The Grisly Tale That Brings Visitors to Walker Tavern: Irish Hills, Michigan
One of southern Michigan’s most historic buildings is the brick Walker Tavern, just a block east of Michigan International Speedway and down the road west of the Irish Hills. It sits at the intersection of Cambridge Junction, at US-12 and M-50. One of the unsolved mysteries of the tavern is whether or not a murder occurred there 100 or more years ago.
Across the street to the north sits the original Walker Tavern - built in 1832 as a home for Calvin Snell and his family. Sitting alongside the well-traveled stagecoach trail that is now known as US-12, weary travelers were in need of a place to stay when they grew tired of traveling. Along came the Walkers – Sylvester and Lucy – who arrived from New York in 1843 and bought the house from Snell. Experienced in running a New York hotel, they quickly transformed the old Snell home into a stagecoach stop, inn, and tavern.
In 1853, Walker built a new brick structure across the road to accommodate more stagecoach travelers.
According to Mlive, after the brick tavern went through a few new owners, by 1922 it was sold to Reverend Frederick Hewitt. Hewitt purchased the tavern just at the right time – the new Irish Hills towers were bringing automobile travelers to the area and other family attractions were popping up. Realizing this, he turned the brick tavern into an antique shop, museum, and restaurant.
One of Hewitt’s acquaintances was Henry Ford, who visited the tavern on occasion. Word got around of Ford’s visits which prompted the curious to stop in. This set off a lightbulb in Hewitt’s head: why not fabricate a few other tales to bring in more people?
All of a sudden there were rooms that were made ‘famous’ as being slept in by other famous people of the past: American statesman Daniel Webster was said to have slept there, and there is the ‘Daniel Webster Room’ to prove it (Webster had died in 1852, the brick tavern was built in 1853, unless he had indeed stayed the night in the original structure across the street).
Another luminary was author James Fenimore Cooper, author of “The Last of the Mohicans”. He, too, has his own room at the brick tavern (Cooper had passed away even earlier than Webster, in 1851).
And finally, what would bring in the most people? More than likely a gruesome crime scene: a room where a traveler was murdered. Hewitt dubbed this particular room “the Murder Room” and kept the room as it was found after the ‘murder’. The circumstances of this murder involve a rich rancher/cattle buyer who stopped for the night at Walker Tavern. The next morning when he came up missing, a search of his room found a pool of blood on the floor near the bed. The man was gone. So what happened? Could he have gotten involved in a poker game and a sore loser did him in, taking his money? Did someone find out he was rich, bludgeon & rob him, and dispose of the body? Nothing was determined and the ‘crime’ was never documented…not even in newspapers. This leads skeptics to believe the story was made up to attract customers. But that would mean it was a lie fabricated by a minister. That was difficult to believe.
The murder room is still there for curious customers to visit, as well as many other things and events in the old brick tavern.