Kate and Orla Bailey built a cottage around 1932 on Bass Lake, 35 miles northeast of Grand Rapids. (Kate was a granddaughter of William Tuthill Plowman.) The cottage was on a large lot on a hill facing west as one looked over the lake. The cottage could sleep around 15 people without resorting to pallets or sleeping bags. No doubt, the cottage’s sleeping capacity was tested many times over the years when family reunions and gatherings were held there. Donald and Mary Winegar honeymooned at the cottage in 1938.
Throughout the years, the growing Winegar family vacationed at the cottage each summer. The dock would be laboriously carried down the hill and put in place. The motor boat would be readied, and the fun would begin. Water skiing, fishing, and swimming were favorite activities. Croquet, card games, and reading were other favorite past times. Many years’ worth of National Geographic sand Reader’s Digests provided for hours of enjoyment.
The cottage was furnished mainly with cast offs from the family. If some article of furniture was no longer needed, it was taken to the cottage for use there. The cottage became a veritable museum of antiques – furniture, pots and pans, linens, silverware, and much more.
In the 1960’s, Auntie Kate, as she was called by everyone, saw how much the Winegars enjoyed the cottage and made them an offer they couldn’t refuse: buy the cottage and pay me when you can. Don and Mary gladly took Auntie Kate up on her offer.
The cottage was extremely rustic – unfinished floors and walls, no insulation, and no screens on the windows. Don replaced the windows that lifted up and were hooked in place with sliding glass windows and screens. A wall mounted gas heater was installed and the front and back porches were enclosed to make sunrooms. An enclosed stairway to the cellar/garage was also added.
After Don died in 1987, Mary continued to spend her summers at the cottage until she was in her mid-80’s. Mary was always concerned that Auntie Kate might come and not like the changes, so she always kept the inside of the cottage as it was when it was when they bought it.
Just as the cottage was a magnet for the whole family in its early days, so it continued as the Winegar clan grew up, married, and had children. No one minded the rustic and somewhat shabby character. It was The Cottage.
When Mary died in 2003, my wife and I bought out my sisters’ and brother’s shares. We knew the cottage needed some renovations, but we resolved to keep the essence of the original cottage. One goal was to have a low-maintenance and comfortable interior without changing the exterior. We had a gas insert installed in the stone fireplace, which provides adequate heat from June until September. One of the four upstairs bedrooms was turned into a nice bathroom. The walls were paneled with bead board and the floors were refinished. We refinished and kept the old farm kitchen sink. We built a boathouse down by the lake for storing the dock and boat. No more carrying the dock down the hill piece by piece!
The remodeled cottage can still sleep nine without making beds on the floor. Our plan is to spend our summers at the cottage, and hopefully, the cottage will continue to see its share of family gatherings. Just as the Bliss home in Wacousta was known as The Pivot because it was the family center around which everything and everyone revolved, the cottage is a Pivot for our family. A dream would be for our children and grandchildren to continue to enjoy the cottage long after we are gone.