Exploring Grand Rapids, Mi

“Living Like a Local” in Grand Rapids, Mi

Are you looking for a fun new destination filled with art and culture, artisan dining, craft beer, an earful of live music, and outdoor recreation? At the Michigan Bed and Breakfast Association, we have the perfect getaway recommendation and will highlight below all the details to “Live Like a Local” in beautiful Grand Rapids, Michigan, as seen through the eyes of the innkeepers at the Parsonage Inn.

Grand River in Grand Rapids
Grand River in Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids is Michigan’s second-largest city and sits on the Grand River, east of Lake Michigan. Previously recognized as America’s Furniture Capital, today, its architecture in the Heritage Hill area is one of the country’s largest urban historic districts, including many examples of 19th and early 20th-century houses. From Greek Revival to Prairie, with more than 60 architectural styles represented, these were the homes of lumber barons, teachers, judges, and legislators who shaped Grand Rapids’ history. And our member inn, represented today, is a perfect example of a beautiful Victorian-styled home from this era,  built-in 1882- and now the Parsonage Inn at the Corson’s House.

A green Victorian home in Grand Rapids
The Parsonage Inn

Grand Rapids has also been called the “City of Churches,” which makes for a nice connection to the innkeepers at the Parsonage, who are both pastors. As you walk through the streets of Downtown Grand Rapids, you can’t help but notice the many beautiful cathedrals sprinkled around this great city. The historic ethnic and religious makeup of Grand Rapids, along with the original immigrants being Dutch, German, Italian, Polish, African, and Hispanic, all with different faiths,  created the need for many churches. As you walk the downtown area, look up, and you will be amazed at the historic cathedrals that grace the skyline.

The neighborhood's extensive collection of historic architecture includes the first Frank Lloyd Wright commission in Michigan, the two-story Prairie-style, Meyer May House on Madison Avenue, SE. Photo courtesy Heritage Hill Association.
The first Frank Lloyd Wright commission in Michigan, the two-story, Prairie-style Meyer May House on Madison Avenue, SE. Photo courtesy Heritage Hill Association.

Today Grand Rapids has been earning a lot of attention with its stunning art and culture scene, including ArtPrize, and its award-winning dining and nightlife make this an exciting city to visit. Downtown is home to two excellent art museums and the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. A rich performing arts scene includes one of America’s largest community theaters and an acclaimed symphony and professional ballet company. Live music abounds everywhere in the city, from bars to nightclubs to city parks, spanning many genres and many times free. Architect enthusiasts will also enjoy seeing two Frank Lloyd Wright designs – the privately owned Amberg House and the Meyer May House, open to the public three days per week.

The culinary art scene is quite prolific in Grand Rapids and is supported by Michigan’s agricultural diversity – West Michigan produces 85% of all crops harvested in Michigan. Talented chefs take full advantage of the farm bounty grown in neighboring towns and the countryside. In addition, visitors can pick their produce and fruit at the area’s many family farms and farmer’s markets plentiful-  including the Downtown Market, a year-round purveyor of fresh ingredients and artisan foods.

Craft beers are another highlight, with Grand Rapids being called “Beer City USA” when the city tied Asheville, North Carolina, in an online poll to determine America’s best beer city. The following year, Grand Rapids won the vote by a landslide – and it’s been the holder of the Beer City USA title ever since. Again, quantity and quality make Grand Rapids the top choice for beer lovers, with more than 40 craft breweries within a 30-minute drive.

While Grand Rapids is filled with urban energy, outdoor recreation is always nearby. Fishermen cast their lines in downtown’s Grand River, and there are hundreds of miles of biking and hiking trails. And for the golfing enthusiast, there are dozens of challenging golf courses within five minutes of downtown.

And one of the VERY best places to stay in Grand Rapids is ideally located in the downtown area, nestled in the historic Heritage Hill neighborhood-The Parsonage Inn.

Victorian porch with a flag
Comfortable porch at the Parsonage Inn

History of the Parsonage Inn

This Victorian beauty, the house at 423 Madison, was built in 1882 by Robert Corson and his wife, Sarah McConnell Corson. Robert Corson was an immigrant from Scotland and a career salesman and executive in the furniture industry for which Grand Rapids was famous, primarily working for the well-known Berkey & Gay Furniture Co.

The house features three floors and at least six original and large bedrooms. It was built in the Victorian shingle style, with wood siding on the lower level and cedar shingles on the upper level, with a Queen Anne tower and a large wraparound porch. The original plumbing relied on rainwater collected in a brick cistern in the basement. As was common, the back rooms of the house were used by servants, accessible up and down a back stairwell running from the laundry in the stone-walled basement to the kitchen on the first floor to the servants’ quarters high on the third floor.

Pink sink and Art Deco tile
Art Deco bathroom at the Parsonage

In 1930, William Wallace Sherwood and Virginia Mary Vevia Sherwood bought the house and lived in it for about forty years. Sherwood remodeled the house to be more Arts & Crafts in style, replacing the front porch, adding brightly colored Art Deco tilework to several bathrooms and the kitchen, and building a garage for his automobile hobby.

When W.W. Sherwood died in 1948, his widow Virginia continued in the house for over 20 years, as post-war families chose to move out to the suburbs and the urban neighborhood began to decline from its original glory. Virginia separated the three floors of the house into three two-bedroom apartments. Her renovations added walls and doors for more security, including the side entrance for the third floor.

As the area continued to decline, it became fertile ground for several urban renewal projects that would have ultimately leveled about 75 percent of the area traditionally referred to as the Hill District. Thankfully, an Association was formed to combat the onslaught of bulldozers and wrecking balls. In consultation with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a survey for designation as a historic district was undertaken, and a preservation ordinance for protection was proposed to the Grand Rapids City Commission. On March 11, 1971, Heritage Hill was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Different owners came through the doors of 423 Madison, each being a caretaker and preserving an important part of Grand Rapids’ history. The current owners, Deb and Steve Koster purchased the home in April 2017. They welcomed the first guests to The Parsonage Inn in September of that year. For a complete history, check out this article.

Deb & Steve Koster
Deb & Steve, the innkeepers, and pastors at the Parsonage Inn

What makes the Parsonage Inn Special

When I asked Steve what his favorite thing about the inn was, he said the large comfortable guest rooms and their urban location with the depths of history in their Heritage Hill neighborhood. He has been pleased with their third-floor suite, popular for couples or friends traveling together that need a little extra space and privacy. He deeply appreciates the arts in Grand Rapids and spoke passionately about seeing Verdi’s Requiem several years before at the Grand Rapids Symphony. Most of their guests at the Parsonage are coming to see or do something in the city. As one can guess, the hospitality and warmth of the Parsonage Inn create a perfect home base for exploring this vibrant city.

You’ll always find warm hearts and lots of love poured into making this a welcoming bed and breakfast!

Woman serving two plates of breakfast
Deb serving breakfast

The inn serves a bountiful breakfast daily in their lovely dining room, graced with a chandelier. And when I asked what the guests’ favorite breakfasts were, Steve mentioned their Greek Egg Bake, which is filled with spinach and feta cheese, and their yummy Cheddar Sourdough French Toast. Another favorite recipe when serving a large group is their Blueberry Cream Cheese French Toast Bake.

Rev. Deb and Rev. Dr. Steven are both graduates of Calvin Theological Seminary and ordained ministers in the Christian Reformed Church in North America. They enjoy leading marriage retreats and family seminars at the inn on selected weekends. But most of the time, they cherish meeting new guests and welcoming them back for future visits.

The inn is open year-round.


Tips from your innkeepers at the Parsonage Inn

Wrap Chicken Sandwich with potato chips
Wrap Sandwich at Winchesters

When Deb & Steven have a date night, they love frequenting the Winchester, which serves gourmet bar food in a pub-type atmosphere with exposed-brick walls, a weekend Bloody Mary bar & live jazz. Added tip- the house-made chips are to die for! This excellent pub is just a short walk from the inn.

retro restaurant in Grand Rapids
Commons restaurant

Another recommendation that is sometimes hard to find is the Commons Restaurant for throw-back American dining with a retro twist. One of their favorite comfort food dishes from this eatery is their Dirty Tates, which are potatoes served with nacho-style cheeses and salsa- YUM! Steve described this experience as visiting your grandma’s basement with old fashion brown glassware and old fashion games.

The couple recommends making reservations at the Bisto Bella Vita for special celebratory meals. Diners enjoy a selection of French & Italian cuisine exquisitely prepared with fresh local ingredients.

If you follow the Magnolia Station, you may have heard of the designer Jean Stoffer. Her home is just across the street from the Parsonage Inn. Steve commented that sometimes the designer, who has a huge following on Instagram, will post that she has an open house. Within a few hours, there is a line running down the sidewalk:) Stoffer Home is located on the famous shopping street Wealthy Ave. You will find many upscale shops and restaurants on this fun street.

As one can imagine, Grand Rapids is filled with great dining choices and experiences. Follow along as we outline the more popular ones:

Favorite Dining in Grand Rapids
Favorite Things to do in Grand Rapids
Favorite Brew Pubs/Distillers/Wine in Grand Rapids

Great Shopping in Grand Rapids

Living like a local in Grand Rapids has never been more fun. So book your stay today at the intimate and comfortable Parsonage Inn and enjoy the wonderful hospitality of the two pastors that are your innkeepers.