Michigan was once a land of mighty timber. A few artisans were inspired by the natural materials found in logs, tree branches, stumps and roots to create rustic marvels. Although there were others — including the Jack Pine Lodge near Manistique, Birchwood Arbor in St. Ignace and many lodges and cabins — the best-known of these are the Legs Inn in Cross Village and the Shrine of the Pines, just outside of Baldwin.
The Shrine of the Pines is the masterpiece creation of Raymond (Bud) Overholzer. Starting in the 1930s until his death in 1952, the artisan craftsman searched for white pine stumps and roots to make unusual rustic furniture. Overholser completely outfitted his cabin with a collection of organic furniture using only hand tools, wooden pegs, hand-mixed glue and animal grease for the finish. Among those highlights of his 201 pieces included a dining table made from a 700-pound pine stump, a perfectly balanced rocking chair that would rock 55 times with single touch and a huge sideboard carved from a single tree.
After years of searching, Overholzer was able to find pine stumps that nature had twisted into letters of the alphabet, enabling him to spell out “Shrine of the Pines,” his tribute to Michigan’s state tree, the white pine. The site now operates as a historical museum.
The Legs Inn was the creation of Stanley Smolak, a Polish immigrant who fell in love with Northern Michigan. Smolak saw beauty in colorful stones, twisted tree limbs and roots. He decided to create a great work from nature’s discards. Hiring some local Native Americans and doing much of the work himself, he started to build a tavern. When skeptical locals asked him why he was building a tavern during Prohibition, Smolak replied that by the time he was finished, Prohibition would be over.
Prohibition did end in 1933, and Smolak opened his tavern. The building is constructed of local fieldstone with log trim. The name, Legs Inn, comes from the inverted metal stove legs decorating the edge of the roofline. Smolak found beauty in the gnarled and twisted native cedar trees and fabricated unique tables and chairs. Rustic finish work included railings, doors, counters and the bar.
The original Jack Pine Lodge was built about 1933 on M-94 near Manistique. Legend has it that in 1936, Blaine Brannon won it in a poker game. In 1945, Brannon built a new lodge using native material gathered in the area and advertised it as the “most attractive and unique place in Upper Michigan.” The rustic wood interior featured distinctive tables, chairs and lamps all constructed from pine roots and stumps, almost making them “appear to be growing from the floor and walls.”
Sadly, the long-favored watering hole for hunters and sportsmen burned in January of this year.
Birchwood Arbor in St. Ignace was built by C.C. Eby in the 1920s as a dance hall and restaurant. The interior was decorated with birch bark covering the walls and ceiling. Painted murals were framed by birch bark. Eby liked the effect so much that he later used birch bark in the same manner in his gift shops at Indian Village and Castle Rock. The Birchwood Lodge was located on the waterfront on State Street, near what is now the Arnold Transit Company dock.
New BLUE “Vintage Views” columnists M. Christine Byron and Thomas R. Wilson reside in Grand Rapids.
Photography courtesy Vintage Views & Thinkstock