Liz Ware is a businesswoman who lives in Chicago. On vacation last year here on Mackinac, she spotted – from the water – the boarded up log lodge we familiar with Mackinac know as Silver Birches.
“What is that place?” she wondered.
Back on land, she hopped on a bike and pedaled the 3.5 miles of shoreline road out to the lodge. She found the gate locked, and like a lot of folks – who shall remain nameless – have done, she found the way onto the property from the back side. When she reached the spot where the land opened up and she could see Lake Huron sparkling through the trees, she fell in love.
Where it all began. Liz told us, “I cried it was so beautiful.”
Fast forward to this spring. The property now belongs to Liz, and she is moving earth and stone – literally – to turn Silver Birches into what it was originally built to be – a grand lodge with two rustic rental cabins, where folks can truly “get away”. She promises to improve the property. but never diminish its integrity or history.
Ted, Jill and I biked out to Silver Birches on Thursday afternoon. A boy in the yard saw us getting off our bikes and walked down to say hello. We told him Liz was expecting us, and he opened the gate. Before we’d gotten halfway up the yard, Liz came bounding out the side door of the lodge. We soon realized that Liz has boundless energy, infectious enthusiasm, and a passion for Silver Birches. It shows in her voice, in her smile, and in her eyes.
“Come on,” she said. “Let me show you!”
We entered through a side half-door and passed through the dining room of the lodge, already used by Liz, her family (that day there were kids everywhere – both Liz’s and their cousins), and by workers who are there everyday.
The lodge living room. Liz told us when she opened the doors for the first time, they found a mixture of Victorian, Lodge and 1970’s plastic furniture strewn throughout the 3-story building. In the 12 weeks work has been in progress, they have moved furniture into a few of the rooms so they are livable.
Silver Birches was built between 1906-1912 by Mrs. Edna W. Troop as an Adirondack-style lodge on the north side of Mackinac Island. Since then it has operated as a resort lodge, a girls camp and a summer rental. It has not been a lodge since the 1960’s and has been boarded up for the last seven years.
Even though the outside of the lodge is pretty dilapidated in some areas, after they cleared the inside of insects, bats and other little critters, they were amazed to find the inner walls in fairly good condition. (I love these half-doors that appear throughout the building.)
The kitchen was added on at some point in the lodge’s history, and has been used all summer to feed family and workers.
The day we visited was Jamaican Independence Day, and Liz’s Jamaican workers were preparing a feast for the family, themselves and others who were biking out from town. They planned to eat outdoors under the Michigan sky.
On the second floor there are a few bedrooms prepared and being used by Liz and her family this summer.
All the light fixtures are original to the lodge and so is the furniture. Liz has added a few things to make it more homey, but except for some new mattresses, she is using what is already there.
There are two identical (well, almost) bathrooms at the end of the hall, each a “two-seater” and each complete with its own claw foot tub.
“You want to see the attic?” Liz asked. Of course!
My jaw dropped when we reached the third floor. Here was a huge empty space filled with dozens of headboards and footboards, chairs, dressers, nightstands, tables and wicker.
Click on collage to enlarge photos.
From the lodge we moved outdoors to where the majority of the work is going on. The two cabins (yellow and blue) were almost to the point of falling down when Liz bought the property. In 12 weeks new foundations were put in, insides were gutted, and they’ve started on interior supports.
Liz loves telling the story about the foundations on the cabins. Her general contractor is MP Gamble Construction, based here on the island. After Belonga Plumbing & Heating dug a trench around each cabin with a backhoe, Mike Gamble’s crew went to work. There are usually five or six construction workers on the property each day, but the core group is Ray, Ricky and Dave.
Those three men dug out – by hand – the rock and dirt under each of the two cabins.
Rock and dirt pile from under the yellow cabin.
After that, they went back under the cabins and hand-dug holes for the 18″ sonic tubes that would become part of the new foundations. Each tube takes nine bags of 80-lb. cement that had to be mixed, lugged under the cabin, and poured into the tubes that are dug 42″ into the ground.
Between the yellow and the blue cabin, there are 60 of these tubes. I am in AWE.
Liz has nothing but praise for her crew. “Ray, David . . .
. . . and Ricky all ferry to the island each day, then bike 3.5 miles to Silver Birches. “When we started in April it was 35 degrees, rainy, windy and cold. They plan to have the cabins winterized before it gets really cold so they can live in them while they work on the lodge this winter,” Liz said.
Other buildings on the property include two barns and a shed. Liz has a vision of one day having a dance pavilion in this area. The barns were full of treasures . . .
. . . like this vintage carriage . . .
. . . lots more furniture – and a chamber pot.
There is also a swimming pool, but that project is pretty low on the list of priorities for now.
As we were walking from the barn, Glen Roy – from Jamaica – called out that he’d found a snake in the rafters. Every kid stopped what they were doing to run check it out before Liz stopped them. They waited patiently for one of the crew to make sure it was harmless (which it was). Then they all climbed up to see it for themselves.
The original plan was to have the cabins open and rentable by Spring of 2014, and Liz is still hoping that will happen. With her children out of school she has been free to spend most of the summer at the lodge and supervising the work. When school starts in Chicago, the family will return there; but Liz plans to count on family and friends to help out and allow her to spend at least some time on the island this winter while the construction crew is working.
I’ve always loved the mystery of Silver Birches and to see it come alive under Liz’s love and passion for this property makes me anxious to see it completed. Condo or not, I know Ted and I will have to spend at least one night in one of those cabins – hopefully next summer. There is already a waiting list for accommodations – just from people who stop by on their ride around the island to check out the place.
But for now, Liz is enjoying the process of rebuilding. She knows that this will probably be the only summer she will have the place to herself – just for her family and friends.
When Ted asked her about all the stories you hear about Silver Birches being haunted, she said, “Absolutely not. The feeling I get here is pure joy, happiness, family, and love. That’s what it was built for in 1906, and that’s what I’m determined to bring back.”
I think what Liz sees is a place . . .
where families can come and where it’s fun to be a kid outdoors again . . . finding toads in the grass . . .
. . . creating an impromptu picnic table out of a stump . . .
. . . sitting on a rustic front porch enjoying the quiet side of the island . . .
. . . and awakening each morning to one of the most beautiful views you could ever imagine.
Maybe a bell will ring calling you to breakfast, or at the very least it will announce your entrance into the lodge.
You know what? I believe this lady will make it happen.
A FEW MORE PHOTOS
Love these old shutters.
Liz’s vision is to turn the third floor attic into 3 or 4 suites with private bathrooms.
A back view of Silver Birches.
One of many awesome views.
This visitor will be gone from the second floor of the blue cabin by the time it’s open for guests. He sure had a pretty web going on!
A prize from one of the barns. And it would still cut grass!
The family has been harvesting from this vegetable garden in the last few weeks.
View of the highway from the porch of the yellow cabin. That speck of red through the trees is a rider on a high wheel bicycle.
The lodge front porch is a little rough around the edges . . .
. . . . but Silver Birches has good bones. With time and with lots of hard work, it will once again be a showplace.
Good luck and God speed, Liz. And thanks for working to turn Silver Birches into what so many of us have dreamed it could be.
To watch a 7 & 4 News UpNorthLive interview with Liz, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36_ar_r7ARQ