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The Little Stone Houses

LIFE AT THE EDGE OF THE SWAMP, by Dave Hall, Published in the Ludington Daily News, September 22, 2014

Although it doesn’t have the grandeur of some of our National Parks, Ludington State Park is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. Located between Lake Michigan and Hamlin Lake, the park’s beaches, ponds, dunes, and lakeshores draw many visitors, but there are places where one can find solitude, too. Even when the camping areas are full, the trails are usually quiet, frequented mostly by those who appreciate the forests, dunes and the small scenes, such as woodland ponds, smooth as glass, reflecting the evening light. The park was largely built during the Great Depression of the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, (CCC) a federal program to employ single young men. However, the dam, which gives Hamlin Lake its present size, was built in 1913 after an earlier dam failed. The men of the CCC built paths for hikers to follow, stone trail shelters, seawalls of wooden pilings backed by fieldstone to protect the Hamlin shorelines from wave action, and bridges over streams and inlets. There was even a toboggan slide, lighted for night use, where the Cedar campground is now. Some of these structures can still be seen, although many are gone after more than 80 years.

Of particular interest to me are the stone trail shelters that were scattered about the park. These little huts, I believe there were at least six early on, had three walls of fieldstone, and the fourth side was open to a spectacular view, and served as an entrance. The opposite wall had a long, open hole to serve for a window. They had cedar shake roofs and a fireplace with a cubbyhole to put firewood in. People carved their initials and the year in the timber rafters and benches that were built along the walls, and we kids would try to find the oldest year recorded. The cubbyhole for firewood was usually empty, and made a grand goal for rock climbing expeditions for six-year-olds.

The CCC crews that built the park were young men who often lived in remote camps, in barracks, and who worked on jobs all year around. They made $30 per month, $25 of which was sent to their families. The labor was mostly manual, and they were taught skills in carpentry, stone masonry, and some scholastic things like math, to name a few. The work was hard. As far as I know, the stones for the buildings were imported, but the crews had to move them to the various work sites around the park. Maybe they used horses to drag “stone boats,” shallow wooden boxes full of rocks, to where they were needed. Perhaps barges were used on the lake in the summer. Many tons of rocks were moved about the park.

For years after construction ended, people have enjoyed the park for recreation. Park staff have kept things going year around, and maintained the facility as well as they could. But inevitably, time took its toll. The toboggan slide was one of the first things to go, perhaps because it was not very safe. More recently, the shelter huts began to disappear, because they were showing signs of falling down.

When the huts were built, a concrete foundation about 18 inches thick was poured, then the stone walls were built on it. As time went on, though, foot traffic around some huts moved the sand away from the foundation, which then cracked, causing the whole structure to become unsafe, and so it would be removed. Now there are only two of the original shelters left, one on the Island Trail and one on the Logging Trail. The remains of one foundation can still be seen on the Island Trail.
Two years ago, the fireplace wall was largely rebuilt on the remaining Island Trail shelter, and this year, a retaining wall is being constructed to keep the sand from migrating out from under the foundation. There is a set of steps in the wall to help direct the foot traffic.

The park management, and volunteers, some from the Friends of the Park, are working at the endless job of keeping our park the treasure it has always been.
Many thanks to them all.

  Hamlin Lake Preservation Society, PO Box 178, Ludington, MI 49431