Among the friends who “guested” at the Cook home was Dr. Grey, a fine old gentleman who had founded a religious settlement in Chicago known as “The Forward Movement.” Though I do not know it, I assume that Father and Mother Cook were generous and regular contributors to his work and he was often at 105 N. Gifford St.
Before our marriage, through Mr. Harbert (a friend and lawyer), the Cooks, had purchased a huge tract of land at Saugatuck, Michigan, on the shore of Lake Michigan for the Forward Movement to be used for a vacation spot, and the Cooks bought heavy acreage on the Kalamazoo River nearby. Other than these holdings, at the same time, the Cooks built a tiny summer shack on a bluff overlooking the lake on the F.W. property. After we were married George and I went over for a week before the family arrived to bask in the sun and set things in order.
That summer our friends Mary and Ben were planning to take the boys, Howell and David, somewhere for a short stay since they were not going to Springfield to the Grandmother’s, so Mother Cook, at George’s instigation, offered the cottage to them for two weeks. It was a wonderful boost to everybody’s morale and Mary made plans to take a friend, Martha Sherwood, with her. Imagine, if you can, then, the disappointment of all concerned when Mother withdrew the offer (through George , of course), practically without a reason.
The boys were heartbroken, and Mary almost as much. It was finally decided that Mary should appeal to the Forward Movement for rooms and board for the two weeks. They were accepted. That beach was at least a mile from the village of Saugatuck. A picturesque old ferry operated by manpower conveyed people over the Kalamazoo River to a place where a path of pine needles through a gorgeous woods led to the buildings of the Forward Movement.
When the appointed hour for departure arrived, Mary, Martha and the boys boarded a lake steamer at Chicago bound for Holland, Michigan, and then transferred to a trolley line that finally dumped them at the town of Saugatuck, a typical little summer tourist village on Lake Kalamazoo and the Kalamazoo River.
Saugatuck in those days was a fishing town. The River, which was beautifully wooded, wandered by devious meanderings down to its harbor where fishermen's shacks lined the river’s edge at the entrance to Lake Michigan. Across from these picturesque dwellings, flanked by nets drying in the sun and fishing sail boats, was a huge dock owned by a company which sporadically operated boats between Chicago and West Coast shores. However, an enormous amount of dredging had to be done each year to permit the steamers to navigate the river without being stuck. Regular service from Chicago was not to be relied upon. Nevertheless, however uncertain the service, the spot was beautiful beyond compare and artists found it a compelling place for painting.
Those who have never penetrated a deep wood by night have no comprehension of what it is like to walk blindly, with hands outstretched in front to prevent collision with upstanding trees. I try never to forget that virgin experience. The boys were about twelve and fourteen, healthy and hardy; Martha tall and sturdy. There were suitcases to carry and when, at midnight, they finally stumbled onto the porch of the main building of the settlement, they crumpled up like paper.
Everyone seemed asleep, or did, when they walked across the threshold of an open door and rang a bell that stood on a long desk. Footsteps sounded along a bar hallway and in no time, they were asleep in bed.
That was the last summer that the Cooks occupied the cottage, for the following summer it was wrecked and the lumber carted to the shores of the Kalamazoo River. That was an act of poor judgment, for the expense of wrecking and carting it to the new site down the river added up to what new lumber would have cost and Dr. Grey could have made fine use of the tiny shack. However, hindsight is usually better than foresight.
Early the next summer Mother Cook took David (Cook) to California and, in her absence, D.C. Minnie (M. Cook’s secretary), George and I set out for Saugatuck to live in tents and superintend the building of a cottage. It was a wild thing to do, yet I’ve sometimes thought that, knowing how hard Mother was to please, D.C. Minnie had concluded she could, and probably would, change it to suit her taste anyway, so we might as well do it with the summer ahead. Mother had invested heavily in Saugatuck property and, aside from that tract which extended down the river as far as the lake, she had several lots outside South Haven, in the region known as Palisades Park, then unimproved.
The property at Saugatuck was on the site of a buried town known as Singapore, which had become covered with sand until it was completely hidden. In the old days there had been a sawmill there and a little digging unearthed great piles of sawdust of a deep mahogany red brown color. The soil was very sandy and, at the river’s edge, poison ivy grew in abundance. Since we had no shack in which to live, a large tent for sleeping and living, and a kitchen and dining tent were pitched on a sunny flat, some distance away from the water. George and I chose a spot apart from the main group for our tent, down by the river where George could smoke unmolested.
Before settling down to build a cottage Father decided to look over the Palisades lots and see if we would rather build there. So we drove to South Haven and looked the site over. The vote, however, was in favor of Saugatuck. Then George and I made a trip to Muskegon and bought a launch. Lumber was brought in and, without the aid of an architect, a simple two-story cottage began to take form on the site of Old Singapore.
There were storms that summer while we lived in tents and, since George and I were close to the river, the winds flapped over our canvas and in the dead of night George would often have to take the axe and secure our tent stakes.