Historic designation for Black River bar

BLACK RIVER – Gordon Bennett remembers walking into the Mountain Inn in 1948 with his dad and grandfather. The old establishment was located on US23 and Black River Road, 20 miles south of Alpena.

“That was the first time I had ever been in a bar,” Bennett said. “But what I was really impressed with was Oliver DeRocher. He was a very fun-loving guy and he laughed a lot. He would get out there and kick up his heels to the music.”

Oliver also had built the inn, which served as the heart of a tiny community. And 65 years after Bennett’s first encounter, he got a chance to honor the man. A member of the Alcona County Historical Society, Bennett nominated the property for a historic designation.

Wednesday at 6 p.m. a reception will be held at the Mountain Bar & Grill, which is now on the site. Two plaques will be installed, designating its value to the area and telling its story.

Bennett said the bar and restaurant were renovated in 2012 by new owners Dan Gauthier and Jim DeRocher. Both men are descendants of original Black River settlers, and DeRocher is the grandson of Oliver DeRocher.

Oliver and his wife, Rose, built the original Mountain Inn in 1936, in the middle of the Depression, Bennett said. Photographs of the period show it also served as a gas station. But it burned down shortly after. So the couple rebuilt their wayside station, reopening it in time for deer season that same year.

The bar burned down a second time in 1955, and DeRocher built it again, but eventually sold out in 1967.

“If you go back, Black River was a very big town in the 1870s and 1880s because of the all of the timber cutting,” Bennett said.

After the timber disappeared, DeRochers and Gauthiers were still living in the area.

“So DeRocher built this bar because there wasn’t much else there,” Bennett said. “And of course on Saturday nights you wanted a place to go dancing and let your hair down.”

After 1967, the property changed hands 10 times until Gauthier and DeRocher bought it around 2012, Bennett said. Professional contractors, they kept the original rock chimney and rebuilt a brand new facility around it, upgrading the bar and restaurant, and installing high-end bathrooms.

The two also gave the establishment its new name.

“Now it’s so modern it’s a sports bar,” Bennett said. “They didn’t have TVs back in 1948 when I was there. So there’s no comparison. They only thing they preserved are baseball artifacts from the 1940s. In the one room there they have a lot of memorabilia.”

Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at blehndorff@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.