Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 1, 2011

Lecture focuses on Platte Lake's past

Talk to delve into treasured memories of 'Up North'

Special to the Record-Eagle

BENZONIA — From lumber to lounging, Platte Lake typified a late 1800s transition.

The Benzie County lake became a recreational draw as the logging industry waned and the region shifted gears economically. Near the turn of the 20th century, the sawmill shut down in the typical lumbering town of Edgewater, which is now vanished without a trace from Platte Lake's shores.

As Edgewater and other lumber towns faded, farmers on Platte Lake began opening their homes to visitors. A new enterprise took root on the county's second-largest body of water.

Jerry Heiman will delve into these developments and more during the August session of the Benzonia Academy Lecture Series — "A Historical Look at Platte Lake." The talk, scheduled for Aug. 11 at the Mills Community House, will feature photos as well as excerpts of memoirs from the era.

Talking to families around the lake who have been there for generations, Heiman would ask for stories, photos and any other memories. The treasure trove of first-person written recollections he found reflects a slower era when writing diaries or letters was more common.

"We have so many memoirs by people who were here as writers," said Heiman, who lined up a panel of what he dubs his "not ready for prime time players" to read the excerpts.

"All these places have stories," he said.

A national reputation for fishing — particularly muskellunge, which aren't available everywhere — drew sportsmen and their families to Platte Lake. Soon the farmers began building fishing lodges to accommodate demand for the lake, which was also stocked with bass and northern pike.

"We have an account of a guy who came from New York City in 1901 and detailed his whole trip and stay at Thompson's Resort," said Heiman, an avid amateur historian. "The farmer, Uncle Billy — that was what everyone called him — later decided that that was a pretty good business and built a long building as a resort instead of a farmhouse."

Other homesteaders also began constructing lodges, some of them substantial buildings, and proprietors advertised in the publications of the day. Individually owned cottages soon followed as families bought adjoining plots. This launched many multigenerational family odysseys "Up North" for summer getaways.

Early visitors did not have the easy access of a sleek highway system.

"Think what people had to do to get here: Coming from downstate or out of state, they had to transfer trains two to three times," said Heiman, noting that the trip also included precarious wagon journeys from the station to the lodges.

The spread of automobile travel after World War I did not necessarily ease the trip.

"The roads were really bad, the car was piled high with kids and camping gear and five or six spare tires and a bag of food. And a big bag of water for the radiator," Heiman said. "These people traveled three or four days, camping along the way just to get up here."

The Benzonia Academy Lecture Series offers talks year round, approximately one per month with occasional skips. While local history lectures are common, topics also cover state or national interest. The September lecture will discuss slave life on South Carolina's coast and Georgia's lowcountry by speaker Michael Nagle.

Tapping local or visiting talent provides a rich resource for the ongoing series, said Louis Yock, director of the Benzie Area Historical Museum.

"It's usually based on the people who are either living here or who summer or vacation here," he said. "Then also it's somebody who knows somebody. We have a lot people connected with colleges and universities here and if they have a topic connected to history, they bring it to us or we seek them out."