July 26, 2006

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Ca 1910

Ca 1930 after Hoerman redesign
Two recent photos from front and rear


Perched on the Allegan hill high above the Kalamazoo River, the cottage name is derived from an Indian word that means “in the teeth of the wind.” Like many house-stories, that of Kemah is both complicated and interesting. It is a mirror of sophisticated “cottage” building the early half of the 20th century, and most recently an example of first-rate historic restoration/preservation. The famous Chicago architect Thomas Eddy Tallmadge designed the original cottage for a Chicago family in 1906. It was radically reconstructed twenty years later by Saugatuck’s premier architect/painter of the time—Carl Hoerman—for William and Alys Springer, also of Chicago. As the story goes, Mrs. Springer had plenty of money to spend. This reconstruction was spread out over 6 years.

The end result was one of Michigan’s best designed and finely crafted houses of the period. Although Mrs. Springer’s correspondence suggests that they were good friends (even traveling companions), photographs from the period suggest a bit of artistic tension between Hoerman who was an Arts & Crafts guy and the very young Mrs. Springer who leaned more toward 1920s-30s Hollywood style (take a look at the photos in the current Saugatuck-Douglas Historical Museum exhibition). Hoerman drew upon Arts & Crafts, Prairie and Art Nouveau forms—with some references to the English Cotswold’s and his own Bavarian roots. The house features a grand porte-cochere, a colonnaded porch, a “false-thatched” roof, several very interesting fireplaces, fine Prairie-style stained glass windows, hand-carved doors, tile floors, and a German rathskeller. To top it off, a cavern (“rockery”) was carved into the hillside and made into a sitting room of stalactites, mushroom rock shaped tables, rock formations to show erosive action, a waterfall—and copies of Indian pictographs drawn on the walls, patterned after Indian dance rituals!

The current owners have restored the exterior and interior (including furnishings) in the exquisite Arts & Crafts manner Hoerman would certainly approve of. Kemah remains an important part of the visual attraction of Saugatuck and Douglas area and a testimony to the value of historic preservation.

For more on Kemah, come along to a talk by one of Kemah’s owners, Danny Esterline, as part of the “Tuesday Talks” series at the Saugatuck-Douglas Museum (the “Pump House”) at 11 on August 1. Or simply hit the museum exhibit “Raising the Roof” and check out the “Kemah Story” and photographs.                   by Jim Schmiechen

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