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The History of the Pine Lake Area

Before the arrival of Europeans to the area, Indians are believed to have lived in the West Bloomfield area for some 12,000 years. They survived mainly by hunting and fishing. No one is quite sure exactly why the Indian civilization died out in the area. When the first pioneers arrived, two Indian reservations had already been established in the township. One was located on Apple Island, then known as Orchard Island. The other was located at the south end of Orchard Lake. These reservations remained until 1827 when the U.S. government auctioned them off for $1.25 per acre. The reservations also served briefly as orchard nurseries. Many of the existing orchards got their start from those trees.

The French are believed to have been the first white men to explore the area. It is known that in May and June, 1817, surveyors commissioned by the United States Government were the first white men to systematically tread the West Bloomfield area. They found that what we now know as Pine Lake was called “Lake Canfield” at that time.


The First Settlers

During the 1820’s, the government began auctioning off land around Pine Lake and rumor spread throughout the country that the outlying areas of Detroit were perfect for habitation, citing cheap land and an abundance of water. There is confusion as to which settlement of the white man was the first. John Huff of New York started clearing an area on the southeast shore of Pine Lake in 1821. He also erected a substantial log cabin on the site. However, he did not register his claim until 1824. In 1823, Benjamin Irish settled on the western shore of Walnut Lake and registered his claim the same year. Foraging bears and marauding wolves gave early Pine Lake pioneers some anxious moments. Wolves were often seen according to the accounts of the pioneers during the winter traveling in packs across the ice of Pine Lake.

The Pine Lake settlement was the home of the first West Bloomfield post office, started in 1831 at the home of John Ellenwood on the eastern shore of Pine Lake. His tract was just north of John Huff’s. In fact, the Ellenwood family shared Huff’s cabin until they could erect their own. Like most early settlers, Ellenwood did not have deep financial resources. But the settlers who survived worked hard and used their ingenuity to get through. Charles H. Martinez on page 67 of his book “Reflections on the History of West Bloomfield” says of Ellenwood:

“But he and his family applied the energy and muscle they did command to barter goods and trade services among their neighbors so a successful start could be made. For example, Ellenwood needed milk for his family during that first winter. Arrangements were made with a Bloomfield settler to borrow his cow and keep her well fed on the luxuriant grass that grew on Ellenwood’s property all the Pine Lake lakeshore. Similar deals allowed the family to put down strong roots, build a home, and prepare the land. Ellenwood was also cognizant of his larger responsibilities to community stability and growth. To these ends he served as postmaster, justice of the peace, and township supervisor. He also lent a hand in helping frame the State Constitution, serving as a delegate at Detroit in 1835. Moreover, with all his other duties, Ellenwood found time to plan and lay out many of the township and county roads.

To facilitate settlement and commerce, a network of roads was laid out early in the township mostly through the efforts of John Ellenwood, as noted previously. The first road hacked through the wilds of the township, however, was done under the influence of Colonel Stephen Mack and other members of the Pontiac development group. It ran south, approximating the course of present day Middlebelt, but bent like a fishhook beneath the southeastern edge of Pine Lake. It stopped there in 1823 and did not progress much further for many years.”

Schools and Cemeteries

Pine Lake was also the location of the first schoolhouse in the township – a log cabin built between Pine Lake and Walnut Lake to serve this purpose. The first social club in the township was started in Pine Lake, known as “The Interlaken.” This club catered to Detroiters who saw the township as a resort area. It is currently the home of the Pine Lake Country Club.

The Pine Lake cemetery is the oldest in West Bloomfield. It is located on Middlebelt Road just north of Lone Pine Road and houses the body of Charles Lindberg’s mother. The cemetery was established in 1831.

Early Settlements Around Pine Lake Including Interlaken and Pine Bluff Estates

Charles H. Martinez beginning on page 158 of his book, “Reflections on the History of West Bloomfield” paints quite an interesting picture of the early development of homes around Pine Lake. Note below as he specifically describes two properties, namely (1) the property today known as “Interlaken” on the south shore of Pine Lake and (2) the property on the east side of Pine Lake now known as Pine Bluff Estates subdivision which is on Pine Estates Drive.

“The 1872 Atlas of Oakland County, Michigan discloses the presence of a "Pine Lake Cottage" south of West Long Lake Road on a sixty-seven acre parcel in section 14 belonging to O. Taylor. This gentleman was a minister who had purchased these holdings from his father-in-law, Dr. William Wilson, in 1864 and sold them in 1879 to Dr. E. A. Lodge. Rev. Taylor had enlarged the home during his occupancy and, according to the "Business Directory" section of the same source, was using it as a "healthy and pleasant summer resort for private borders." Diagonally across Pine Lake was "Lakeland Place" on an eighty-seven acre tract belonging to G. W. Howard. Although this was a private residence it would be rented for a period of years to a celebrated institution.

The decade of the 1880s brought to Pine Lake an increase in the number of summer homes and cottages that offered lodging on a seasonal basis. On the west side of the lake Mr. and Mrs. Joseph C. Hatch supplemented their income from a modest five-acre farm by renting a double unit cottage nearby, appropriately called "Pine Lodge." South of the Hatch property was the E. P. Anderson place. Anderson managed a couple of cottages where certain MMA staff members resided during the school year and which became available for tourist occupancy in the summer. On Pine Lake Road east of Orchard Lake Road was "Fairpoint,” the residence of Adelaide E. Morris. In addition to taking in an occasional border, Mrs. Morris owned adjacent land with lake frontage which she was endeavoring to sell to suitable clients in 1886.

At this same time the east side of Pine Lake had become a haven for tourists from Detroit, some of whom had seized the opportunity to purchase property here. Leading the group was 1. K. Burnham, owner of a fashionable summer home which he proudly christened "Utopia." His next-door neighbors were William H. Elliott, Dr. R. C. Olin, and Fred C. Stopel, who had all purchased lots and were planning to build in 1887. There were close business ties between two of these men as "Frederick C. Stopel had established a wholesale dry goods business in Detroit in 1875 as a member of Burnham, Stopel & Company," an enterprise that lasted well into the twentieth century. Along the southeast border of Pine Lake in 1886 the Birmingham Fishing CIub had set up a boathouse where its members could test this lake's reputation for fine catches of large and small mouth bass, perch, and pickerel.

The comings and goings of Pine Lake's summer residents and guests were faithfully chronicled in the Pontiac newspapers of the day as part of their local coverage of each community's activities. Frequently mentioned were the gala events held by the Burnhams and Stopels on the east shore at Scarborough Beach. The illustrious Hodges family of Pontiac received much ink, too, since they maintained a residence at the lake when not traveling to Paris or somewhere on the continent. H. S. Crawford, B. W. Smith, and a Mr. Ford of Birmingham were each listed as building cottages here. Harold Ward, the Durkee family, and Judge Ten Eyck were often reported as being on the scene. Occasionally a real estate developer on a reconnaissance mission like Messrs. Church and Brown of Detroit would be captured in print. Early in May, sailboats would take to the lake and traditionally one of the first skippers to have his craft in the water would be Morgan Rundell, usually accompanied by a fair damsel. Names like Ravenwood, Wildwood, and Interlaken were well known to the readers at that time and conjured up thoughts of idyllic hours spent swimming, fishing, canoeing, or perhaps engaged in summer romance. Interlaken was especially beautiful and deserves more than passing mention.

Interlaken was the product of the Preston National Bank of Detroit and perhaps Frederick W. Hayes, who had attempted a planned resort and suburban development on the isthmus between Orchard and Pine lakes some years previous. Due to a lack of information, the extent of Hayes's involvement in the formation of this venture is unclear. At any rate, a number of gentlemen at this financial institution gathered together in April 1888 and decided to establish a clubhouse for summer recreational activity on an inland lake in Oakland County. How Pine Lake came to be selected is a mystery unless Hayes or one of his associates who had knowledge of the area suggested it. To finance the scheme, the group organized a "Bank Clerks' Association" whose membership would buy shares to provide the venture capital. When it was quickly and painfully discovered that sufficient funds could not be obtained by tapping the available pool of bank clerks, a wider net was cast to solicit members from wealthy Detroit families. This was successfully accomplished at a meeting held at the Hotel Cadillac where all pledged to "establish a club where men of moderate means as well as wealthy ones could have a pleasant place to take their families in summer." The officers elected at the meeting: J. A. Dresser, president; E. W. Pyle, vice-president; L. S. Lerch, treasurer; and J. H. Cleveland, secretary, were or had been employees of the Preston National Bank or the Merchants and Manufacturers' National Band in Detroit.

Progress on Interlaken was pressed forward with great determination. Eight acres were purchased on the peninsula jutting out from Pine Lake's south shore. The Detroit architectural firm of Almon C. Varney submitted plans for a twenty-thousand-dollar building on the site which were approved by the organization. The services of Heitsch & Son, a Pontiac construction firm, were retained and work began in October 1888. This activity was carried through the winter months, and was virtually completed in May 1889. The clubhouse was a frame structure three stories high with a broad veranda running around three sides of the building in the first floor. The second and third floors had porches from which the guests had a beautiful view of the lake. A large boathouse occupied a portion of the spacious front lawn. The interior furnishings were said to be "not expensive, but are all in good taste, " probably meaning rustic which would be in keeping with the resort's setting as well as the club's spirit of "roughing it" in the wilds of West Bloomfield.

The grand opening of Interlaken was under the direction of Frederick W. Hayes. The event was held in late May 1889 and unfortunately took place in a driving rainstorm. Fifty members journeyed forth from Detroit by train and were met at the Orchard Lake depot by a fleet of carriages, which conveyed them to the resort. Before dinner at 6 p.m. the group had the opportunity to tour the clubhouse and see how their money had been spent. The first floor was composed of a large hall with old-fashioned fireplace, a dining room that would seat 110 people, and a billiard room. Behind the dining room were the kitchen, a pantry, storeroom, and a refrigerator vault. A ladies' parlor, smoking room, card room, and office facilities were also contained on this level. The second floor had twenty-two bedrooms, and the third another eight with five servants' rooms. The interior was illuminated by 117 gas jets fed from a compound gas machine stored in a shed at the rear of the clubhouse. Following dinner, at which no alcoholic beverages were served, the party danced until 10 p.m. when most returned to Detroit. The few remaining had reserved the honor of being the first to spend the night under the roof of their new enterprise.

Interlaken seems to have been extremely popular for many years. Some even credited it with making Pine Lake "a favorite location for summer cottages.” This is borne out by the 1896 county atlas, which shows a heavy clustering of private homes and cottages along the southern rim of the lake. At this time there were more buildings on Pine Lake than around Orchard Lake if one excludes those structures connected with the MMA. Together with the Interlaken clubhouse there were now six other buildings on the peninsula. A detailed plan of this area from the same source reveals a development known as "Orchard Beach" encompassing the peninsula south of Interlaken. This complex was designed to accommodate some forty cottages on narrow strip lots, two parks, one commons, and a playground. Early in the twentieth century the area has been depicted on maps as the Orchard Beach subdivision. In 1975 it was shown as "Beardsley & Smith's Plat of Orchard Beach" with the "Miner & Story Sub" occupying the tip of the peninsula. Today driving down West Long Lake Road one passes a pair of mortared fieldstone pillars flanking a private entrance road simply marked "Interlaken." Inside, beyond a clearing which represents the old playground and park area, one can catch a glimpse of a series of substantial residences fronting on Pine Lake in a setting that would make those young Detroit bank employees of one hundred years ago proud of their selection of the site.

Another endeavor at Pine Lake that had strong ties to Detroit was the Girls' Friendly Society. Its intriguing title obscures a great humanitarian effort that originated in the nineteenth century and was directed toward working girls and women, many of them immigrants, who had entered the job market in urban centers. The concept was developed in England in 1875 by Mrs. M. E. Townsend, who had performed "rescue" work with troubled young women for the Anglican Church. The movement took hold in the United States two years later after girls from England, Scotland, and Ireland reached these shores carrying letters of introduction to Episcopalian clergy from the Girls' Friendly Society. A Detroit chapter was started in May 1882 and branches quickly spread across Michigan. Since the society's aim was to provide a moral and physical refuge for its members besieged by the pressures and temptations of big city life, a country retreat was considered ideal. On May 30, 1895, the Pontiac Daily Gazette announced that the “Friendless [sic] Girls' Society” would rent the home of D. S. Howard on the shores of Pine Lake for the season. This would be the old Lakeland property on the north side of the lake mentioned previously. The newspaper added that the organization's membership was composed of “250 young ladies between the ages of 12 and 20” who were employed in various Detroit shops, factories, and the like. The article went on to state:

Each member of the society shall have the opportunity of spending two weeks at some time during the summer. This beautiful suburban retreat will be provided with all the necessary conveniences and comforts, such as boats, hammocks, bath-house, tennis and croquet, and a horse and buggy.

Holiday House, the society's name for its new summer quarters, was officially opened June 22, 1895, with twenty-two girls in residence. The operation was under the supervision of Miss Margaret Sill of Christ Church, Detroit, and two others ladies acting as chaperons. As to be expected, the spiritual tone for the colony was emphasized through Episcopalian services held at the farm each Sunday through the season.

For the next eight summers the society continued to rent the old Howard homestead until sufficient funds became available to purchase the Ellenwood property on the east side of the lake in 1902. There, a new Holiday House was built which opened June 25, 1903, to accommodate 42 young ladies. An addition was made to this structure in 1914. For girls whose health was more delicate, an old farmhouse on the site was remodeled in 1908 and named “Aunt Mary's Rest Cottage” in memory of Miss Mary Scotten. This building was destroyed by fire in 1917 but rebuilt on a new site two years later. In 1922, “Birds Nest,” a cottage for society candidates and mothers with young children, was completed. Over the years a tennis court, boats, water slides, playground equipment, a Ford V-8 sedan donated by Mrs. Henry Ford, and a motor bus were added to the organization's facilities. The property continued to carry the society's banner until the late 1950s when it was swallowed up by subdivision growth.”

Note: Pine Bluff Estates was developed into the present day subdivision in 1958 by Donald Kaufman who was just beginning his real estate development career at the time. He went on to hook up with a fellow (Eli Broad) to form a company known as Kaufman and Broad. Today, that company is known as “KB Homes” and is the world’s largest home builder.