Tag Archives: farmhouse

…And How It Went


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So, our first winter on Beaver Island was the winter of 1978-79. It was “the year of the blizzard” in Michigan. All over the state, records were being broken, cars were buried and folks were snowed in. I had no idea. I thought it was just Beaver Island…and I didn’t know it was unusual. Dad had warned me that winters on Beaver Island were hard!

We were at the Stone House that winter, four and a half miles from town, one mile from our nearest neighbors. Bonnie and Denny Wagner lived about a mile south of us, in a big farmhouse that they were in the process of remodeling. Their son, Craig, started the first grade with my daughter, Jen. They also had a daughter, Missy, just a bit younger than Katey, and a toddler, Johnny. We all became good friends, and often shared dinners together.

My husband played poker once a week with a group of islanders. He played pool at the Shamrock. I played in a pool tournament that winter, too. Though I am awful at the game, I managed somehow to take third place! Now and then, Terry and I would hire a babysitter, and go to the Shamrock for the evening. Sometimes we played backgammon.

Did you count, as we were going through the rooms of the Stone House? There were four wood stoves! The only one that sat idle was the old cook stove in the kitchen. We had to keep the garage warm enough to keep the water pipes from freezing. We tried to keep the house heated with the other two. Fuel oil was expensive; we didn’t want to use that furnace more than we had to. We quickly used up the wood that had been in the garage when we moved in. Then, our main focus became finding more.

We got slabs from the lumber mill, free for hauling away. They were dirty, and didn’t give out much heat, so we used them only in the garage. We bought wood from people that had extra; we cut and hauled wood when we could. We gathered windfall and dead wood. We used the furnace more than we’d planned. It was a constant struggle to keep warm.

In the middle of February, a massive storm came through. It dumped several inches of snow, took out electricity for long hours and blew down the chimney on the Zanella’s house down the road. It blew a big tree down, right over our driveway. My husband and I looked in awe out the dining room window, where the top branches now reached, and were rubbing against the glass. The tree had fallen right across our car, crushing it. We stared. We turned and looked at each other. We grinned.

“Firewood!!” we said, in unison.

It wasn’t all good. My husband and I separated that winter. He was drinking heavily; we were fighting too much; he was homesick. Work on the island had slowed with the cold weather. He had jobs to do downstate. We decided it would be best to take a break, and see if we could figure things out.

It made for a long, lonely winter. Hours at work were minimal during that slow season. Keeping the fires going was my main occupation. My daughters were now four and seven years old. They were  almost my only company, and they went to bed early. Don and Florence Burke stopped in once. Topper McDonough visited two or three times. He’d bring a six-pack of beer. I’d drink one while he had the rest, while he told me stories of when I was a toddler, when he visited my Dad in Lapeer. “You were a little monkey,” he’d tell me, “You could run full out along the back of the sofa! You nearly gave me a heart attack!” It was nice to hear tales of when I was young. For much of that winter, I felt very old.

In the springtime, my Dad came to the island with my sister, Brenda and her son, Alan, with the intent of helping me move back to the farmhouse. The suckers were running in the streams, and Dad taught the kids how to catch them in nets or with their bare hands. They’d keep going back to the creek for more, while Brenda and I stood in the wood shed at the farmhouse, cleaning the fish. The ones set aside for smoking didn’t need to be scaled, but plenty enough of them did. We started with heavy spoons. At one point, Jewell Gillespie stopped in with an electric scaler. It was certainly fast, but sent the scales flying everywhere. I got back to the Stone House at about three in the morning…stood under the shower trying to get the fish scales off my skin and out of my hair…then collapsed into bed. What a nightmare!

And yet, in hindsight, it became a good memory. The kids all certainly enjoyed it! It quickly became a tradition, among myself, my sisters and our children, to come to the island with Dad in the springtime, for a cold, wet and fish-smelling splashing good time!

By the first of May, we were back in the farmhouse for the summer.



The Stone House on Beaver Island



At the end of October, in 1978, we moved out of the farmhouse and moved in to the Stone House. Easy to find, it was featured on the new Wojan-Cashman map of Beaver Island. During the tourist season, the large home rented for a whopping two hundred and fifty dollars per week…but from the end of October to the first of May, we could have it for a mere one hundred twenty-five dollars a month!

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The Stone House was on the corner of the King’s Highway and Paid Een Og’s Road (pronounced, roughly, podge-een-ogg ),about two and a half miles south of the farmhouse. It had recently been the retirement home of a Catholic priest, Father Donahue. His nephew, Jim Lovely, had inherited it when the priest died. It was from him that we rented it.

The main structure was a two story square building of beautiful fieldstone with a gambrel roof, but additions had been added in almost every direction. To the south, a large enclosed porch collected enough heat to feel like a sauna on sunny days days. Another enclosed porch faced the King’s Highway to the east. On the west, a couple large additions featured a  living-ding room, bathroom, kitchen and a garage at the end of the driveway off Paid Een Og’s Road.

The yard was bordered with flowering hedges. A large, old rickety barn stood to the south of the house. The woods came right up to the driveway on the west.

We always parked in the driveway, and entered through the garage. The west wall – farthest from the house – and the back wall were covered in pegboard, loaded with simple tools. Shallow benches and shelves hugged the walls. In the center of the garage sat a barrel stove. The wall closest to the house had wood storage along the first half, then the stairs that would lead into the kitchen, and then a space for a washer and dryer. It seems like there was room to park a car in there, but I never remember doing it.

Up the stairs and into the kitchen, you would first be face to face with a beautiful old cast iron wood-burning cook stove. Pans rested on its surface and hung above it. Turn sharply to the left, to see the rest of the kitchen. An electric stove stood alone on the left, on the wall shared with the garage. Cupboards lined the wall straight ahead, with a sink in the center and the refrigerator at the far end. A window above the sink looked out on the driveway, side yard and Paid Een Og’s Road beyond. A little table was tucked into the corner opposite the refrigerator; between those two items, a doorway led to the dining and living space.

The dining table sat in front of a large window, again facing Paid Een Og’s Road. The far wall had once been the back, exterior wall of the original building. The wall was fieldstone. It grabbed the cold and held on to it. Those stone walls radiated cold all winter long. Though they were lovely, I shudder with the memory of them. A bookcase stood against the stone wall, its shelves filled with missals, ledgers and old cookbooks.

The stone continued  across the back wall of the living area. On the opposite side of the room, on the wall shared with the kitchen, was a large stone fireplace. A slab of wood retrieved from a shipwreck was the mantle. Into the face of it was carved the legend, “Chop your own Wood and it Warms you Twice.”  A “heat-a-lator” insert helped to send more heat back into the room. Tucked into the far corner was a door that lead into a small bathroom. The south wall had windows that looked out onto an enclosed porch. On the far end of the stone wall, just opposite the bathroom door, was a doorway leading into the original house.

What had been living spaces were now sleeping quarters. The first, main room was kept open. Just inside was a stairway, leading to two upstairs bedrooms. We only used those rooms for company. Another door led to a set of old wooden steps that led to the basement. There was a fuse box down there and a fuel oil furnace. Kettles and zinc wash tubs shared space  with equipment for making saurkraut, apple cider and maple syrup.

Across from the stairs was a small desk that held the telephone. Straight ahead was the front door, leading into another enclosed porch, this one facing the King’s Highway. A pot-bellied wood stove sat in the center of the room. To the left, an archway led into a mid-sized room with two twin beds. That became the bedroom for my daughters. At the back of that room, a wooden door led into another small bedroom; that’s where my husband and I slept.

That’s the end of the simple tour through the Stone House on Beaver Island



The Farmhouse on Beaver Island


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This was how the farmhouse looked when I moved in to it. Far different from the way it had looked when my great-grandfather, Henry, directed the construction and moved his family into it. Different from the way it looked when my grandfather, George, was the head of household, and my father was growing up. Soon after I lived there, Aunt Katie would retire to the farmhouse, and put her own mark on it. Today, my cousin, Bob, raises sheep, chickens and pigs on the land there, along with a big vegetable garden  In 1978, though, it was pretty much the same as it was when I was a child. Then, the yard around the house had been enclosed in a metal fence to divide it from the barnyard, but otherwise, no different.

The wood siding was original to the house, when it was built in 1900. The kitchen, on the back, was added one year later. At some point, a change or repair had been necessary, and one of my Grandma Florence’s relatives had done a poor job of matching up the shakes that covered the exterior kitchen walls. Dad mentioned it every time he he visited. The front porch was added in the 1930’s, when my Grandpa George, and grandmother, Otelia, were raising their family there. The names of each of their children are preserved in the cement.

If you climbed the cement steps up to the front porch, you’d find the door right in the center. Long, narrow windows were centered in the walls on either side. Inside, the stairs were straight ahead. To the left, blocked by the exterior door when it was open, was the master bedroom. To the right was the living room.

Inside were reflections of my Grandma Florence’s decorating. She was my grandfather’s second wife (Grandma Otelia had died of complications from Scarlet Fever when my father was thirteen years old)and came to the farm from Chicago around 1950. The rough plaster walls in the living room and master bedroom were covered with wallpaper. The living room furniture consisted of a Scandinavian style sofa and chair with removable cushions in a nubby blue stripe, a dark wood rocking chair, and a green vinyl ottoman. Grandma’s big, ornate organ sat in the corner. A cast iron wood stove encased in brown enamel took up a good portion of the stairway wall. Around the stove, if you looked left, a low door opened to a little closet under the stairs. Grandpa had usually kept a bottle of good Irish whiskey there, for special occasions. If you turned to the right, you’d be in the kitchen.

The kitchen had a wall of metal cabinets on the right, where the door opened to the kitchen porch. The table sat in the center of the room. One small room built into the front corner kept the kitchen from being rectangular. That had originally been the pantry, with a trap door in the floor to lead to the basement, where root vegetables, squash and pumpkins were stored. With the advent of indoor plumbing, it had been converted to a tiny bathroom. In the nook created behind that room, a big cook stove and a second table filled the space. A door on the back wall led to the shed. The refrigerator stood on that wall, too. In the back corner was a second door into the master bedroom.

The shed had space for the wringer washer and the big wash tub that went with it. There were shelves for canned goods. A door opened into the back yard.

The rooms upstairs haven’t changed much since I lived there. There is a pink bedroom off to the left at the top of the stairs. One of it’s walls makes a little jog to accommodate the window.Straight ahead, a low door leads to an attic space above the kitchen. Around the corner, the hallway leads to two doors facing each other. The door on the right leads to a long room that extends from the front to the back of the main house. The one on the left is a small blue room, with one crooked wall that matches up with the one in the pink room. When the house was built, the upstairs had been just two large room; at some point, one of them had been divided in two. Rods were hung in corners of each bedroom, for hanging clothes. There are no  closets.

I settled my girls into the pink room, and claimed the blue room for my husband and myself. We put our clothes in the dressers, or hung them from the rods. Books were arranged in rows on each dresser top. For now, all art supplies stayed in their boxes, and were stored in the shed. Toys were stored where it was most practical: dolls and soft toys upstairs, puzzles and games in the kitchen. With little more to do, we were ready to begin our new lives.




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All it took was one casual mention by my husband of moving to Beaver Island to set me off in a frenzy of making plans.

Paper, for lists. Graph paper, for plans.

Books for inspiration. Garden books, cookbooks and lifestyle books were now read through the lens of our imagined future on Beaver Island. The Second Tree from the Corner by E.B. White was a collection of essays written when he’d moved his small family from New York City to a saltwater farm in Maine. I read it again and again. The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder became, one chapter at a time, bedtime stories for my daughters.

We told our parents.

My in-laws were horrified. We had depended heavily on them for everything: companionship, advice, help with our little girls, jobs and monetary assistance. I’m sure they wondered how we would possibly get by without them. I wondered, too, but felt that we had to give it a try. Our habit of always going to them for help whenever we got in a bind had become a real sore spot in our marriage. It was time to stand on our own.

My Mom didn’t think it was a wise move and – more importantly – told me that Dad didn’t think it was a good idea either. My Dad broke his rule about no interference to voice his disapproval. “Winters are awful hard on Beaver Island,” he warned. We listened and sympathized and did our best to reassure…but we didn’t change our mind.

We made four trips to Beaver Island that summer, to secure jobs and housing. My husband would be working for one of the island builders. Stanley Floyd, an old friend of my father’s, introduced me to Barb Beckers, the owner of the Shamrock Bar & Restaurant. She offered me a job, and sent me to talk to Carol LaFreniere about help with child care for my girls.

Topper, another old friend, introduced us to Johnny “Andy” Gallagher, and tried to convince him to rent us his little house on the Back Highway. No luck there, but other introductions led to other leads. We finally secured a place to rent, though it wouldn’t be available until the end of October. My Aunt Katie, who had inherited the farmhouse when Grandpa George died but had not yet retired or moved into it, agreed to let us stay there until we could get into the other place.

The plan was this: I would move to the island with the girls before school started, get Jennifer registered for first grade, get settled in at the farmhouse and start my job. Terry would finish one last big job (sounds kind of like he was a bank robber but, no, he was a roofer) to pay off some debt and give us a good start. He’d join us before the month was out.

Despite all of my lists and graphs and plans, when it came time to make the move, I had done very little packing. Our furniture – that hadn’t been loaned out or given away – needed to go into storage. Walls had to be cleaned and repaired to get our security deposit back. I’m pretty sure there was still a mound of laundry and other stuff in the basement. I left all of that for Terry to deal with. I’m fairly sure he handed it off to his mother.

So much for our big push toward self-reliance, independence and adulthood!

Where I Live


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It was suggested that if I were to have another day where I could think of nothing to write about, I could write about Beaver Island.

Today is that day.

Though there are many wonderful and interesting things to tell about this place, first and foremost, Beaver Island is my home.

My father was raised here, as were his parents.

In Lapeer, Michigan, where I grew up, we often had visitors from Beaver Island. Those visits were full of laughter, stories and reminiscing, and always put Dad in a cheery mood. We knew from a young age that Beaver Island was a special place.

We came here on vacation when I was a child. We roamed the fields, climbed the trees and played in the barn at the farmhouse where my father had grown up. We spent long days on the beaches, then snuggled under warm quilts in the big iron beds at night. When vacation was over and we boarded the ferry to begin our long trip home, I was the kid hanging over the rail, sobbing, because I couldn’t bear to leave.

When I was able to come here to live, I did.

Beaver Island is the largest of the islands in Lake Michigan. It is about four times the size of Mackinac Island, which sits over in Lake Huron, and quite a bit more remote. As the crow flies, we are about ten miles from the mainland, whether the shores of the Upper Peninsula or Cross Village in the Lower Peninsula. Transportation to the island – either by boat or small plane – comes from Charlevoix, about thirty-two miles away. The ferry ride is two hours long!

Beaver Island has about five hundred year-round residents, and about triple that number in the warm seasons.

When my Dad was growing up here, the main industries were Fishing, Farming and Logging. That changed drastically just after World War II. The fishing industry fell off, I think in part due to the introduction of the Lamprey eel. The last of the virgin timber had been logged and hauled away. Shipping rates made profitable farming nearly impossible. In addition, the G.I. Bill created a lot of opportunities elsewhere. Between 1940 and 1950, the population dropped from possibly about two thousand residents to barely one hundred fifty.

Today, there is some logging going on here, as well as fishing, farming and building. We have teachers and medical personnel, electricians, plumbers and carpenters. Tourism is our main industry, though, and the bulk of jobs are in the shops, pubs and restaurants that cater to them.

Winters are long and lonely and cold; Summers are so busy there is little time left to enjoy all the wonders here. Wages are often lower, and the cost of living higher than in most other areas.

When I answer questions that, “Yes, I live here year-round,” and, “Yes, I love it,” I often also add, “I have several brothers and sisters that think I’m crazy to want to be here all year…”

It is certainly not a place or a lifestyle that is for everyone.

Speaking only for myself, Beaver Island suits me just fine.