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Raising the Bedrooms: The Alvord-Vosburgh Cottage Pair

byGeorge M. Clark

Among the earliest of the Douglas lakeshore cottages are those at 310 and 332 Lake Shore Drive with the family labelsClark-Richards and Clark-Fuller. l

First owners William R. Vosburgh (310) andJohn W. Alvord (332) were apparently caught up in the momentum to build "Michigan Cottages" in the dunes a few lots north of a trio ofUniversity of Kansas faculty members. But Vosburgh, from Oak Park, and Alvord from Chicago, were lesscomfortable with the midwestern rural one story open central great roomarrangement,2 than the Kansans, and chose instead to erect two-storysummer residences on the neighboring 75-foot wide parcels. But neither were they driven to build similarly. Vosburghturned pragmatically to the Sears Roebuck catalog of stock designs available ona mail order basis, and the Alvordswere happy with recognizably Gothic Revival designs then being published bylate Victorian architects.



The Alvord and Vosburgh cottages


TheAlvord Schedule

There was undoubtedly great optimism as to how rapidly things wouldproceed once the design had been decided and the orders placed. But transportation to Douglas was then somewhat slow, and shippingmaterials from Chicagowas really only available by steamer across the lake. Thus, although thedate of contract between John Alvord and builder A. L. Weed, can be see as June14, 1900, the project was enough delayed that Alvord's survey of surfaces ready for painting is datedApril 28, 1903.3

It is noted that Dr. Edward Bartow (moved from University of Kansas toUniversity of Iowa), one of the earliest Michigan Cottage builders, was awitness to the Alvord-Weed contract signing, but whether Mr. Weed was also hisbuilder is not certain.

It seems quite possible that early trial of some of the features of theordered Alvord blueprints produced rejections (plans as ordered in Figure 1),and thus additional time towards realization (Plans as built in Figure 2). Bycomparison, first Vosburgh usage (310) is reported asJuly l, 1900. Indeed, through the minutes of worship services left by Mrs.Annie J. Vosburgh, one can learn of the use of bothcottages for Sunday services and meetings. The interior of the Alvord cottagewas finished enough to function in this regard although not yet painted. A realchapel was finished in 1904.


TheAlvord Plans

It isinteresting to compare the original blueprint plans, which were the basis ofthe contract between john Alvord and A. L. Weed, and what was actually built atsome point later. One can surmise that reference to "Back P" estimatefor paint materials in 1903 means that the two-story back porch 4had been added during the project, and also the front (lake side) second storybay extension converting a roofed balcony into a third (barely minimum) bedroomwith portholes as end windows.

Although both cottages have one dimension which subdivides into ashorter kitchen dimension and a longer living room plus stair dimension(extending full width).Alvord's design turns the shorter dimension of the living room towards thelake, and assigned a "verandah" (front entrance) to the north half ofthe side. Alvord's plan called for both an end window and an ornate plate glasswindow to the southwest through which one viewed about half of the Vosburgh two-story north side. Apparently to compensate forthis limited lake view, an impressively large verandah addition to the northwith a trellis-like overhead structure came into being with a width toaccommodate a row of west-facing deck chairs, and a length exceeding the 24foot cottage length. In the overall composition, this long portico became themost attractive architectural element when viewed from the beach, and forvisiting guests passing it to the entrance it seemed to promise an equallyimposing interior. What one finds insides is the 19 x 14 foot living room, an 8x 10 foot kitchen, and the first floor of the 10 x 16 foot porch (which becamethe dining space and game room after it was glassed in). Upstairs, that porchenclosure became a sleeping porch to replace lost area of the original northbedroom due to moving the stair and providing a connecting hallway. Addition ofthe bathroom (with another porthole window) followed shortly. 5

Planningadjustments notwithstanding, the final architectural effect is consistentlycharming, suggesting that the Alvords were intent oncarrying out the fanciful details of the ordered plans, and adding reminders ofa steamer trip abroad where those styles were found. In addition to the roundwindows, resources were found for stained glass panels as transoms(unfortunately painted over in the kitchen for more than 75 years). A floorless"Juliet" balcony off the peak of the south-facing bedroom, and anawning roof below, are thoughtfully placed.

A 1930s era Douglas postcard shows the four parallel foot bridgeswhich cross the ravine between the road and the row of dunes at 296, 310, 332,and 364 Lake Shore Drive.The Alvord bridge is not only a double-cantilever span (like the Firth of Forth bridge) but was (and still should be) constructedof stripped trunks and branches. The bridge is an outstanding candidate forrestoration to the Alvord concept.


1 Lane, Kit History ofWestern Alleges County (Curbs Media) 1988. The Clarks are not related, 310(and 308) having been acquired by the Dr. George L. Clark family from Urbana,Illinois in 1944, while 332 (and 334)came into the Watt family through Lucy (a faculty member at Miami University inOhio), who was the niece of John Alvord's second wife. Following Lucy wereheiress nieces including Josephine Watt Clark (married to William Clark of St. Louis)."Josie's" grown children Ken Clark and Chris Fuller are thesign-identified owners.


2 Schmiechen, James Raisingthe Roof' The Architecture of Saugatuck Area... (Saugatuck-DouglasHistorical Society: Douglas) 1999. It could be argued that 75 feet would be atight fit for the 60 foot width of the "Michigan Cottage" which is the casestudy subject of the cited book and 1999 exhibitof the Museum. This fact would not apply in the case of the exclusion of theside porches. In fact, on the lot next south of 310 an exemplary Michigan Cottage wasbuilt in about 1901 by LindsayWoodcock of Chicago (general manager of Marshall Field's). It stands today at296 and is owned by the daughters of Max and Lela Paris, the last purchasers inthe early sixties.


3Clark Family Archives (unpublished) This listing includes the unusual painting of 1 800 squarefeet of roof shingles and, mysteriously, also includes a precise date forrepainting in 1911 -- eight years ahead.


4J.Clark, ibid. Alvord lists the porchsize as 8 x 12 feet, perhaps denoting a further upward sizing to the existing10 x 16 feet. The roofpattern of the northeast corner hints at these successive changes.


5 Clark, G. "Re-Raising theRoof: updating the Michigan Cottage" inRaising the Roof, One theory is that the delays allowed John Alvord, acapable engineer by profession, to incorporate the first inside bathroom/septicsystem into cottage construction of the initial boom years. We know that he andWilliam Vosburgh were instrumental in theestablishment and maintenance of the water distribution system during thisperiod. Another clue is his choice of orientation of the 10 x 16 foot diningporch to the east (the probable outhouse location of nearly every precedingcottage).


George M. Clark is Professor Emeritus in Architecture from Ohio State University and co-ownerof 308 and 310 with brother Ralph and sister CarolynRichards. A second installment on the Vosburgh planswill appear in the next issue.