Silver Birches . . She Has a Dream 8/4/2013

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."

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 and her family (that day there were kids everywhere - both Liz's and their cousins) and workers.

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 area.  Liz told us when they opened the doors they found a mixture of Victorian, lodge and 1970's furniture strewn throughout the 3-story building.  In the 12 weeks work has been in progress they have moved furniture into some rooms so they resemble what they were built for.

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.

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 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 themselves and others who were biking out from town.  They planned to eat outdoors under the Michigan sky.

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 . . .

On the second floor there are a few bedrooms prepared and being used by Liz and her family this summer.

and her family this summer.  All the light fixtures came with the lodge and so did 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.

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 is a "his" and a "hers" bathroom at the end of the hall, complete with clawfoot tub.  Everything works and is being used already.

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 bed headboards and footboards, chairs, dresses, nightstands, tables and wicker.

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.

collage

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 . . . .

Those three men dug out – by hand – the rock and dirt under each of the two cabins.

. . . and this is what they dug out, in addition to the trench dirt.

Rock and dirt pile from under the yellow cabin.

After that, they went under the cabins and hand dug holes for the cylinders that would become part of the new foundations.  Each cyclinder takes nine bags of 80-lb. cement that had to be mixed and lugged under the cabin and poured into the cyclinders that are dug 42" into the ground.

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.

gtgg

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 . . .

Liz has nothing but praise for her crew. “Ray, David . . .

. . . and Ricky all ferry to the island each day, then ride 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 fully ready and winterized by winter and live in them while they work on the lodge."

. . . 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.  The barns were also full of treasures . . .

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 . . .

. . . like this vintage carriage . . .

. . . lots more furniture - and a chamber pot.

. . . 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.  Thank goodness there are no poisonous snakes on Mackinac!

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 . . .

I think what Liz sees and what I see also is a place where it's fun to be a kid outdoors again . . . finding toads in the grass . . .

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 . . .

. . . creating an impromptu picnic table out of a stump . . .

. . . sitting on a rustic front porch enjoying the quiet side of the island . . .

. . . sitting on a rustic front porch enjoying the quiet side of the island . . .

. . . and opening windows each morning onto one of the most beautiful views you could ever imagine.

. . . and awakening each morning to one of the most beautiful views you could ever imagine.

Maybe a dinner bell will ring calling you to breakfast, or at the very least it will announce your entrance into the lodge.

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.

Love these old shutters.

Liz's vision is to turn the third floor attic into 3 or 4 suites with private bathrooms.

Liz’s vision is to turn the third floor attic into 3 or 4 suites with private bathrooms.

A back view of Silver Birches.

A back view of Silver Birches.

One of many awesome views.

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 visitors.

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!

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.

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.

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 . . .

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.

. . . . 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.

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

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47 thoughts on “Silver Birches . . She Has a Dream 8/4/2013

  1. Thanks Brenda for this awesome story about Silver Birches. And thanks to Liz for taking on such a huge project. Just as thousands of others, we have ridden by Silver Birches over the years…front and back….and wondered about it’s history….and it’s future. It’s so great to hear that it will have another promising chapter and we are looking forward to being on the “inside” of the wrought iron fence.

  2. This “lodge” was what I pictured when I read the book Heart of Ice. I can’t wait to see it when she is
    finished. Thanks for giving us a tour Brenda.

  3. It is a wonderful job that you are doing. It’s like a time capsule of furniture that you have, especially that vintage carriage. Congratulations on how far you have come as of now and I know that you will reach your goal of opening it up next year and I hope that I will someday soon be a guest there at the lodge.

  4. Great story Brenda! I was looking forward to this one as you promised us. I did a little researching online (since I’ve always been fascinated with this old place), and was able to find what was the original listed sales price of the property from the last owner recorded in Florida………needless to say it was just as jaw dropping as your impression of the attic. For such a historic place I figured it was going to go for way more then listed especially with all those treasures found. Just Amazing! I can only imagine the costs of these renovations to bring it back to life. Getting a glimpse of what it will be once again is just awesome. Looking at the open foundations I couldn’t help but to remember the little girl written as the daughter of the private detective in the book Heart of Ice, sneaking in and falling into the lodge basement……..

    Best wishes to Liz, family, and crew. I hope the rest of the summer at Silver Birches brings them much happiness, and that the ongoing renovations are hazard free. I can’t imagine crawling around under the old framework moving 60 of those concrete foundation supports.

    Hopefully, before you and Ted head south in the fall you can do a brief follow up on their progress.

    I’m not a Facebook ‘er but I did find they have a neat page that they seem to update regularly.

    https://www.facebook.com/silverbirchesmackinac

  5. One of my favorite places on the Island !! Stayed at The Silver Birches in the 90’s,when one of my friends was acting as caretaker. Spent many Great weeks there !! Good luck Liz !!

  6. It’s so nice to know that it will once again become what it was suppose to be. I would love to see it when it’s finished. I can’t believe that all that furniture was still there and in the condition that it was in! That is awesome!

  7. This is a wonderful story. Thanks Brenda for keeping us posted and Liz what a wonderful job. We look forward to seeing all the changes. We rode by yesterday and it was great to see children in the yard.

  8. Silver Birches is my absolute favorite place on Mackinac Island. Getting to that spot was always the highlight of our bike rides around the island. We had to stop each time so I could gaze and dream. The rustic log building, the seclusion, the view that I knew must exist from those expansive porches – all were fodder for my fantasy of living there. I love log structures (we live in one), and the sight of this huge log place sitting in that ideal spot on the island I love was enough to bring tears to my eyes. So I can really feel the emotion that Liz felt the first time she entered that property and saw the buildings and the view. I am so thrilled that someone like Liz has undertaken this restoration. Maybe one day we’ll be able to visit and also be on the “inside of the fence.” I always wanted to know the story of this place, so THANK YOU, Brenda, for sharing it all with us in this post and previous ones. And THANK YOU, Liz, for this absolute labor of love — I wish you all the best and just know you will be successful!

  9. Thank you so much for blogging about Silver Birches! As a long time visitor to Mackinac Island (15-years…yikes!), I was THRILLED to find out that Silver Birches would not only be saved but restored to it’s former glory!

  10. I join the list of those who are thrilled to see Silver Birches being revitalized. I have wondered why, with all the money that has been spent at the island by investors over the years, why wasn’t this treasure picked up and brought back to life. Now it has! Congrats Liz for your vision and passion. My daughter found this and we will hopefully be able to do a family gathering there in the near future.

    PS. I also mowed the yard as a child with one of those lawnmowers and was healthier for it!

  11. Great blog about Silver Birches. I’m always happy to see pictures of how the work is going on the place. We visited Liz when we were on the island in July. Can’t wait to see the finished cabins.
    Thanks for sharing with us Liz and Bree.

  12. Thank you to all those who are working so hard on the Silver Birches and thank you, Liz, for making it possible. You are certainly a lady with a marvelous vision, and the desire and ability to see it come to life. Congratulations.

    Brenda, thank you for giving us the story and the great photography. I would love to have had the tour that you and Ted had, especially in the attic. I’ve always loved attics in old places. I spent time in my grandparents’ attic when I was a little boy. Oh, the treasures you can find in old attics. As a matter of fact, I have a little table in our dining room that I have refinished which came from that attic. Too bad houses don’t have attics today. There is an old saying that “The only good thing about the good old days is that there gone.” Of course, that’s true in many ways, but there was a lot that was much better too. At least, I think so.

    Anyway, I sure enjoyed your blog today. Thanks again.

    • I guess I should check what I write a little better. It wasn’t the dining room that I refinished. It was the little table.

      • Wishing you and Faye a great day! Boy, if that attic could talk! It almost makes you want to sit for that story, don’t you think?
        Blessings,
        Theresa

      • Thanks Lowell for the comments in the post on 1 August! As well as Theresa. Best to all! I really like this post on Silver Birches I’m re-reading it again as I type this.

  13. I am so exited to ride up and see Silver Birches tomorrow. While I am so sorry I will not see Liz, Ray and David are expecting me. Liz told me there is some wine in the refrigerator and I am looking forward to having a glass while sitting n the porch and toasting my friend.

  14. Silver Birches story sounds ongoing. An update, when the place opens for business, would be another great story. (just a hint…)

  15. A beautiful dream indeed. I love people who have the means, vision and love who restore our history. I would love to visit some day. I know they will be able to finish this wonderful project. The love of it shows in all of their faces. All involved look so happy. What a beautiful find. I always loved mowing our lawn with that mower. I don’t remember seeing a power mower when a kid except for the commercial ones, and that was a blade on a tractor!! Wishing you all joy in this restoration and God bless all of you. Brenda, thank you for sharing. I remember your post in the past about this lovely place. Liz should write a book about the restoration when she can relax and has the time!!! Good luck Liz and thanks for making this dream happen!

    Lowell, I did not even notice your error! How cute! Love your replies to Brenda’s posts. Hope you are feeling tip top. God Bless.

    • Judy, as “they” say, You are too kind.” I just went back and reread my comment and spotted another mistake, one that really bugs me when someone else makes the same mistake: I wrote “there” when it should have been “they’re.” Oh well, it sounds about the same. And besides that, I don’t think I have ever said my name is Brenda. I think she has the best blog on the web.

  16. Can’t wait until it’s ready for guests! It’s so nice to hear about an old place that is finding new life; Liz and Silver Birches are treasures!

  17. It does a heart good to see someone love an old place like this back into glory. Yes, I know it takes money and time and labor, but I truly think it begins with love. Thanks, Brenda for featuring this story; and thanks to Liz for her vision and dedication to restoring a building that means so much to so many of us – more than I ever knew!
    A stay at Silver Birches has been added to my wish list!

  18. Lots of character, charm and potential in this gem. Can’t wait to see the progress and the finished product when complete. Would love to stay there and enjoy that beautiful view. Thank goodness Liz has all that energy and drive to take on such a big project!

  19. Wonderful Brenda! Thanks for that great story and congratulations to Liz for make more beautiful our island!Hugs from Tanzania.

  20. As everyone above has stated ” oh to have their Mackinac Dream made real”. Remember each and every word Brenda writes. The Silver Birches, Liz brings back to life. Painting painted of our sweet Mackinac Island. Gives each of us a special piece of Mackinac Island of our very own to carry and share. For Mackinac’s harbor opens her arm to gentley lull each and every tried traveler at the end of their journey.

    Thanks again Brenda for this very special post. Best wishes for completion of your beautiful dream Liz! Your smile says you will get to your goal. We can’t wait to make reservations?

    Blessings,
    Theresa

  21. It is always amazing how talented people can be. The enormous task of bringing Silver Birches back to life absolutely overwhelms someone like me but Liz seems to have the energy and passion to take the project on. Bravo for her!

  22. I’ve always wondered what this was like inside. Thank you so much for the step by step bird’s-eye view of this wonderful project. Thanks Brenda & Liz. Please keep us updated. I can’t wait to see it in person next year!

  23. Wonderful article. I have always wondered about “the lodge” as we rode by on bikes. So happy to know it has a bright future and cannot wait to take a ‘new’ look the next time I am there.

  24. Loved seeing the pictures of this intriguing place! I’ve been visiting the Island since I was 2 and worked at the Lakeview Hotel in 1958.
    A friend of mine who owns The Copper Llama fiber shop in WI lives in the 100+ year old house on the property. She told us a great story of she and her husband digging out a basement under the house by hand! That was *after* he got the snakes out from under the house….
    BTW, we have always called those half doors “Dutch doors.” When my dad built our cottage in lower Michigan in the ’40’s he put one in between the kitchen and entry porch. The lower portion also had a “shelf” for lack of a better term on the top of the bottom door. Great for leaning on etc.. 🙂
    We’ll be checking the progress when we return for the Somewhere In Time event.

  25. Thanks so much for this Brenda. We have always loved biking by Silver Birches and it will be so good to see it restored. We arrive on the Island this Friday for 10 great days, we are looking forward to the Festival of the Horse and seeing all our Mackinac faves and the changes since last year. Hope to see you!

    • Kathy Jo: will be working at Festival of the Horse but don’t have schedule yet. Maybe I’ll see you there!

      Sent from my iPhone

  26. What a wonderful story Brenda! I’m thrilled that Silver Birches is being brought back to life and what a project Liz has taken on with her family. I’m looking forward to my ride around the island this fall to see her progress. I’m thrilled she is turning the attic into a suite with a private bath, my lst thought when I saw your photo. Thanks again for sharing Liz’s story in more depth! Hope to meet you this fall.

    Joleen

  27. I love the pictures and the story. I’ve always wondered about that place and I love that Liz is bringing it back to its former glory. Thank you for visiting with me yesterday, it was wonderful to meet you in person.

    • So glad you came by the Stuart House, Andrea, with your beautiful daughters! Safe travels back home today!

      Sent from my iPhone

  28. Thanks for sharing this story and the pictures. Like everyone else I have been fascinated by this place and it is such a great opportunity to see your pictures and watch the progress of the restoration team…..I look forward to visiting it once it is completed!!! Shout out to Liz and the team, a great project to keep this grand structure alive and well!

  29. My uncle John P. Hussey ran the girls camp, started to build the swimming pool. He was a swimming coach in Detroit at the Womens City Club and wanted a camp to train his girls all summer. Eventually moved camp to Burt Lake Indian River Mi in around 1954 or so. I attended that camp for many years after that and heard many great stories about White Birches. My cousin John P Hussey, Jr. lives in Alanson, Mi. now, not far from where his Dad relocated his camp from Mackinac Island and called it Can-ik-cam Lodge

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