At the end of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in northern Michigan, Grand Marais is a quiet town nestled in a cradle of arboreal forests. Not far from these beautiful lakeshore vistas an odd piece of architecture stands out: a small barrel-shaped cottage.
The history of the Pickle Barrel House is nearly as unusual as its appearance. It started out as a summer getaway for cartoonist William Donahey and his wife, Mary. Donahey was the creator of a cast of two-inch-tall cartoon characters known as The Teenie Weenies that debuted in the Chicago Tribune in 1914. The Teenie Weenies were featured on food labels for the Reid-Murdock & Co.’s Monarch Foods line. Among the larger-than-life structures in their teenie weenie world was their pickle barrel house. In 1926 Reid-Murdock had a sixteen-foot tall version of the barrel built as a gift for the Donaheys, and it stood on the shore of Grand Sable Lake until 1936. After ten years the Donaheys had tired of the stream of looky-loos trying to catch a glimpse of their little house, so they sold it to new owners who moved it two miles over to Grand Marais. There it served out the next few decades as an ice cream stand, an information kiosk, and a gift shop.
By 2003 the barrel was abandoned and in disrepair, so the Grand Marais Historical Society took it over. Volunteers worked on the needed repairs, and two years (and $125,000 in restoration costs) later it began a new life as a museum dedicated to Donahey and his work. Today the Pickle Barrel House Museum showcases artifacts of Donahey and The Teenie Weenies, as well as a décor reminiscent of its old life as a cartoonist’s retreat.
Know Before You Go
The Pickle Barrel House is located at the intersection of Randolph Street (H-58) and Lake Avenue (M-77) in Grand Marais, just one block from West Bay of Lake Superior.