The Sweet House Venue of Grand Rapids is dedicated to educating the public about the extensive contributions of Martin Sweet in the development of early Grand Rapids and the historical accomplishments of subsequent occupants of the House. The venue’s historic charm and unique character make it the perfect backdrop for any event. From intimate gatherings to large celebrations, they have the expertise to make your vision a reality.
Martin Sweet built this Italianate house in the mid 1860s as the family home for his wife Desdemona and their three children, Mattie, Cassius and Frank.
Martin was a man of limitless energy with a profound business sense and a vision to make Grand Rapids the best place to live. He began by purchasing a flour mill and was the leading merchant in the area for years. He was active in city government, serving on numerous boards, commissions, and councils. In 1860 he was elected mayor of Grand Rapids and served only one term by his own request. In 1861, spurred by the railroad coming to the city and increased business because of the Civil War, he purchased a failing bank which became Old National Bank with Martin as its president for 30 years. The bank became Old Kent Bank and eventually Fifth Third Bank as it is known today. He built the four-story Sweet’s Hotel in 1868 which became the Pantlind Hotel and now is the Amway Grand Plaza. He owned several farms and was an expert on cattle breeding. He imported the first Holstein Friesian cattle from the Netherlands to arrive in Michigan at his largest farm located on the north end of College Avenue and Sweet Street which was named in his honor. The farm was purchased by Kent Country Club at the end of the century. He also owned two furniture companies from 1880-1890, the M.L. Sweet Furniture Company and the M. L. Sweet Bedstead Company. Desdemona died in 1890 at age 72 and Martin Sweet died in the house on February 19,1905 on his 86th birthday.
In 1891 Martin married Emma Mc Breen. After Martin’s death, Emma leased the house to Frank and Clara Davis. Clara was a piano teacher and one of the founders of the St. Cecelia Music Society. She arranged to have world renowned concert pianist Ottokar Malek establish a music conservatory in the house from 1914 to 1919.During the 1920s the house became a second-rate boarding house.In 1927 the Women’s City Club of Grand Rapids purchased the Sweet House for their clubhouse. They made extensive renovations including the additions of the auditorium and dining rooms. The house contains many fine paintings, unique wallpaper, antiques, and Grand Rapids-made furniture. It is a Heritage Hill registered historic residence.
Due to the increasing expense of maintaining the house, in 2005 the Women’s City Club voted to form the Sweet House Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, to raise funds for the maintenance of this historic landmark. The purpose of the Foundation is to preserve and memorialize the history and architecture of Grand Rapids as exhibited in the Sweet House.
In 2018 the Women’s City Club moved from the Sweet House and the Sweet House Foundation assumed full responsibility for the care of this venerable mansion. It is now a downtown event venue, and is the perfect setting for birthday parties, showers, weddings, wakes, corporate meetings and celebrations of all kinds. It is open for tours, by appointment.
The Sweet House offers several event rooms, each decorated with stylish decor and individual themes, ideal for various special events. The Hazel Vandenburg Auditorium/Ballroom offers a stylish, light-filled ceremony space with an auditorium/ballroom feel. A grand piano and raised platform will comfortably accommodate up to 150 seated guests. Desdemona’s Dining Room, named in honor of the original lady of the house, Desdemona Sweet, offers space for up to 125 guests. We offer several smaller rooms that may be used for parties, dinners, cocktail hours, and more.
Learn More about the Venue Space.