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Historic Cottages of Glen Lake by Barabara Siepker

Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli - February 23rd, 2009
Historic Cottages of Glen Lake
Text: Barbara Siepker.
Photographs: Dietrich Floeter
Leelanau Press; $50



It is a bit like entering a dream, to open Historic Cottages of Glen Lake, and come across comfortable old places; meet the visionary families who built their residences along the shores of a lovely Northern Michigan lake so long ago. What struck me first was that the photographs, by Dietrich Floeter of Traverse City, were in black and white, not the sepia tones I was seeing. It was my imagination—the sepia. My own warming addition of memory and soft summer days to a book that allows for nostalgia.
But nothing is frozen in time here. These are Glen Lake cottages where people still live, or visit, on long summer vacations. Six of the 50 cottages pictured are owned by the original families, down to the fourth generation.
None of these are museum pieces, recreated for an audience. The fireplaces are smudged with soot; the tables await big breakfasts; family photographs and children’s artwork sit on tables, hang on walls; and folded afghans wait for a cool evening, for the stillness of dusk, when one can sit on a porch curled up with a book.
It isn’t hard to visualize the families of these homes. The William and Elizabeth Walker house has two stories and is built of wood, with narrow lap-siding. Inside, the stucco plastered walls are trimmed with thick rope moldings. The living room has a fieldstone chimney. There is a dining room, kitchen, office, and four bedrooms—room for a lot of people. The house was built in the 1870s, when Walker established a cranberry business based on the cranberry bog along the east side of M-22, between Glen Arbor and Glen Lake.

THE APOGEE OF LIFE
Robert Worthington, who grew up in Birchworth, the Worthington’s cottage, later said of his life there, “The apogee of life is sitting on the dock in the sunshine at Glen Lake. Everything else declines from there, other life experiences are not important.”
For many years the Worthington’s ran Tonawathya, a resort on the west shore of the lake.
One of the most charming of the pictured homes is Bray Cottage. The family, from Chicago, built the house in 1914. Today, floral upholstery and drapes brighten the living room. Oriental carpets, garlands and wreaths, round mirrors and period lamps add personality. Family photos fill the mantle while candles, small chests and a copper tub filled with wood give the home its sense of warmth. The photos, even in black and white, come to life. Love of place is evident, as if a family member waited behind the photographer, arms crossed, critical of a slumping pillow or an uneven picture frame. There is nothing of calculated shabby chic here. The home is real, welcoming, and doesn’t fear showing its pedigree.
In the Fralick-Lehmann cottage, there has been no effort to change the bare wood walls, nor clean the soot from the stone fireplace. The room seen is filled with pianos and a large round table for gatherings. It isn’t difficult to hear the music, nor the laughter.
What I love best about these cottages is the well-used look of them. Not decay, certainly, and not neglect—but use. Bare fixtures hang above ornate beds placed against bare wood walls with exposed studs. There are baskets of wood and simple cases for books. There are squat andirons, paintings, photographs, simply framed drawings, and original pieces left from the first days, when the cottages were new.

THE PEOPLE WITHIN
Barbara Siepker’s comments give context to the homes and the people. In one family photo, women, in long-sleeved white blouses and long black skirts, pose leaning amiably together. In another photo a boy sits in a rowboat waiting to go fishing. In another, a four-year-old rides a log. And there is the snapshot of Margaret Mercer, a slim and decorous young woman in long, white pants, posing on the porch of Mercer Cottage with her floppy hat, full make-up, and a shotgun cradled in one arm.
In the Weese Cottage, bare walls set a mood of life stripped to the bone. There is no fuss here, only impeccable bare surfaces, bare floors, woven rugs. There seems to be an emphasis on a woman’s time—to be with her family, enjoy the out of doors, and be free of chores seen to elsewhere; in the months before the freedom of a Michigan cottage.
Time, as the ephemeral background to life, isn’t caught, as if in amber, on these pages. It seems more that layer upon layer of years, more paint, new design, and new inventions, don’t even matter. It is the families. It is the living well enough. We are lucky to be given access to these cottages, small glimpses into our shared past and present, with their spun-sugar Victorian wicker, and rows of rocking chairs along a wide porch. All the parts are here: a table for food, a chair for rest, fire for warmth, a bed for sleep, and hints of story. People have changed here, loved, lost, and mourned. It is this inherent life, not the historic or monetary values, which appeals most in this book, chosen one of the Michigan Library’s Notable Books of 2008.
Because not all of the homes pictured still exist, Barbara Siepker sounds a note of warning, “These once vibrant dwellings are now endangered and disappearing from our landscape as lakefront prices, property taxes, and renovation costs increase, especially when ownership is transferred.”
Dietrich Floeter used a wide-view camera, hoping to reproduce photographs such as would have been taken when the cottages were first built. It worked. They are as alive today as when first built, maybe even better.

Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli’s novel, Dead Floating Lovers, will be in bookstores in July.


 
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