The Pickle Barrel House

Drive down the hill into the village of Grand Marais, Michigan, and you'll instantly notice the giant barrel-shaped building on the corner at the bottom of the hill.  Welcome to the Pickle Barrel House, one of the most unique structures in the country!  Its history is as unique as its shape.

The story begins in 1914.  William Donahey, an illustrator from Cleveland, Ohio, created a cartoon series called "the Teenie Weenies".  These were tiny, two-inch-tall people who lived in a garden under a rosebush, and their stories were filled with their adventures as they coped in a human-sized world.  First printed in the Chicago Tribune, the little Teenie Weenies were an immediate hit and by 1923 the series was syndicated to newspapers around the country.  Every Sunday, a full-color illustration accompanied a stand-alone story about the little people.  Readers grew to know recurring figures such as the General, The Lady of Fashion, the Policeman, the Dunce, and The Old Sailor. 

In the mid-1920s, Donahey entered an  agreement with Monarch Foods of Chicago to allow the use of the Teenie Weenies on a line of food products targeted at children.  Teenie Weenie canned vegetables, peanut butter, toffies, and popcorn soon appeared on grocery shelves.  The most popular product was Teenie Weenie Sweet Pickles, sold in little oak kegs.  As part of the marketing for the Teenie Weenie products, full-page ads in the style of the Sunday cartoons were published in major magazines across the country.  Several of these ads showed the little Teenie Weenies building the oak barrels and filling them with pickles.

In 1926 Donahey created an ad for Monarch Foods that showed a Teenie Weenie bride and groom standing in front of their new home, which was a house made from one of the pickle barrels:

This gave the Monarch Food Company an idea.  They contracted with the Pioneer Cooperage Company of Chicago, maker of the small barrels, to construct a life-sized replica.  The new barrel house would have a 16-foot high, two-story barrel in the front for a living area and bedroom, and an attached 8-foot high barrel in the rear, which would serve as a kitchen.  The barrel was brought north to Grand Marais and erected west of town on the shore of Sable Lake, where the Donaheys loved to vacation.  William and Mary came north by car, and although William was in on the surprise, Mary knew nothing about the house until she saw it in the woods for the first time.  Local children, dressed as Teenie Weenie characters, presented her with a key.

The Donaheys used their Pickle Barrel cottage in the summers for ten years, but the constant stream of visitors (sometimes 200 in a single day) became too much to bear and in 1937 they gave it to Mr. Hill, a Grand Marais businessman.  He moved it to the corner of Lake and Randolph Streets in Grand Marais, where it has stood ever since.  Over the years, it has been used as an ice cream stand, an information center, and a gift shop.

The house fell into disrepair in the 1990s and by 2003 it was on the verge of collapse.  The Grand Marais Historical Society mounted a fundraising drive to purchase the building and property. The barrel house was restored to replicate the original cottage, and in the summer of 2005, it opened to the public as a museum.  The living area, bedroom, pantry, and kitchen are all open for viewing, and a number of William Donahey's personal artifacts are on display.  In addition to touring the building, children can hunt for Teenie Weenie figures hidden in the house and garden.

The Pickle Barrel House is open on weekends from 1-4pm during the months of June and September, and is open daily from 1-4pm during July and August.  Admission is by donation and souvenir items are available.  The Pickle Barrel Historic Iris Garden, planted in 2009, is open during daylight hours.  Peak bloom is typically late May to late June.  The garden is located at the rear of the property.

An Iris Sale is held every August, where the public can purchase divisions of the irises in the garden.  Proceeds support the garden and Historical Society projects.