The Lake Life: A History of Tannery Bay

Pool and Marina Launch For Tannery Bay

Connie and Alan White had lived in the Whitehall area for decades, building one home and then later selling it to build another. It was a cycle they went through four times over the years, finding secluded lots outside the city with views of Lake Michigan or acreage out in the country. 

Then one day a few years ago, when Connie was walking the dog in town, she went past Tannery Bay, a new community being built by Eastbrook Homes. She had no idea the collection of beach homes on White Lake was even there. And although the neighborhood gave a much different feel than the isolated 10-acre property where she lived at the time, White immediately found it rather appealing. 

“You could see it was going to be a nice community,” Connie recalled. “We started getting the itch to build again.”

In August 2018, Connie and Alan moved into their new Mackinaw home in Tannery Bay’s first phase, one lot off the waterfront with great views, a beautiful landscape and a private, fenced-in courtyard. Having lived on large lots outside of town for so many years, the couple wasn’t sure how it was going to feel being in a community. As it has turned out, “that’s one of the things we love the most here,” Connie said.

“We have privacy when we want, but if you want to talk to people, quite often you can look out your window and somebody will be down on the beach enjoying a glass of wine in the evening and you can go strike up a conversation,” she said. “It’s a real community here.”

A Long Time Coming

Connie was surprised to see the development of Tannery Bay when she walked past with her dog. She certainly had no idea the community by that time had already been in the works for nearly 15 years.

It was way back in 2003 that Eastbrook first became involved in the property that would become Tannery Bay, drawn by the incredible waterfront location and the fascinating history of the land. A sawmill that once operated on the site was a distribution point for Michigan white pines to help build Chicago, and a leather factory (also known as a tannery) that dated to the Civil War once produced boots for the Union Army.

Along with that rich history, however, came more than a century of industrial pollution. And it was an attorney who was working on cleanup that brought the site to the attention of Eastbrook CEO Mick McGraw.

Eager to work with stakeholders on removing the shuttered factory, Eastbrook bought the tannery property in 2006 with a vision for developing a waterfront community. McGraw initially “thought in a year or two we’d be done with the project.” But the homebuilder spent the better part of a decade mediating cleanup efforts between the previous landowner, the city and the state’s environmental authorities to make sure everything got done right.

The process was lengthy, and frustrating at times. But what seemed back then like it may be more trouble than it was worth ended up being a blessing for the future of Tannery Bay. The long period of cleanup gave Eastbrook time to explore myriad ideas for a waterfront community.

“We traveled up and down the coast looking at every project that was attached to Lake Michigan,” McGraw said. “It gave us a chance to see what we thought was successful and made for a good, vibrant community.”

After years of planning and cleanup, there was a sense of great satisfaction when development of Tannery Bay began in 2016, McGraw said. It was a thrill to turn an eyesore into a valued West Michigan asset that caught the eye of residents such as Connie and Alan White, who not only found the community appealing at first glance but gratifying after four years of living there.

Tannery Bay features a variety of home plans in a village setting with a 700-foot private beach, community green space, landscaped fire pit and bocce ball courts. In addition to beautiful sunsets over the water, residents enjoy boating, fishing and sailing on all-sports White Lake. There’s access to Lake Michigan, a bicycle connection to the Hart-Montague Trail, multiple nearby golf courses and many restaurants and things to do in the charming, small-town atmosphere of Whitehall. 

“More people live there full-time than we expected,” McGraw said. “People even bring their friends there to buy homes.

“Our job is to create the space for community to happen, for people to make their own hometown, and these people at Tannery Bay are in community.”

What’s Next for Tannery Bay

The sense of community that Eastbrook built into Tannery Bay has been so appreciated by Connie and Alan White that they are now building a new home in Phase 2 of the development because “that’s kind of what we do, we build and sell.” The drywall just got hung in their Bay Harbor beach home, a slightly larger plan with a different layout. And the couple has enjoyed meeting once again with designers in Eastbrook’s Home Creation Studio to get the look of their new home just right. They’re hoping to move in by the end of summer.

Connie and Alan still love their current home. They just have that itch to build yet again, and they want to stay in Tannery Bay.

“We just love this community,” Connie said. “A lot of what we’re doing (in the new house), we’re carrying over from our current house. Right now, we have a beautiful view of White Lake and at the next house we have a beautiful view of White Lake, just looking in the other direction.”

In addition to Connie and Alan’s new beach home, about 20 other homes are under construction right now in Phase 2, Tannery Bay sales agent Bob Dykstra said. Here is what’s available:

  • Attached and detached, three-story townhouses with two-stall garages, starting at $450,000
  • Beach Homes with rear-loaded garages, starting at $550,000
  • Marina Cove homes with walk-out lots to the water, starting at $750,000

Along with the new homesites in Phase 2, a community pool is coming along beautifully and scheduled to open at Tannery Bay in mid-June. The pool will feature a pool house with restrooms, an outdoor kitchen for residents to use, a fire pit and great outdoor patio seating.

Another terrific addition this summer is an on-site marina with 38 slips ranging in length from 32 feet to 40 feet. The slips can be purchased only by Tannery Bay homeowners, who love to get out on White Lake in pontoons and other watercraft. Some of the waterfront homesites at Tannery Bay also have private docks on White Lake.

“It’s a beautiful lake. It’s probably the best-kept secret of West Michigan,” Dykstra said. “People love it so much here that I have people in Phase 1 (like Connie and Alan White) who are selling their homes and building in Phase 2. That’s a pretty good commentary on what people think of Tannery Bay.”

While there are a still a few lots in Phase 1 and 2, they won’t last long. Eastbrook is already planning Phase 3 to the north of the existing homesites – just in time for Connie and Alan White to start getting the itch to build again 

“My husband says perhaps we should meet with Bob as soon as they get the lots laid out so we can get our name on one,” Connie said, only half-joking. “He’s already said that!”

With its many offerings, Tannery Bay is the perfect place to see for yourself. There are a number of ways to experience Tannery Bay:

Whether you join us online, at a personalized tour, or our summer events, we know you’ll fall in love with Tannery Bay.

Published on 07/12/2022

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