top of page


The Mansion & Its Setting

The Hon. James Dempsey

The Hon. James Dempsey

Lumber Baron, Banker, Manistee-Grand Rapids Railway Owner, Postmaster, and Mayor of Manistee, MI. 

Interesting to know...


  • The Mansion was erected in 1894.

  • It was built by Irish immigrant and Manistee Lumber Baron, James Dempsey - as his last home in Manistee.

  • It was constructed by the leading Chicago architects Holabird & Roche.

  • The mansion is of frame construction, but is veneered with three stories of brick facing.

  • The facade reflects the Victorian French Neo-Renaissance Chateauesque style, and is believed to be one of only four 19th century residential examples of this style in the state of Michigan. 

  • Mr. Dempsey was 62 years old when he took occupancy of the mansion, moving in with his wife, Mary (Mullen) Dempsey, four (unmarried daughters) of his 12 children, and servants.. This was probably Mr. Dempsey's third Manistee home.  He also built the lovely Victorian home two doors South for one of his daughters, a home for his parents next door (destroyed by fire in the 20th century), and a home for one of his sons, behind the mansion on Oak Street. 

  • Mr. Dempsey used a large room on the Mansion's third floor as a billiard hall.

  • In the 1990s the Mansion was used as an Assisted Living home at which time the elevator was added.

  • The Mansion has two towers crowned with original polished copper finials, over 8000 square feet of living space in 29 rooms, most with room ceilings over ten feet tall,

  • and was built with six and one-half baths.

  • The interior contains: twenty-nine patterns of wallpaper, with 

  • original oak and parquet flooring remaining throughout. 

  • There are two dining rooms (Servant's Dining Room is now an Office),

  • two butler's pantries,

  • two parlors (a ladies' parlor and a gentlemen's parlor),  

  • a formal library,

  • a three-story atrium,

  • ten original bedrooms,

  • a former billiards parlor (now a suite),

  • an attached Victorian glass conservatory,

  • ten original fireplaces,

  • two formal entries and three service entries,

  • a first floor living suite with private entrance,

  • a large finished basement with servant quarters,

  • forty-eight original interior doors

  • and sixty-one windows (all of which are original).


















       After a three-year search for the perfect home to convert into a living storybook Victorian House Museum, in 2012 Emmy-nominated Hollywood Set Designer/Decorator James Colburn discovered this French Neo-Renaissance Victorian Mansion which takes pride of place in the Historic Homes District of the Victorian Port City of Manistee in Northwestern Michigan.


       The present James is not the first James in the California film industry to enjoy this fine home. In 1993 Oscar, Emmy, Golden Globe and Tony winning actor, James Earl Jones, returned to the historic Ramsdell Theater here in Manistee (where he began his acting career in 1955) to campaign for the playhouse's restoration and provide a book-signing event. During that stay he and his family chose The Dempsey Manor as their pied-a-terre, and occupied all three floors of this stately Mansion. The Dempsey Manor House Museum has been, and is, an irreplaceable architectural treasure, now a stunning and educational museum, and  the

preferred fine-lodging choice for dignitaries and notable  persons visiting Michigan's



       The man who built the Mansion was another James: the modest but very successful

Lumber Baron, the Honorable James Dempsey (a philanthropist who also served

                                     a term as Mayor of Manistee). The Mansion was designed

                                     and constructed by the prestigious Chicago firm of Holabird and

                                     Roche, who completed it in 1894. Your Host, James Colburn, now

                                     retired from the film and television industry, has devoted a year and a half restoring                                                    and furnishing this architectural treasure in Victorian Period style


                                            In the days of James Dempsey, Manistee was home to many well-to-do residents. In                                                one period of its 19th century boom days, Manistee had more millionaires per-

                                     capita than any other city in the nation. And much larger and grander homes as well. Alas, all of the other opulent estates are gone, their homes demolished or destroyed by fire. Today, The Dempsey Manor is the largest Lumber Baron residence in town that remains from Manistee's extravagant and unique industrial period.


       Let us know about your travel plans to our charming vacation area.

We'll talk about Tours of the Manor, and Guest Room

availability -- and clue you in on events and attractions you should not miss.

       The Manistee County Visitors Bureau publishes a fascinating and highly

esteemed booklet on Manistee Self-Guided Historical Sites Tours, which includes

The Dempsey Mansion.

From the State of Michigan

Pure Michigan - The James Dempsey Mansion

narrated by Hollywood film and television star (and Manistee-an!), actress Toni Trucks:





.(1)  From Manistee, Toni relocated to Los Angeles to make her television debut as the female lead on Showtime’s acclaimed comedy series Barbershop *

Other television credits include HostagesThe Soul ManHouseAll of UsVeronica Mars'Til DeathBrothersCSI: NY, Made in JerseyGrimm, the telefilms Star Runners and Starstruck, and her current co-starring role as Lisa Davis in the CBS weekly series SEAL Team.  Her previous film credits include DreamgirlsWeapons, and Music and Lyrics, and co-star of the 2012 Fox Searchlight film Ruby Spark 



Call us.

We can arrange a superb stay for you

providing memories you will love to

share for a long time to come.

(616) 802-4588



James Colburn, at Pierport Barn.jpg



James Colburn, Your co-Host


     James, a California native, who earned his Bachelor’s degree in Music Performance from the University of California at Santa Barbara, also holds a Master's degree in Religious Studies with a Theology Emphasis from Mount St. Mary's in Los Angeles, CA; he is currently working on a doctorate through Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

     He began his training in design in Los Angeles in 1974; and later, with landscape designer Ronald Joseph Ferris, founded Greenleaf Landscape & Design, still in operation today. 

     In 1980 James formed the firm Natural Selection Inc., a large L. A. art, antiques and import showroom catering to celebrities, entertainers, architects, contract specifiers and interior designers.

     From 1978, concurrently, he pursued a successful career in Hollywood as a film and television Set Decorator. He is a life-long member of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. During his decades in the Industry, he has worked at Universal Studios, Columbia Studios, Warner Bros., New World Productions, Lorimar, Paramount Studios, Sony Studios, The Hollywood Studios, Glen Larson Productions, Castle Rock, Amblin, Spelling, 20th Century Fox, and other film production companies.

     His many credits include Full House, Valerie, The Hogan Family, Fathers and Sons, Hart to Hart, House Calls, Half-Nelson, The Pursuit of Happiness, Baryshnikov in Hollywood, Cold Steel and Neon, the Love Boat Special, Canterbury Tales, Real Life, The Sid Caesar Show, Fathers & Sons, Walter, The 25th Man, Anything But Love, the sci-fi series "V," Spielberg’s Amazing Stories, Glitter, Beggarman Thief, Walter, Perfect Strangers, and others including many pilots and commercials; earning an Emmy nomination for the television series Good Time Harry,  in 1981.

      At the age of 52, weary of a career meant "for the young and tireless," he answered a long-time call to ministry, completed post-graduate studies, and was ordained a Christian Orthodox priest. For nearly two decades in the mountains above Los Angeles, he managed St. Helena's Retreat Camp adjacent to the Angeles National Forest; additionally during this period, he served as assistant pastor of a small Arabic-speaking community of Middle-Eastern Christians and immersed himself in Orthodox studies.

     Retired from parish service in 2013, James moved to the Midwest to be closer to his remaining family – all Midwesterners.

     Fascinated by Victorian architecture, he was drawn to Manistee by the landmark 1894 James Dempsey Mansion, on Lake Michigan’s spectacular Northwest Coast. After extensive refurbishing, James opened The Dempsey Manor Bed & Breakfast Inn and Victorian House Museum in the Summer of 2014.  Today, this French twin-towered Neo-Renaissance home is a 29-room castle-like chateau which James has given a three-fold mission. It serves as an historic museum open to the public for educational tours; as an over-night venue giving visitors a first-hand experience of Victorian life enjoyed by the very wealthy few; and as a unique setting for personal and spiritual growth workshops continuing his priestly ministry.   

     James, a concert and musical-theater performer in early life, has recently taken to the stage again as a local actor and singer for the Manistee Civic Players at Manistee's opulent 1904 Ramsdell Theater, the first performance stage for locals-turned-Hollywood celebrities Toni Trucks (Barbershop, Dream Girls, Music & Lyrics, and currently the CBS series SEAL TEAM); and Academy and Emmy Award actor James Earl Jones

     Over three production seasons in Manistee, James has enjoyed performing the roles of the villainous banker, Henry Potter, in the musical It's a Wonderful Life; Manolo, a lusty Spaniard in the female version of The Odd Couple; and Sam Katz, a Jewish widower who encounters three grieving but zany Jewish widows, in the comedy The Cemetery Club.

     Now living surrounded by the Great Lakes, James regards his past seventy-two years as no handicap to re-inventing life and himself anew. “The character of this land is a sensory feast for me, glacier-carved and at its edge lapped by an immense emerald-shaded fresh-water inland sea. Cries of seagulls and the scurrying of sandpipers along broad sugar-white beaches make the joys of my Pacific Coast childhood full of life again. Never before have I desired so much to live in the moment -- this moment, here in this place. No matter the day's troubles,  a walk or a drive into the ever-awesome natural beauty of this country picks me up and gently sets me down in a good space. I’ve been here five years, enough to discover give it a bit more time, and it gives back more. Every season transforms the landscape into a unique work of art never beheld before -- nor ever again. Never are two summers, springs, falls or winters the same.

     "This has an effect on me in my late-life walk-about. If I note and welcome all the differing layers of beauty -- like the mothering of the water and the woods for the lives of the feathered and the furred -- it’s a soothing influence. A slow intoxication, it leaves me marinated in a state of contentment, peace with the universe. 

     “These experiences are shaped in the context of a rich folk culture, a unique frontier history, the multi-ethnic traditions Michiganders have preserved, and the very satisfying warmth and depth of human connection the small town of Manistee has made possible for me. 

     “Yes, I do have seventy-two years under my belt! But, when all is finished, what I found is the stuff to feed my body, my soul, and my creative energies for a whole other lifetime.”


Jan Peterson, Your co-Host


     Jan Peterson was one of James’ first guests at Dempsey Manor, arriving on June 20, 2014. She was immediately captivated by the amazing old mansion and James’ vision of creating a premiere bed and breakfast inn, house museum and retreat center.

     Subsequent visits found her assisting in the kitchen, offering administrative and marketing suggestions and doing her best to become indispensable. In September, she accepted the position of assistant innkeeper; and a few months later, she became a partner in the business.       Jan is a native Michigander, spending much of her life in Grand Rapids, where she still maintains a home.

     Jan did her undergraduate studies at Grand Rapids Junior College (now Grand Rapids Community College) and Aquinas College.  In addition, she earned numerous professional certifications and awards during her decades as a world-wide travel industry executive; among them the Travel Institute’s prestigious Certified Travel Counselor designation.

     Jan has traveled extensively in Europe and has also visited Africa, China, Mexico, Tahiti, Australia, New Zealand and many parts of the U.S. and Canada.

     Jan’s greatest joy in life comes from using her gifts and talents to create extraordinary experiences for others. For 46 years, she had the privilege of arranging distinctive one-of-a-kind tours for groups pursuing a variety of special interests in destinations around the world.  

     Now, with equal satisfaction, she shares The Dempsey Manor and Manistee with guests who come from near and far.  

     A convert to Catholicism, Jan is also an ardent supporter of Twelve Steps programs and a devoted yoga practitioner.  She is an avid reader – favorites include historical narrative, health, and spiritual enquiry – and dedicated to the joy of walking. 

About The Dempsey Manor on TV:   MiNews Channel 26

The first installment of news features telling the story of The Dempsey Manor B and B aired 6-17-2015, the second a week later. These interview clips showing the Mansion and its Hosts help to fill out the human dimension "about us" as the Hosts tell their own stories in their own words set against a videographed background of the architecture and its interiors.

Let us know about your travel plans to our charming vacation area.


We'll talk about Guest Accommodations here at the Manor, and Guest Room availability -- and clue you in on events and attractions you should not miss.


We can arrange a superb stay for you, providing memories you will love to share for a long time to come. 

bottom of page