Log of Visit to former Camp Martin Johnson (now Heritage Bay Development), 1 August 2001

 Charles J. Stivale

[updated 27 February 2003]


[This log probably is best read after having it printed out so that you can follow the photos on the CMJ Web site under the album entitled "Stivale's 1997 and 2001 CMJ Trips", http://communities.msn.com/CampMartinJohnson/cstivale1997triptocmj.msnw . References to pictures in the album correspond to page-position on page -- so album 2-3 = p.2-position 3. Map references refer to the Heritage Bay development map in album picture 1-2. Please note (and excuse) the absence of references to cabins and locations dating prior to the late 1960s].

Following the reunion in Chicago on 7/ 21-22/2001, I decided to return to the former CMJ property, having done so in early Spring 1997. You might ask why, why then, why now again? Why then, because I had moved back to Michigan and had not been back since 1973, so it seemed long overdue. Why again? Something about the ongoing working out or through process, trying to adjust the image of CMJ-past with where it is (and we are) now. In any event, what follows may be an interesting account of part of this process.

The visit was made immensely easier thanks to the able assistance of Roxy Spurgis Gable. In advance of the trip and knowing some of the things I wanted to do, she made phone calls to the property development office and realtor, different property owners, and to the curator of the Martin Johnson house, which is now a Heritage Park Museum in Irons, MI. We are therefore able to follow the following itinerary: a visit to Suzanne Aupperlee (MJ house curator) to set up a later meeting; a walk through the CMJ property (or part of it), stopping to talk to different property owners; a lunch break at Na-Tah-Kas (where else?); a visit to Irons, first to the MJ house, then to the realtor's office for Heritage Bay; return to the CMJ property for another walk around, to locales yet to be visited; a trip over to the 4-Winds island and visit to different cabins there. We were assisted mightily in orienting ourselves thanks to the map of the Heritage Bay development that Roxy obtained in advance of the trek (album 1-2).

After stopping briefly at the Aupperlee's (who live on the southern shore of Big Bass Lake, next to the Fire Hall), we drove up to the new entrance road, then down the old entrance road as far as we could (album 1-3 and 1-4), turning right to the property of Ken and Shelly Myers (lot #57 on map). We only stayed there briefly as only their daughter was home. Then we moved on up the main road passing the property that once had the assistant director's house (Phill Porte lived there in 1972-73) on the east (album 1-5), opposite the old hardball field (that I never recall being used in my years there) on the west. Both sides of the road contain properties - Big Bass on the west, Blue Gill on the right - divided into separate plots. Roxy and I were a bit disoriented to see how close to the road Blue Gill appears to me since we recollect it not being visible from the road. However, nearly all of the underbrush has been cleared so that the east side of the road reveals Blue Gill - and its considerable swampy section on the western shore.

While we were stopped looking at Blue Gill, we had parked opposite the property of the Maples, who were on their deck and who invited us in (lot #48; they own half of lot #49 and across the road, by Blue Gill, lot # 63). They live directly across Big Bass from the former Water Ski dock, the Parmentiers' former home (album 1-6) and further on, Martin Johnson's Point (album 1-7). They have lived in the area for many years, and moved up to the Heritage Bay property about a decade ago. They recalled the camp well, said that most folks locally were very sad to see the camp be sold (and could not understand why), but once the land was developed and ready for sale, it was hard to resist. They had a booklet in their house, "A History of the Early Settlers of Big Bass Lake Area" by Albert Richmond (I picked up a copy of this same booklet at the MJ house, on sale there to benefit the Museum). They also had two aerial photos on their wall, both color shots, one of the entire Big Bass Lake area, the other closer down to the Heritage Bay property itself, taken before many houses had been developed but after the camp had been cleared away and the roads put in place. I answered a few of their questions about what had been where on the camp property, using the close-up photo as a rather convenient demo illustration ("And now, class…").

From there, we moved back onto the road, and were able to judge that the old entrance road had been diverted toward the east by about 25 feet so that the huge Oak Tree near the old stockades (album 1-8) is now part of a property (approx. #43 or 42) west of the road. The old road heading up toward MJ Point has been replaced entirely (album 1-9), again as huge, indistinguishable properties that have yet to be developed ((lots #37-42). Moving further up the road (album 1-10), we stopped the car near the current crossroads that traverses the development east to west. We found the remains of pump house #3 near Frontier and Voyageur (album 1-11) as well as the track for the old road that veered east from the main road to head out behind Voyageur village to the playing fields and the corral. We stomped around in the woods and bushes for a while - I was particularly trying to see if there were any remains of the Snake House, but there are none because the area along the north shore of Blue Gill has been developed into a nature trail, partially following the track of the old road, then heading around some properties (lots #73-76 more or less). I had thought of walking along the Blue Gill shore to try to find a vestige of Broadway, but the way that the properties are divided, this would mean tramping along about a dozen private properties (from lots #77 -90), and possibly through I don't know how many front lawns!

We also were trying to find any vestige of Voyageur village, to no avail. The current east-west road cuts through what was the heart of Voyageur, so that the old Wash House, for example - which might have some remains left (see paragraph below about Frontier) - was situated where the road now runs. We ascertained this from the placement of the old basketball and tennis courts with remain to this day (album 1-12, 2-1 & 2-2). The lot between #7 and #8 is a community commons, with picnic area, small playground, the courts, and then a cleared, sloping grassy area beyond toward the lake, where the Campcraft area had once been (album 2-3) and near the old Canoe Dock (album 2-4). As for the area out toward the playing fields and the corral, these are all divided into separate properties (lots #1 to 7 - album 2-5).

From there, we moved back up to the main road and headed this time into what was once Frontier Village. Having visited at the end of winter 1997, when the foliage was still quite thin, I knew that there are no cabin remains at all (album 2-6). However, we stomped around in the bushes, and I again found the Frontier Washhouse foundation and debris (album 2-7, 2-8, & 2-9). Strolling around in the full foliage now, I was better able to recognize some of the summer terrain, notably the once location of Lewis & Clark cabin (album 2-10), situated just above the swamp on the slope heading down toward the old Infirmary.

We then drove down to the property (#15) where we had been given permission to park, on what was once the Parade Grounds and where the house on the old Dining Hall site now stands (album 2-11, 2-12), and where most of the area is covered in driveway (album 3-1). We observed the old rocks that had been once painted but I took no new pics because the once taken 4 years earlier (album 3-2, 3-3, 3-4) show much more clearly the vestiges of cabin activities past. We then walked down to the former Valley (album 3-5), with one small vestige of the past, a water pipe jutting from the ground where one pump house has been located, under the Parade Grounds (album 3-6). The Valley area is undeveloped (lots #16-18), and seems to be used as lake access, though not with a road to drive a boat in. From here, we took a look at the waterfront (album 3-7, 3-8, 3-9).

We then began to walk through the woods of these Valley lots, up to the first developed house (lots #18-19) where the Valley Washhouse had been located as well as any cabins nearby (I think of Seminole in particular). We really were trying to trace the location of the old Council Ring, and were pretty certain to have it pinned down both from the terrain (lot #20 slopes down from a small ridge on the north side) and from the location of the old path track we found that used to lead (and still does, if you want to hack through) from the Council Ring along the swamp to Frontier Village.

Here we had an amazing stroke of fortune. The people on lot #21, the Bultraczak's, were there behind their house, so we got to talk to them quite a bit. We told them that we thought their property had been the Council Ring site (album 3-10), under which was (is?) buried a time capsule (I quickly reassured them that no bulldozer was waiting out on the road). Mr. B. showed me a path that he said still exists behind his garage, and what he showed me, I think, was the small path up from the Council Ring that came out behind Apache. From here, the top of the rise behind his garage, I got a view that was at once familiar and potentially depressing: the view to the right, of the houses where Sioux Cabin and Apache had been (album 3-11) and a view of the **renovated Hill Washhouse** (album 3-12, 4-1) now a family home (I guess cinder block structures are forever).

Back at the Bultraczak's, their house is not one of the massive constructions with foundations, but rather a trailer house on a base. They (or whoever sold the property to them) have filled the land higher than previously (it may have been Mr. B - he mentioned having used the fill from the dock/beach area for the house area), and they have a slightly terraced back area overlooking the lake and 4-Winds. They offered to ferry us out to the island when we returned later. So we continued walking up the road (album 4-2) toward the Hill, and looked at the row of properties (lots #22 to 27) that dot the west shore of the land, up to and including the former MJ Valley (album 4-3)

At this point, it was time for lunch, so where else to go but Na-Tah-Kas (album 4-4, 4-5, 4-6). In 1997, I had been a bit reluctant to take snaps inside, but at lunch time, with the place nearly empty on a hot August day, I did take a pic of the totemic object of upper Michigan camp, the bowling machine (album 4-7) which appears still to work. I also noted the change in the locale at the corner of Bass Lake Road and 6 Mile. BLS (Bass Lake Store) is closed, "temporarily closed" as the sign says (album 4-8), due to the disappearance, then the discovery of the owner who wandered off to Missouri, apparently forgetting himself entirely. So, to provide for the local needs, Larry Bender Jr. has opened a convenience store at the corner (album 4-9). I also caught a shot of the Na-Tah-Ka Express, their bus (album 4-10). As we then drove up to Irons, we passed some old locales, notably Luke's at Freesoil Road. I caught a pic of it back in 1997 (album 4-11), and it was closed and boarded up then. Now, at the opposite (southwest) corner is another convenience store. Also, in 1997, I took my wife Lezlie to the site of many a Village Activity (probably would be illegal these days!) at the Sand Hills on the north end of the lake (album 4-12). Lezlie and I also traveled along Big Bass Lake on the western shore, so that I could take a pic of Four Winds and Turtle Island (album 5-1).

We drove into Irons to visit the Heritage Park museum, about which I have already reported in an earlier message to the list, and that I have posted at a web site: http://www.langlab.wayne.edu/Romance/StivaleCMJReports.html. I should note that the house has been extensively renovated, as might be expected, not only to make repairs after the move itself, but to the fairly dilapidated house (with new shingling on the outside). The photos now posted to the album are: the Martin Johnson House (album 5-2), the MJ gravestone plaque (album 5-3), the same plaque along with the Dining Hall plaque (album 5-4), the stairs to MJ's studio (album 5-5), the back room of the studio with a green CMJ staff jacket on a hook (album 5-6), a preserved canoe paddle from the 1952 Kajabe cabin plus an old globe, both hanging (album 5-7), four MJ paintings, the fourth on a shelf with a t-square (possibly MJ's) and an old railroad oil can from near the Big Manistee River (album 5-8, 5-9, 5-10, 5-11), shots of the renovated studio windows (album 5-12, 6-1), side and rear views of the renovated house (album 6-2, 6-3), and an additional shot of the Sauble School House, also moved to the center of Irons (album 6-4). We stopped by Irons Real Estate hoping to talk to Steve Burns, the realtor in charge of the properties who also possesses some of the material from the camps. However, he was not yet back from vacation, and his assistant had no information he could share (although in his mind, we seemed to be ideal prospects for lakefront property!).

We then headed back to the CMJ property to visit portions we had not yet seen. Having just been at the MJ house, our visit to the MJ Point, and to the grave site (album 6-5) really made me take several deep breaths. We also noted the development of another house on the point and the renovated former director's house (album 6-6). One shot from 1997 remains vivid, yet also starkly different today: the shot of Martin Johnson Valley (album 6-7) has even more development on it than four years ago. And we visited the former Parmentier home, finding the track for the old road that went from the Stockades to the Point, and now a back lawn over looking the old Ski Dock (album 6-8).

We returned to the center of camp by the Parade Grounds, and the photo I took in 1997 of the old parking lot (album 6-9) still looks similar, except for the lush greenery in August 2001 (versus the scarce greenery of late winter several years ago). Besides the swamp, the area that has changed the least is the Health Center (album 6-10, 6-11) and Valley Lodge (album 6-12, 7-1). The area around it has hardly been touched, even with an old pump house still standing (album 7-2, 7-3). I took some more shots around the former Parade Grounds, of the house standing in the former Dining Hall parking lot (album 7-4) and the one standing on the site of the former Cooks' Cabin (album 7-5). Adding to a 1997 pic (album 7-6), we also took a few more shots around the Waterfront, the steps (album 7-7) and the benches (album 7-8).

The final stop was to travel out to Four Winds (album 7-9), so we headed back to the Bultraczak's, and Mr. B told us that since he had to run some errands, we could just take their pontoon boat out. This was a rather amazing and generous gesture as he had just met us that morning. We were able to go down and take a look at the old waterfront from a lake view, seen by many a sailor, canoeist, and boater (album 7-10, 7-11). Roxy also took a shot of the intrepid pontoon driver (album 7-12). We parked the pontoon on the side closest to the mainland where there is a beach, whereas the current owners have their dock (and pontoon boat and motor boat) on the side directly in front of the Main Lodge. From their dock, one can see the site of the former Council Ring and the property now on the Sioux Cabin site (album 8-1).

So, climbing through the woods from a different side, we kind of took them by surprise. However, the couple who greeted us, Mrs. Kleinheksel is the daughter of the current owner, and she and her husband Karl showed us all but one of the cabins (where one of their children was asleep): album 8-2, 83-, 8-4, 8-5, 8-6. Her father had decided not to renovate the original cabins other than for upkeep and a few comforts (e.g. ceiling fans). And the family had made some effort not to remove the graffiti still on the walls and ceilings. Hence, we found names of such campers of years past as Judy Blanks and Sandy Klein, but the most impressive ceiling marks (and easily photographable) were those in one of the smaller cabins where Deni Deutsch and Colette Dick had made a technicolor array across the top of the cabin (album 8-7, 8-8). As for other remnants of CMJ past, we found three artifacts: an object that seems to be the original CMJ lifeguard chair, sitting by the Kleinheksel's dock (album 8-9), rotted plank debris that seems to be the remnants of the original Four Winds dock (album 8-10), and finally a Ward Hills Ski Area sign (album 8-11), suggesting that some of the original YMCA material found their way out the to the island. We left there after a nice chat with the Kleinheksels who mentioned that their dad might have some other object as well, and would be delighted to know that someone from the camp was still interested in the place, and especially in Four Winds.

Roxy and I drove out of the property along the road toward the former corral and archery range (all that is distinguishable on these private lots is the hill itself), down what is now called Blue Gill Drive past the properties on the northeast shore of Blue Gill, where Broadway would have been located. Then turning back onto the main road, along the south shore of Blue Gill, we went into Lakeview Cemetery. Having never seen the cemetery in the daylight hours, I made some mention of the different late-night visits to the cemetery that some counselors and campers had made during different summers. Roxy gave me a rather important reality check - that because she has relative buried there, such visits had never been on her list of cabin activities.

A side note about Lakeview Cemetery that I discovered in Albert Richmond's BBL History: part of the west side of BBL was owned by first by a John Bowers, then Jay W. Lee, and then Anton Matson, a blacksmith from Chicago, who with his wife Karen, operated a resort (approx 1909-early 1930s) called Lakeview Resort and later Big Point Lodge. Another Chicagoan, obstetrician Frederica Baker, purchased a parcel of land (possibly near the Matsons'), named her cottage Okwa Lodge (Welcome in a Native American tongue), and began to invite to the Lodge girls from families in the north side of Chicago who were under her professional care "professional people . . . doctors, dentists, lawyers, etc."). "She chaperoned these youngsters herself, and shepherded them by Goodrich Steamship Line across Lake Michigan from Chicago to Muskegon, during the warmest days of the summer season. From Muskegon, they took the Pere Marquette train to Peacock where they were met by Anton Matson with horse and buggy. .. . The last time Dr. Baker brought the children up to Okwa Lodge, she collapsed from the intense heat, on the Chicago pier, but she managed to get her charges up to the camp where she soon succumbed to her final illness. There is a burial plot in Lakeview Cemetery, in Elk township, just north of the plot occupied by Anton, Karen, and Henry Matson. The plot is surrounded by an iron picket fence and only one person is buried there. The inscription on the headstone reads: Frederica R. Baker, August 12, 1866 - August 7th, 1917, Physician - Friend." I note this because before Martin Johnson made his gift of the land to the YMCA, one of his neighbors, an evidently remarkable Chicago doctor, was already using here property to bring city children to the woods at Big Bass Lake.

I visited Roxy's different locales and saw the lovely lakefront property she has several miles to the south. She told me that anyone who wants to come up for a visit can have a place to stay either in her Ludington home or out near the camp, and she even has suggestions for people who would like to camp nearby.

While driving back south toward Branch, I stopped for a final photo at Ward Hills (album 8-12), where the old lodge seems to have been replaced (although possibly just renovated… who knows!), but where the lower, beginner slope still is evident. There is even a small ski house standing at the top of the slope. Driving down the road from a distance, one can clearly see the ski run which is still clear cut (I would have had to go trespassing to get up to the hill, and we had been pretty law abiding all day). I enjoyed the drive up and back (approximate 3/5-4 hrs from Detroit), noting especially how the terrain and flora change from the urban/suburban blandness around the freeways until one reaches Clare, MI, and then how gradually the forests change to the pine forest that so distinguishes Manistee National Forest.

As you might expect, this visit brought up all sorts of emotions for me, especially after the reunion, and I am still sorting through these. Without getting into some inappropriately preachy mode, I conclude this simply by noting that even if the land where we enjoyed so many summers is now being used for private development and individual family pleasures, there still is a there there, the land and the lake and the sky, and I am certain that the people who now inhabit these properties enjoy these as we much as we did (just not anywhere near as energetically). I think that these people would appreciate knowing more about some of the things that took place on that land and lake, and I know that the Martin Johnson Heritage Museum would gladly house memorabilia related to CMJ.

Charley Stivale, Detroit/Ferndale, MI, August 2001

Return