Entertainment Art Inside Manistee’s James Dempsey Mansion

Open year round, the Dempsey Manor operates as a house museum and as a bed and breakfast inn. The mansion is also available for private events and guided tours for both groups and individuals by appointment. Colburn and Peterson also host an annual spring tea and fall wine tasting. All proceeds from tours and events go to the Dempsey Mansion Preservation Fund to secure the future of this unique landmark. For more information, go to www.dempseymanorbandb.com or call 231-519-4430 or 616-802-4588.


Editor’s Note–Last month we introduced readers to the largest still-standing mansion built in Manistee during the heyday of the lumber industry — go HERE to view Part I. Now we’ll take a closer look at its interior and learn how it came to be a treasure-filled house museum and luxuriously-appointed bed and breakfast inn.


The interior footprint of James and Mary Dempsey’s home has changed little since it was built for them in 1894. A Conservatory was added in 2000, expanding its living space to more than 8,000 sq. ft. Designed to fit the mansion’s aesthetics perfectly, this glorious all-glass room is a focal point for the current residents and their guests.

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The Conservatory is accessible from the Gentlemen’s Parlor. A handsome, comfortable room, this is most likely where Mr. Dempsey gathered his friends and business associates for cigars, drinks and “manly conversation.” Notice the ornate, tiled fireplace, the curved wall facing the front of the mansion and the chandelier, one of the mansion’s original fixtures, hybrids using both electricity and gas.

Next, we’ll visit the intimate Library with its amazing built-in floor-to-ceiling glass-fronted bookcases. In addition to books, Victorian-era families often displayed souvenirs from their travels in the Library; and that’s just how the Dempsey’s Library is used today.

On the other side of the Foyer is the Ladies’ Parlor, which has been furnished in a feminine French Renaissance style. It’s easy to picture Mary Dempsey in this lovely room, needlework in her lap or enjoying tea or a glass of sherry with the wives of her husband’s friends.

Through one of the mansion’s five sets of pocket doors, we’ll enter the Dining Room, where we are enchanted by the marvelous, intricately-carved woodwork. This elegant room’s ceiling medallion and chandelier are not original to the mansion but they are era correct.

Most of the mansion’s guest accommodations are off the second floor mezzanine, which is reached by a wide staircase. Here we’ll see Mr. Dempsey’s private quarters. Now called the James Dempsey Grand Suite, it includes a spacious and sumptuously decorated sitting room, bedroom, walk-in closet and a bathroom with a parquet floor and built-in mirror-fronted cabinets. Across the hall is the Sage Room, which was probably Mrs. Dempsey’s room. Though not as large as the Dempsey Suite, it is, nevertheless, a charming room with a curved wall and floor-to-ceiling built-in cabinets and drawers. Next door is the Plum Room–take time here to admire the Italian Victorian bed frames and side tables. A little further on, we’ll find the bright and cheerful Yellow Room and the Teal Room, decorated with antique American samplers and a corner cabinet from France’s Alsace-Lorraine. Up on the third floor, the Angel Suite occupies what was once Mr. Dempsey’s billiard room. The most recently renovated part of the mansion, the Angel is a huge, open bed-sitting room with a breathtaking bathroom adorned with six round stained-glass windows.

James Colburn acquired the mansion in 2013 and has since turned it into a showcase for his stunning collections of antique furniture, artwork and decorative items. Colburn, a native of California, has been a collector for more than 50 years. Among the thousands of objects on display at the Dempsey Manor–as the mansion is now called–is the largest privately-owned collection of Chinese Export Porcelain in Michigan. Colburn’s collections also include an impressive representation of 300 years of English ceramics; antique textiles, laces, stitchery and samplers; antique crystal and glass; 18th- and 19th-century furniture; all manner of Oriental crafts (silver, lacquer, paper-mâche); mercury glass; antique sculpture in marble, bronze and spelter and wood; antique natural specimans such as scrimshaw, Inuit stone carvings and fossils; antique lighting and fixtures; and a variety of marine arts and artifacts. Over 200 oils, gouaches, watercolors, illuminations, manuscript vellums, etchings, prints, chromolithographs and daguerrotypes from the 17th to the 20th centuries adorn the Dempsey’s walls.

Colburn enjoyed a career as a film and television set decorator in Hollywood; and he also owned and operated a popular art, antiques and import showroom. Later in life, he was ordained to the clergy; and for 20 years, he operated a rural California retreat camp while also pastoring a small community of Middle Eastern Christians. As retirement approached, Colburn began looking for a Victorian mansion in which to open a bed and breakfast inn. The Dempsey mansion was the last of more than 24 properties he visited and he knew in less than an hour that his search was over.

Colburn got acquainted with Jan Peterson on her first visit to the Dempsey Manor in June, 2014. Captivated by the grand old mansion and Colburn’s vision of a premiere bed and breakfast inn and house museum, Peterson became a frequent visitor; and in early 2015, she joined Colburn as a partner in the business. Peterson is a native Michigander, spending much of her life in Grand Rapids. In her 46 years in the travel industry, she specialized in creating one-of-a-kind experiences for tour groups visiting destinations around the world.

Colburn is the Dempsey’s marketing director, museum curator and webmaster; and he oversees the ongoing repairs and restoration of the mansion. Meanwhile, Peterson manages guest services and uses her culinary skills to create the gourmet foods presented at breakfasts, teas and other special events. The partners share innkeeper duties, striving for a service level reminiscent of the finest inns of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Both Colburn and Peterson love Manistee and the surrounding area and believe its unique assets–warm, genuine people, remarkable historical heritage, beautiful natural setting, year around outdoor activities, and its many cultural offerings, celebrations and festivals – make it the ideal place in which to live and do business. For this reason and because they are committed to preserving the past for future generations, they hope to be the last private owners of the Dempsey. Once it is self-sustaining as an historic bed and breakfast inn and house museum, the partners plan to set up a non-profit foundation to own and operate the mansion and care for its valuable collections after their lifetimes.


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