The summer cottage offers perhaps the most popular pleasure and recreation today, just as it did in the early part of the 20th century. Fresh air, nature, outdoor recreation and renewed vigor still are healthful benefits of cottage life. Back in the early 1900s, Aladdin Homes of Bay City saw the opportunity to satisfy the demand and offered a range of simple “kit cottages” that could be shipped in crates and assembled on site by the owner without previous experience.
Aladdin Homes was established in 1906 by brothers William J. Sovereign and Otto E. Sovereign of Bay City. Originally founded as the North American Construction Company, the earliest cottages were offered as Sovereign Summer Cottages. The business later became Aladdin Readi-Cut Homes. The brothers were inspired by Cliff Brooks, a local Bay City entrepreneur, who sold precut boat kits by mail.
Aladdin’s first advertisement appeared in the April 1907 issue of Boating magazine, featuring boathouses and summer cottages. In July of that year, the company received its first order for a five-room summer cottage costing $298. The business grew rapidly and soon expanded into offering garages, homes, barns and other farm-related buildings. Home designs ranged from simple “cottage” designs costing several hundred dollars to fancy, multi-room homes costing several thousand dollars. Soon, the bulk of their business was for Aladdin homes, with cottages remaining a smaller portion of the business.
A 1912 catalog explained Aladdin’s summer cottages were identical to their winter construction and were “exactly like any good house erected by a competent contractor.”
The materials were cut to fit in Aladdin’s mills and “ready for nailing in place.” Lumber, roofing materials, windows, exterior doors, shingles, locks, nails, hinges and exterior paint were included in one shipment. Materials were furnished “from the sills up,” and no foundation material was provided for summer cottages. Cedar posts could be purchased for an additional charge. Since summer cottages usually were built some distance from lumber and hardware dealers, usually with high prices, trips back and forth were avoided. Aladdin guaranteed all parts would fit. Complete, detailed blueprints and pictures were provided. Cottages could be erected and completed by two “good men” in four working days, realizing a significant savings on labor.
Home designs ranged from simple “cottage” designs costing several hundred dollars to fancy, multi-room homes costing several thousand dollars.
Virtually all the cottages offered by Aladdin had porches. Screening could be purchased at additional cost. Some plans for smaller cottages suggested porches could serve as dining rooms. One plan even included the kitchen on the porch.
Most of the early summer cottages did not have bathrooms, since many of the cottage sites didn’t have running water. Outhouses and bathing in the lake or river were de rigueur. Bathrooms, or “water closets,” started to show up in the catalogs for summer homes in the 1920s and 1930s. But even then, some plans offered rooms that could be used for bathrooms, bedrooms or pantries.
As customary at the time, the rooms were open to the rafters, and the studs on the inside of the walls were left exposed. Aladdin did not furnish the summer cottages with plaster board for the interior or paint for the inside.
Some Aladdin catalogs offered three floor-plan sizes for each cottage. Romantic-sounding names were given to many cottage designs, including the Shoreview, Cozynook, Bay View, Lakeside, Riverside and Rustic.
The company advertised any Aladdin cottage could be shipped and delivered in about one week after the receipt of an order. In another week, the cottage could be ready to live in. Vacation time could be planned with the arrival of the material, and the joy of “building their own cottage” gave owners the enduring satisfaction of creating a summer retreat of their own.
BLUE Vintage Views columnists M. Christine Byron and Thomas R. Wilson reside in Grand Rapids. They are authors of the new book “Vintage Views Along Scenic M-22 including Sleeping Bear Dunes.”