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Idlewild, a historic vacation spot for African Americans, is getting a makeover

Posted at 12:09 AM, Nov 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-10 00:09:48-05

IDLEWILD, Mich. (WXYZ) — Last week, we revisited a former Detroit teacher who transformed the Tindal Rec Center on Detroit’s West Side into a safe haven for kids and seniors.

But when COVID-19 hit and forced Tindal to close its doors, she had to get creative.

Why not take kids out of the city to Western Michigan to an historic place where African American families used to vacation called Idlewild. It was a perfect opportunity for teaching about the great outdoors and skills that will be with them for a lifetime.

Idlewild, is a small community with 2,700 acres of lakes and Western Michigan wilderness, was founded in 1912 by four white couples.

A resort for African American families, decades later this mystical hideaway would host superstars of music, stage and the big screen.

Idlewild has a rich history back in the 1920s and 1930s when African Americans could not perform in clubs here in the city or any city really. They found a place where they could. Big names like Della Reese, Dizzy Gillespie, the four tops, even Aretha Franklin performed there.

“All these great musicians and actresses and actors found a place 2 ½ to 3 hours away from Detroit where they could perform at the Paradise Club or the Flamingo Club,” said Maria Lawton Adams.

The clubs all shuttered today, but at its height in the '50s and '60s, more than 25,000 African Americans would travel from Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and Indianapolis each summer to visit.

Lawton Adams came for a tour last summer.

“I started looking at the devastation,” said Lawton Adams.

“As I was riding, I was just silent cause I was like, oh my God I said all the good things that you heard about and the rich history and it looks nothing like it,” added Lawton Adams. “I thought of it like being Beirut, a lot of the houses were about to fall down.”

She asked around about how she might help and she was pointed in the direction of this man, Rambo. Rambo this is the gentleman who has lived without heat or water electricity for a lot of years. She thought this would be the perfect project for her summer youth employment program.

“I said to myself, I wonder if I talk to the powers that be if the kids could spend their summer up here as opposed to staying in Detroit doing a project,” said Lawton Adams.

Kids in Detroit shut out by COVID-19 could come here learn home building skills, giving back to the community and life lessons.

“We clean up the brush and we paint the houses put boards on them, so people coming in to the town and just want to see what Idlewild is it doesn't look so bad from the street,” said Lawton Adams.

The Department of Natural Resources would provide the supplies gave her the go ahead. Her facilities manager Dave at Tindal joined in on the project.

“So, you took a total of how many kids up there?” asked WXYZ’s Carolyn Clifford.

“So, we took a total of 25 kids up there, but we had to take them up there in shifts because of COVID,” said Lawton Adams.

Dave, Maria and 24 young people have been trekking up here all summer long until the kids went back to college and school and now, they just go up on the weekends.

“We are fixing up Rambo's house. We found out it's a three-unit house, so we took the smallest unit and we completely tore it out,” said Lawton Adams.

“They put up new dry wall, a kitchen, bathroom, even landscaping outside and when they're finished, he will get everything down to silverware brand new in his new apartment,” said Lawton Adams.