2007-07-14 / Columnists

A Look at History

Hubbard's Annex Is Historic District Within Mackinac Island
BY FRANK STRAUS

Hubbard's Annex is 125 years old this year. In 1882, when Gurdon Saltonstall Hubbard platted and began to develop his "Private Claim No. 4," the old Ambrose Davenport farm west of the harbor, a new era opened on Mackinac Island. In many ways the current summertime atmosphere of our Island dates itself back to the creation of "Hubbard's Annex."

Mr. Hubbard's 1882 plat, carefully lithographed by Rand McNally for distribution to potential land purchasers, depicts winding streets, a wide boulevard, and a public park, known to this day as the "Common." Aconcern for open space is reflected in the binding commitment that part of the forested space between Lake View Boulevard and the Island's blufftop be set aside for the enjoyment of the Annex's "owners, occupants, and residents." The view of the Straits of Mackinac from the bluff was, from the start, a key resource of the Annex historic district.

Small sections of land at the top of the bluff were set aside for the personal use of several Annex homeowners. Francis Stockbridge, the wealthy Saugatuck lumberman and U.S. senator from Michigan, bought a blufftop parcel in 1882 for his summer residence, now the site of the Dziabis cottage.

A turn-of-the-century postcard view of West Bluff cottages on Mackinac Island. (Photograph courtesy of Tom Pfeiffelmann) A turn-of-the-century postcard view of West Bluff cottages on Mackinac Island. (Photograph courtesy of Tom Pfeiffelmann) Mr. Hubbard believed the Annex would form an attractive summer "Colony," writing:

"The view from this bluff is the finest on the Island, overlooking the entrance to Lake Michigan with its numerous Islands and Light-Houses [sic], and in full view of St. Ignace and Mackinaw City."

The integrity of Hubbard's Annex as a historic district was further strengthened by the early cottagers' living arrangements. Mr. Hubbard's goal was the creation of a complete resort community where the residents would spend a large portion of their time together. To this end, the community land plan set aside a building lot on the Common as the "Eating House," and the early Hubbard's Annex cottagers were encouraged to form a club and hire a cook, who would supervise the preparation of meals for them. In 1883, eight new wooden houses sprouted up, circling around the halfmoon shaped "Common." Most of the cottages were built by master carpenter Charles W. Caskey.

Mr. Caskey, who would soon earn fame as the builder of Grand Hotel, favored a vernacular Carpenter Gothic style for the summer residences. This building genre took full advantage of Michigan's white pine trees being cut by Mr. Stockbridge and other lumbermen. Typically cross-gabled and furnished with a wraparound front porch, the Caskey cottages encouraged informal socializing. The cottages were built without Victorian parlors, which were a required design element of the upper-class houses in the southern Michigan towns and cities, where the earliest Annex cottagers lived most of the year. It was expected that the new Island summer people would greet each other on their front porches.

During the remainder of the 1880s, six additional cottages were built in Hubbard's Annex. Demand for Annex property was slaked, to some extent, by the opening up of new cottage lots on the Island's West Bluff and East Bluff. The West Bluff, built on land leased from Mackinac National Park, soon outshone Hubbard's Annex; the bluff's location adjacent to Grand Hotel (opened in 1887) made this section of the bluff the Island's visual centerpiece. While several West Bluff cottages were designed by America's most fashionable architects, the Annex retained a comparatively modest, vernacular architecture and informal atmosphere and style. While Michigan wooden cottages can be easily enlarged and "improved," most early Hubbard's Annex cottages retain their original gabling and porch layouts to this day.

Twenty-two Mackinac Island cottages were built in Hubbard's Annex during the "classic era" of Island summer architecture, during the 1800s and very early 1900s, and 21 of them survive to this day. The presence of this unified group of Victorian summerhouse private residences, centering around 11 Caskey-era cottages built in 1883-85 on Park Avenue and the Common, form a significant contributing resource to the existing designation of Mackinac Island as a National Historic Landmark.

The last "classic" Hubbard's Annex rose in 1922, built by master carpenter Patrick Doud for Dr. Selim McArthur. As it happens, this was the last cottage of any sort to be built on the Island for an extended period of time, as the new Mackinac Island State Park did not lease out new lands to cottage-builders, and the owners of the remaining parcels of private Island land did not subdivide them at this time. Mackinac Island's summer architecture remained frozen in time for almost a century, closely resembling the pattern begun at Hubbard's Annex in 1882-83.

In the 1980s, a new round of development began, centering on Stonecliffe and including Woodbluff, Stone Brook, and The Woods. These cottages and condominiums were often "winterized" and built for year-around use; they are often good-looking in their own right, but do not always conform to the summeronly building patterns of the past.

With Mackinac Island now accessible on a year-around basis, the construction of a new house that can only be used during the summer may appear to many to be a needless exercise, however, the existing cottages of Hubbard's Annex remain as a tribute to the visual style and living patterns of our nation's past.

No one will build cottages like this again, and "The Annex" is often a destination for day-trippers and passengers on Island buggy tours.

Persons who want to learn more about the 125-year history of Hubbard's Annex can take a look at Phil Porter's book, "View From the Veranda."

The second edition of this book, with many new illustrations of classic-era cottages built in Hubbard's Annex and the Bluffs, is offered for sale at many State Park and Mackinac Island bookstores.

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