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A storied past: Rockland's 'Henry's Never Inn'

June 9, 2012
By Stacey Kukkonen (skukkonen@mininggazette.com) , The Daily Mining Gazette

ROCKLAND - On a warm, late morning in Rockland, the door at "Henry's Inn" was open and a conversation about hunting could be heard from the outside.

Behind the bar, in the corner kitchen, Sally Gagnon prepared a to-go order while three men, regulars at the Inn, talk over coffee.

"We do get our regulars here," Gagnon said, gesturing over to the bar. "It's a gathering place."

Article Photos

Daily Mining Gazette/Stacey Kukkonen
Henry’s Inn in Rockland is seen with a few of its patrons Thursday.

The quaint building, now dubbed Henry's Never Inn, has been a hotspot in the town for more than a century, catering to those in Rockland looking for a place where everybody knows everyone else. The Gagnons, whose family has owned the business for several generations, have been serving up food, spirits and lively stories since 1898.

Visitors are greeted at the door by black and white photos of Marilyn Monroe and Gagnon said she doesn't know what patrons find more jarring - finding out there is no heat in the men's room or opening the door to the men's room to see dozens of photos of the iconic pin-up.

"Henry likes Marilyn," Gagnon said.

Sitting at a custom-made glazed wooden table used for desserts, Gagnon and her granddaughter, Bobbi Ross, share stories of the bar from the years past. One of Gagnon's favorite is the time a helicopter landed in the St. Mary Churchyard across the street.

"Everyone thought Father Harris got ill and they were picking him up," she said.

Instead, it was a man, woman and their dog who flew in from Milwaukee for one of Henry's bologna burgers, she said.

"They flew just for a bologna burger," she said.

The Gagnons get a lot of help from the family, including Ross who used to "take orders" for diners.

"It was so cute," Gagnon said. "She would write down hamburger and french fries for every order, so I had to be really good at listening to the orders from over the counter. I had to learn to memorize the orders."

Ross grew up at the business and learned the ropes of working for the family.

"She would listen over the counter," Ross said.

Construction on the inn began with Peter Gagnon is 1896. It soon opened in 1898, was called The Sample Room and was operated by Minnie Gagnon's husband, Simon Bahan. The back bar was put in place in 1900 and beer was kept cold at the bar by using blocks of ice cut from the Michigan Dam located outside of Rockland, Gagnon said. Today, the bar features the original stamped metal ceiling and walls.

Gagnon said Bahan was sampling more of the product than he was selling, so Henry and Alex Gagnon took over and renamed the business A&H Gagnon Bros. Saloon.

During prohibition in the 1920s, the business became a "blind pig" and dance hall, drawing patrons in for alcohol. In fact, in Rockland there were 40 speakeasies for Rockland's population of 5,000, she said.

For several years, the bar exchanged hands to many family members who ran the business, changing the name ever so often. For just five years, someone who wasn't in the family, Bernard Shiroda from downstate, owned the place and called it Buck's Bar. In 1975, Henry and Sally Gagnon purchased the business, renaming it Henry's Inn, and later calling it Henry's Never Inn, which is the name that stuck.

In the '80s, the business was extended into the old living quarters where Henry was born and the inn began serving food, becoming known for the Friday and Saturday night smorgasbords and homemade pasties. They even have a portable patio for outdoor summer seating.

Gagnon said even though there are peaks and valleys when it comes to being busy, the business has served its purpose and know the secret to success.

"Being crazy," she joked. "We love it and the people are awesome."

 
 

 

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