Photo of the Day: Kelley Park and a Brief History of Nevinger's Campground

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Today’s Photo of the Day is courtesy of the little pavilion on the beach at Kelley Park, located on Mission Road across from the Old Mission Inn. I love this particular view of the pavilion with Old Mission Point in the background, especially when the sky is overcast and gloomy, giving it a bit of a noir feeling.

This piece of land is now called Kelley Park, but some of you may remember when it was Nevinger’s campground. It’s the only campground I recall ever being on the Old Mission Peninsula – at least in my 59 years of living here. When I was a kid in the 1960s, not only could you camp there, but they also sold bait and other fishing paraphernalia.

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Below is a photo of that same view in the last century (apologies for the small photo size). I’m not sure of the exact date, but I’m going to guess late-1940s, because the Nevingers owned this parcel, along with the Old Mission Inn, from 1945 to 1998.

This photo is courtesy of my friend Jake Anderson, who is a cousin to the Nevinger’s. Jake’s wife, Cindy Anderson, is a Realtor with Lake Homes Realty and one of our trusted advertisers here on Old Mission Gazette. Check out her website here.

I think this might be Norm Nevinger, Sr. on the bulldozer, working on the beach where the pavilion is now located. In the distance is Haserot Beach.

Norm Nevinger on a bulldozer working on the beach at Nevinger's campground on the Old Mission Peninsula | Photo Courtesy of Jake Anderson

According to the history section of the Old Mission Inn’s website – the inn is now owned by Bruce and Angie Jensen – the Nevingers came to Old Mission in 1945 from Illinois. Norman Nevinger worked for R.L. Donnelly as a print master. He bought the Inn for his wife, Doris, and they named it Old Mission Inn. (Prior to that, it was Hedden Hall from 1869 to 1902, and The Porter House from 1902 to 1945.)

The Nevingers spent their summers in Old Mission and their winters in Illinois, before moving to the Old Mission Peninsula permanently. They had four children – Norman Jr. and Lynette, who moved from Illinois, and Mark and Alice, who were born in Old Mission.

Norman Sr. had a seaplane business and would fly back and forth from Chicago to Michigan once a month while Doris ran the Inn. The Nevingers had matchbooks made up that said: “Horseback riding, seaplane rides, private beach and lawn games. Stop in for a piece of homemade cherry pie.” Rooms were five dollars a night, and they also ran a restaurant, in addition to the campground. I believe this is a picture of Norm’s plane, courtesy of Jake Anderson.

Norman Nevinger's seaplane on the Old Mission Peninsula, circa 1940s-1950s | Photo Courtesy of Jake Anderson
Norman Nevinger Sr.’s plane, circa 1940s-1950s | Photo courtesy of Jake Anderson

The Nevingers operated the Inn for 53 years and sold the property in 1998 when they split the Inn from the campground. The campground, now Kelley Park, is under the jurisdiction of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

It’s anticipated that the boat launch at Haserot Beach – which washed away in a storm this summer – will be moved to Kelley Park sometime in 2020. There are also plans to create a launch for small crafts such as kayaks and canoes.

Do you remember the Nevingers? Leave thoughts in the comments section below, and as always, if I’ve got anything wrong, let me know that, too! Comment below or email me, [email protected].

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  1. Thank you for writing this Jane! Jake Anderson, my husband, is the grandson of Doris and Norman Nevinger. That is where Jake grew up and I attribute his talents in knowing how to build and fix just about anything. Grandpa Norman worked for a printing company in Chicago and would fly back and forth to Chicago. One day in the 1940’s he surprised Doris with his purchase of the Inn. They ran it up until 1995. We split the property and sold it to 3 different parties. The Jensen’s who still run in the Inn now and some developers who held it until the purchase for the park. The third parcel has a cabin on it that we sold to a private party. There is word dependents from prior owners are buried in the front yard of the Inn, and still pushing up daffodils to this day! Also there is word at one time there was a Native American settlement where the campgrounds use to be. A lot of rich history out there. Glad to see the beach has been preserved.

  2. Our whole family ( The Kiersey’s) used to take a week in the summer and camp at Old Mission Campground. We did this for about 36 years and loved it! It was fun getting to know the seasonal campers and having them to our campfires. The fishing was what our father loved. Us kids would just swim all day and lay in the sun. Mark Nevinger used to bring out his telescope at night and we loved to look at the stars. So many memories and so sad it had to be sold.

    • Thanks for the note, Barbie! That is so cool. I grew up just south of the campground – about a half-mile down the beach – but don’t think I ever knew anyone who camped there. What awesome memories you have of your family’s time there.

  3. In the summer of 1970 or 1971 I cleaned for the Nevingers.. Mostly up at the Inn, but also every Saturday I would clean the two cottages that were down on the campground after the renters had left to get them ready for the next set.

  4. I lived in the house just north of the campground. On a still night we could hear word for word the “stories” told around the campfires. On the windier nights our house would fill with the campfire smoke. Loved the stories. Always felt so privileged I lived next door to a place people would choose to spend their summer vacations.

      • We bought the house in 1989 from Cindys mom Jean. Do you know any of the history on that house? We were told by Jim Jarret that he was involved in moving it with horses. And the porch served as a mess hall for a camp held in the area.

  5. Very interesting story about the Nevingers . I have lived my whole life next door to the infamous Nevinger family. Have many stories…LOL

  6. I grew up summers at the campground. my family would camp and fish from the time school go out until after labor day. what a way to grow up! on the beach and the boat all summer long πŸ™‚ I also worked at lardie’s in the evenings a couple summer’s as well.

  7. The aircraft pictured above is an “Ercoupe”. It was intended to make flying simple and safe using a unique system of flight controls intended to be “car-like”. A private aviation boom was anticipated following World War II, given the number of pilots trained for the war effort and a general sense of a new era of modern transportation. A post-war advertisement exclaimed:

    “When you drive a car, you have to coordinate footwork and handwork. When you fly your ERCOUPE, your hand on the wheel is enough. There’s no footwork in the spin-proof ERCOUPE the world’s safest plane.”

    From Wikipedia: “The ERCO Ercoupe is an American low-wing monoplane aircraft that was first flown in 1937. It was first manufactured by the Engineering and Research Corporation (ERCO) shortly before World War II; several other manufacturers continued its production after the war. The final model, the Mooney M-10, first flew in 1968 and the last model year was 1970. It was designed to be the safest fixed-wing aircraft that aerospace engineering could provide at the time and the type continues to enjoy a faithful following.”

  8. Jane, It was a sea plane and looked similar to a TBY but had a rear mounted single engine..It had retractable wheels and could come up on the beach…

  9. Norm Nevinger – snow plowing comes to mind, he was the guy to call! Lived at the end of Mission St 79-92… Our black lab Yogi would run off, heading to the campground to beg from campers and play with them in the water. Had to walk down and retrieve him multiple times… That’s what I remember ..

  10. Our whole family started camping at ” Old Mission Camp Ground” back in the 70’s. We had 3 family’s that would go together ( Warren, Weaver, Weirsma). We all got to know Norm, Doris, and Mark very well. We nick named Mark ” Hot Shot Harry” . Mark always stuck out with his sun glasses / wet suit driving his Boston Whaler or his specially rigged pontoon boat. Over 20 plus years we stayed there one to two weeks around the fourth of July. It was a great place for our family to get together to fish, explore, and relax on the beach. My best summer memories spent with family and friends came from camping at the park, or staying in one of the cottages.

  11. When we lived in the Alternburg cottage, our Lab would run away, down the beach, and hang out with the campers. Had to drive over and retrieve him multiple times lol.

  12. We have such wonderful memories of our camping trips to Old Mission; and Nevinger’s campground! We were able to row our boat in the waters out front, swim off off the stationed pontoon, enjoy the campfires and conversations at night and in general had a safe and fun time. We would rent one of the cottages and the rest of our family camped in trailers or tents on the lots; so we had a kitchen to fix our meals and spend quality time together. Mark was always around, very helpful and full of great information! My (Kiersey) family felt blessed to be there. Mom and Dad, and us 5 kids grew to all of us bringing spouses and children too over the years. We miss that.

  13. Thanks for writing this article! Great memories there with my family. Dad fished for Lake Trout. Mom and I would swim, bike and explore the peninsula. Loved hanging out in the camp ground office and doing chores (I remember it as a small cinder block building in the center of camp.). Rode my first horse at the Inn. Made good friends with the kids that lived there. Great memories.


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