontario on Nov. 24, 1865. Her father Robert moved the family to Muskegon about 10 years later, then two years on to Grand Rapids. Always independent, after her schooling she drifted into acting as a member of the Laura Dainty Company, until marriage to John Baker in late 1888, in Grand Rapids, intervened. How they met, and where, is not known. They quickly moved to Charlevoix for reasons again not known. In 1889, John went into the farm implement business, at first on Clinton Street near the present location of the Circle of Arts. Martha acted as bookkeeper and clerk, later becoming a partner as her unsuspected business skills improved.

Martha Elston Baker, owner of the Beach Hotel

Ten years later, Martha expressed an interest in opening a hotel. One year prior to that, her father, who had moved to Charlevoix in 1892 to be with his daughter and John, had built the 50-room Elston Hotel at the corner of Antrim and Bridge streets, now the site of Oleson’s. It was a hostelry long needed here since the arrival of the railroad the same year the Elstons moved northward. Tourists and resorters were now flooding the town as its reputation grew.

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