by Roger Duval
My philosophy as I get older is the more you know of the past the more you will appreciate today. I have been fortunate to meet the person who summered on Bald Eagle Lake 75 years ago in the cottage next door to my place on Sunset Ave. A Ford cost about $700 in 1930. The times were certainly gloomy when Jane McKee was a youngster spending her summers at Bald Eagle Lake. It was during the Great Depression. My own father was sent to work in the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) at Grayling building bridges as a teenager. Later, in World War II he was able to use the experience as a U.S. Navy Seabee to construct bridges in the Pacific islands.
The Great Depression seemed to not affect Jane once she arrived at Bald Eagle Lake with her family. Her father had purchased the cottage on Sunset Ave. for back taxes for about $900 around 1930. They would all pile in the car and drive up Dixie Highway to Ortonville Road to Rattalee Lake Rd. to Allen Road to Bald Eagle Lake Rd. Back then there was no electricity. They used kerosene lamps for light and spent the mornings cleaning the soot so they could be visible the next night. A well was under the kitchen sink with a hand pump. A chemical toilet was on the porch so they would not be bitten by mosquitoes by using an outhouse.
The 1933 Brandon Township tax rolls stored at the library indicated that John McKee paid $8.78 property taxes on the cottage assessed at $1,000. They would have ice delivered from Holtzmans. This establishment was located on the east side of the lake on Allen Rd. The Holtzmans operated the Bath and Beach House, small grocery, restaurant, gas station and ice house until 1946. The tax records indicate they paid $128.30 in property taxes in 1930 for the large parcel their business occupied. Bald Eagle Lake was very quiet as there were only row boats and some small motorboats.
Jane and her siblings would take a crank Victrola on their rowboat to the raft and play music on the lake. This fun would last until Labor Day when it was time to go back to Birmingham. Her dad would commute each weekend.
There was a hotel on the lake — the Pioneer Hotel, later renamed the Boat Hotel. Jane remembers the island as uninhabited and there was no bridge to get access. The best way to see the island from the shore was by telescope. It is hard to believe that in the years before Jane arrived the entire lake it was owned by only three individuals. Jane’s father sold the cottage in the 1940’s. After Jane’s departure Bald Eagle Lake developed into a cottage community. In 1948 it had over 200 cottages, a hotel, three stores, two gas stations, a restaurant, a drug store and a bathing beach.