By CLAIRE DUQUETTE
The Daily Press, Ashland
ASHLAND, Wis. (AP) — At the turn of the century, tourism was just beginning to flourish. There was a new leisure class who enjoyed spending time outdoors and could travel via brand-new railways reaching from the Twin Cities or Chicago into the northwoods of the Bayfield Peninsula. Visitors came looking for natural beauty, cool summer breezes, and relief from hay fever.
Some became so enamored of Bayfield and the Apostle Islands, they built camps and clubs for vacation stays.
One of those turn-of-the-century buildings, the West Bay Club on Sand Island, has survived nearly 100 years as a clubhouse, lumber camp and family retreat — a building that played a great role in the island’s history.
The Apostle Islands Historic Preservation Conservancy has received a $1,750 grant from the National Historic Trust for Historic Preservation, through the Jeffris Family Endowed Preservation Fund for the State of Wisconsin, to undertake a structural assessment of the historic building. The conservancy is supplying an additional $1,750 for the matching grant. The assessment will be conducted by log home expert Mike Polencheck of Mosinee.
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Chief of Planning and Resource Management Jim Nepstad said the assessment is “a very good thing. It’s the type of thing we’d be doing ourselves.”
Nepstad said the Lakeshore recognizes the importance of the building and is “very pleased the Peters family and their partners have invested funds into maintaining the building.”
“The place is just gorgeous,” Nepstad said. “You can’t help but fall in love with it.”
The Adirondack-style log lodge, designed in 1912 by Twin Cities architects Charles Buechner and Henry Orth, was constructed in 1913 as a summer retreat for Buechner, Orth and four other families. Today, the title to the lodge is held by the United States, as Sand Island is part of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, with a life lease for use and occupancy held by Howard Peters of Mellen since 1973.
The lodge, which remains relatively unaltered from the time it was built, has been determined by the National Park Service and the Wisconsin Historical Society to be eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, due to its architectural and historic significance.
Howard Peters’ son, Jeff, said the assessment will give interested parties “a real handle on what needs to be done to preserve the building.”
Frank Butterfield, director of the Wisconsin Field Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said his organization is pleased to be helping in the process of preserving the historic structure.
“This is a great first step in the future preservation and maintenance of the building,” he said in a telephone interview. “It could be a spark for the continued use of the lodge — hopefully this will keep the momentum going.”
Several years ago, the National Park Service granted the Conservancy permission to put in a 16-foot dock adjoining West Bay Lodge, as the old dock had been torn apart by Lake Superior ice. Last summer, work was done on the land surrounding the lodge to aid in getting water to drain away from the building, as water flowing under the heavy log structure was softening the clay soils to the point the lodge was sinking. This summer, work will be done to stabilize the lodge foundation.
“I cannot stress how helpful contractor and log building expert Mike Polencheck has been with the continuing efforts at the West Bay Lodge,” said Jeff Peters. “Last summer, Mike donated his time and expertise to direct the very successful landscaping project. Mike is the type of contractor that pays attention to every single detail during a rather complex project. Having Mike onboard for this summer’s project makes me feel very comfortable.
“I consider the lodge to be in very good hands with Mike at the helm during the condition assessment and building structural condition study at the West Bay Lodge.”
Peters said his family has been grateful for the help they have received in helping with upkeep on the historic building, including a re-roofing project undertaken several years ago. Since the AIHPC was formed several years ago the non-profit organization has been another source of support for the family’s efforts to preserve the building.
Howard Peters said, “The connection between our family and the Conservancy and been a positive for the West Bay Lodge on many levels. The restoration effort at the lodge has been supported extensively by the Apostle Islands Historic Preservation Conservancy. By combining forces we have come a long way toward completing the goals necessary to preserve the building for future generations.”
AIHPC Vice-chairman Bob Dahl, of Jacksonville, Fla., grew up in the East Bay village on Sand Island with his commercial fishing family.
In a telephone interview, Dahl, 67, said he remembered the West Bay Lodge as a logging camp when he was young.
He recalled occasionally walking a trail of two to three miles between East and West Bay.
“It felt like Hansel and Gretel,” he said. “It was quite an adventure.”
Dahl confessed to entering the lodge if he could find an open window and exploring the structure, fascinated by seeing where the lumberjacks slept and cooked.
As a member of the AIHPC, Dahl said a project like this is “really what the Conservancy is all about — making sure the rich human history in these islands and the surrounding area isn’t lost.”
Information from: The Daily Press, http://www.ashlandwi.com