He Heard Music in the Woods

He Heard Music in the Woods

John Wheeler left Ireland as a young man during the Great Famine, to work in New York, then Chicago. In 1853 he crossed Lake Michigan to become a carpenter at Singapore, the lumber town at the mouth of the Saugatuck harbor. Here he helped build the houses and furniture needed for mill workers. His specialty was interior finishing and furniture building. All his life he was awestruck by the many of varieties of beautiful wood found in the nearby forests. He made his own furniture and when he moved his family to Saugatuck, he became a seller of wood shingles, a furniture builder, the village ferryman, and violin maker.

He sought to build the perfect house. Being the son of an Irish architect-house builder and the father of four daughters, Wheeler built one of the largest wooden houses in the village at the time. It was a tall L-shaped house with a corner tower in the fashionable Italian villa style, with 18 rooms and with views of the river and Mt. Baldhead. It was here that one of the Wheeler daughters was married on July 3, 1882. Later, the Wheeler girls turned this house into one of Saugatuck's very first "bed & breakfasts."

His violin was his constant companion, and he was known in his day as the village fiddler and concertina player, providing the village with Irish songs, stories, and wit. Using local wood, he sought to build the perfect fiddle - one of his best known being an odd-looking rectangular example that sounded like a violin. In 1892 he began production of what he said would be one thousand violins. No one knows how many still exist.

He Heard Music in the Woods
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