The Pickle Barrel House (Grand Marais, Michigan)

The Pickle Barrel House
Photo by Heather

Built in 1926 by the Pioneer Cooperage Company, the Pickle Barrel House, a historic piece of novelty architecture, is exactly what it sounds like, a larger-than-life pickle barrel that served as a summer home for cartoonist William Donahey. The two-story cabin built to resemble two barrels was designed based on Donahey’s cartoon characters “The Teenie Weenies” that were two inches tall and lived under a rose bush in a pickle barrel. Donahey’s widely syndicated cartoon debuted in the Chicago Tribune in 1914 and it featured tiny people who lived in a world of life-sized objects.

Donahey did several advertisements for the Monarch Foods line and the Teenie Weenies were featured on many of Monarch Food’s products including coffee, peanut butter, popcorn, sausage, bacon, and a variety of vegetables, including pickles. Reid-Murdock ordered the Pickle Barrel House to be built by the Pioneer Cooperage Company of Chicago, and the little cottage served as a spot of inspiration for the Donaheys as they spent time at Grand Sable Lake.

The main section of the pickle barrel house is a 16-foot-tall (4.9 m) barrel that features two stories, the main floor living area, and an upstairs bedroom. A smaller single-story barrel serves as the kitchen and the two barrels are connected by a small corridor that doubles as a pantry. There is an outdoor garden and a seating area with a garden path between the two.

Vintage Pickle Barrel
Vintage photo of the Pickle Barrel by Wystan.

The Donaheys received a lot of attention, possibly too much attention, for their barrel house on the lake. Since no one had ever seen a home quite like it, visitors to the area would often stop by and take photos while the residents helplessly stood by. In less than ten years from its original construction the flood of unwanted visitors to the unique summer home became a burden to the Donaheys and the home was sold.

When the new tenants took possession of the house in 1936 it was moved from Grand Sable Lake to downtown Grand Marais. Since its move it alternately served as an ice-cream stand, an information kiosk booth, and a souvenir gift shop, but despite near constant use was not properly maintained and fell into disrepair.

In 2003 the Grand Marais Historical Society acquired the property and undertook the project of restoring it to its original condition. On July 3, 2005, nearly 80 years after it was first built, the renovated Pickle Barrel House was opened to the public

The building is currently located in Grand Marais on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula near the southern shore of Lake Superior near the intersection of State Highway M-77 and County Highway H-58 and serves as a tourist attraction and museum. The Pickle House is open on weekends from 1-4pm in June & September, and daily from 1-4pm in July & August. The one-time home is listed on the Michigan Register of Historic Places and is a Michigan Historic Home.

Pickle Barrel House Facts

  • The Teenie Weenies comic ran from 1914 until Donahey’s death in 1970.
  • The Pickle Barrel House is located at the NE Corner of Lake & Randolph Streets, Grand Marais, MI 49839.
  • The Grand Marais Historical Society restoration of the Pickle Barrel House cost $125,000.
  • The barrel house museum has old pictures of the Donaheys that show how they spent their summers in the cottage.
  • The Pickle Barrel House contains a living area, pantry, kitchen, and bedroom, but not a bathroom.
  • The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Michigan Register of Historic Places, and is a Michigan Historic Home.