Island House

Posted on May 25, 2011


Sooner or later everyone takes a picture of this bridge. It’s perhaps the single most recognizable emblem of Elk Rapids. Katherine and I were documenting the recycled art projects on display last week, so she took a picture of Dorothy in her ruby slippers and I took a picture of both of ’em.

Cross the bridge and you’ll find a path and a steep staircase leading up to this house.

Edwin Noble bought the five-acre sandpile in the Elk River in 1866, capped it with clay, hauled in loamy topsoil, planted some pines and built a house. Not everyone in town thought this was such a great idea, but Edwin persisted and the Noble family certainly enjoyed the place. When this picture was taken the bridge was wide enough to accommodate the carriages that brought visitors to the house. Logs still floated in booms on the river.

Vintage photo courtesy of Jackie Weber, Elk Rapids genealogist

The setting is lovely at every time of year. The kids today call this stretch of the river The Chute, and in July they’ll be swimming here.

It’s a long tradition in Elk Rapids. Fashions have changed a bit of course.

Vintage photo courtesy of Jackie Weber, Elk Rapids genealogist

The house itself has become the prettiest little library you ever saw.

Once upon a time the rooms were filled with the Smart Young Set of Elk Rapids. Here they are celebrating New Year’s Eve in 1898. (Judging by the number of surviving photos of picnics on the floor, the Noble kids were a fairly unconventional bunch.)

Vintage photo courtesy of Jackie Weber, Elk Rapids genealogist

Today the Smart Young Set was reading stories while their smart parents were choosing books, using the free wireless internet on the porch overlooking the harbor, or taking Japanese lessons downstairs.

They were also working on an Environmental Art project on the library grounds, but that’s another post entirely.

And, um, so is all the bit about who Edwin Noble was and the mysterious circumstances surrounding his departure from the firm of Dexter and Noble, and the loss of the house–which is how it came to be given to Elk Rapids to begin with. I think Edwin was a bit of a financial finagler along the lines of certain 21st Century Financiers. How could I omit all the good stuff?!? I ran out of time. The Cowboy ate my homework. My mouse died. I have writer’s block. Take your pick.

OK, and then on top of it I forgot to mention that this is my contribution to Scott Thomas’s Hometown History Assignment.   See, this is one of those Pride Goeth Before a Fall deals.  When I accepted the assignment I wrote, I will sneak up on you with a story that even the most history-averse among your readers will be unable to resist. Stealth history.  And then I was really stealthy.  I left out the story altogether.  How stealthy is that?  Very.