Windemere on Walloon
Where the sun also rises
Try writing profoundly about the place that inspired one of the world’s greatest writers. No pressure there.
So the serendipity of finding this quote is appreciated by this writer in particular:
“Sometimes, I would start a new story, and could not get it going,” Ernest Hemingway once said. “Then I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think. I would say to myself: ‘All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.’
“So finally, I would write a true sentence and go on from there. It was a wonderful feeling when I had worked well.”
One true sentence, go on from there …
Windemere is an old family summer cottage on Walloon Lake.
It’s 110 years old, without any fancy siding or luxury accouterments. The interior hasn’t even been restained since it was built in 1899.
The original cottage is a 20-by-40 foot rectangle, with two tiny bedrooms and a tinier kitchen. There’s no insulation. There was no electricity or plumbing. Six kids, their parents and a maid stayed here for months at a time.
You’d probably just drive past it, if you didn’t know what you were seeing. There’s bigger, there’s fancier, but there are not many properties of such literary significance anywhere that aren’t a museum or in public hands. Windemere is Americana. It was the proving ground for one of the country’s most acclaimed authors, and it is here in our back yard.
Welcome to Windemere.
“It’s just a plain old cottage, you might not even want to feature it,” says Ernie Mainland, the cottage owner. Ernie, of Petoskey, is Ernest Hemingway’s nephew; his mom was Madelaine “Sunny” Mainland, Ernest’s sister and arguably his favorite sibling.
The cottage came into Mainland’s ownership from his mother via Hemingway; in the 1950s, he wrote Sunny a note instructing her “not to sell it unless you need the money for food.” Already world-famous then, perhaps he knew the significance it might hold one day, though he never put his wishes in a will.
Upon his death in 1961, his wife Mary Welsh Hemingway deeded the property to Sunny, based in large part on the note he had written to her. Six months later, Sunny added her son, Ernie, to the deed with rights of survivorship, continuing the legacy that started in 1898.
That year, the Hemingways had their pick of the land around Walloon Lake. “In 1898 you had a lot of beautiful beach to choose from,” Mainland said. “They chose this one because there’s no drop-off, for the kids. It’s a safe beach.”
The cottage was built on 260 feet of shoreline in 1899 for $400. With three children and more on the way, two additions were made in 1904; a porch dining room and kitchen wing, and a three-bedroom annex house out back where the older children and the housekeeper slept. Behind the annex, the original outhouse still stands with a sign, a trademark of Sunny Mainland’s humorous side, proclaiming, “Ernest Hemingway sat here.”
In 1995, the Mainlands added a master bedroom and converted one of the original bedrooms into a bathroom, making more room for their family that includes son Ken, his wife, Megan, and their three children. They also raised the cottage, built a complete foundation under everything, and put the cottage on its first real foundation. The kitchen was upgraded, and the porch dining room was converted into the entry room.
The rest, they’ve left as is; the detailed oil paintings by Ernest’s mom, Grace Hall Hemingway, some furniture pieces, even the shelves of books Ernest and his four sisters and brother would bring north from Illinois are still lined row by row, weathered and well-turned.
“It’s the deepest set of roots that I have,” said Mainland, of his primary, ancestral home. “Not many people any place stay in a house of this age that’s always been in the family. There’s a tranquility, a peace, a sense of belonging that just comes with the woodwork.”
At the time of Hemingway’s youth, what is now the roadside of the property was forest and farmland, and most people who lived on Walloon in the summer arrived by boat, making the typical “back porch” actually the front door.
Walking in lakeside into the original 20-by-40 cottage, the 20-by-20 foot parlor is centered with a mammoth fireplace, in front of which Hemingway’s sister Carol was born in the summer of 1911.
When the family arrived at the cottage each summer, it was after a lengthy route to get here. They’d board a steam ship in Chicago and travel to Harbor Springs, where they’d catch a train to Petoskey. In Petoskey, they’d change trains and ride another into the village of Walloon, where a boat would deliver them to a public dock. From there, a farmer would cart the family and their stuff to the cottage.
Because of the cozy construction, the children would be found sleeping everywhere, including on the two side benches that flank the fireplace still today. One of the two bedrooms was reserved for their parents, and the other was reserved for guests who visited throughout the summer.
It’s likely that Ernest’s father, Clarence, a doctor, traveled back and forth between Northern Michigan and Chicago, Mainland noted, though he did have privileges at Petoskey Hospital.
Both typically and famously, Ernest’s and his siblings’ days were spent outside, hiking the woods, camping and enjoying the lake, with Ernest often canoeing across Walloon and hiking 3.5 miles into Horton Bay to meet his buddies.
The last time Hemingway visited the cottage, as recorded by his guest book signature, was on his honeymoon on Sept. 3, 1921, with Hadley Richardson, whom he married in Charlevoix County. “They spent the night right here on the floor on a mattress,” Mainland said
Hemingway would marry several more times and was the father of three sons, only one of whom survives, Patrick, who lives in Bozeman, Mont. Mainland said he hasn’t been particularly close to his cousins, but when Patrick visited Windemere in 2004, he relayed, “He said it was one of the most delightful times of his life.”
Mainland met his Uncle Ernest one time, as a boy at age 9. Hemingway was about 50 years old at the time, living in Cuba and by then required reading for students everywhere. “But to me, he was still my mother’s brother,” Mainland said.
Ernie and Sunny had traveled to Havana and gone fishing on Hemingway’s boat, Pilar. “I learned how to drink out of a goatskin,” Mainland recalled.
When the famous author died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1961 in Ketchum, Idaho, Ernie was graduated from college and working at the Walloon Lake Country Club for the summer.
“My mother called and said ‘Uncle Ernie’s dead and we’re going to Idaho,’” said Mainland, who shares the family genes of brevity and to-the-point style, both Hemingway trademarks.
But does he share his literary talent as well?
“I write checks,” he laughed, “And love letters. That’s how I got Judy to marry me.” HL
Why it’s a HomeLife exclusive
Many people have known there is a cottage somewhere on Walloon Lake where Ernest Hemingway summered with his family during his youth.
Its owner, Ernie Mainland, is Hemingway’s nephew, the son of Ernest’s sister, Sunny. Ernie and wife Judy have fielded requests from various media outlets hoping to feature the home.
In 1999, the Mainlands obliged and agreed to allow two national media outlets to feature Windemere, on its 100-year anniversary. The reporters and photographers traveled to Northern Michigan, shot their footage and conducted the interviews. At the same time, JFK Jr. was killed in a plane crash off Martha’s Vineyard, and the media attention was diverted for some time to that tragedy.
The Windemere feature and photos were lost in the shuffle, and they were never published. Mainland said HomeLife’s photographs will mark the first time Windemere has been published publicly.
The Hemingways were here
While the Hemingways lived full-time in Oak Park, Ill., each summer the brood would travel by steam ship and then by railroad to their summer cottage, Windemere, on Walloon Lake.
Mother and father, Dr. Clarence and Grace Hall Hemingway
• Marcelline, born 1898
• Ernest, born July 21, 1899
• Ursula, 1901
• Madelaine ‘Sunny,’ 1904 (mother of Ernie Mainland)
• Carol, born at Windemere in 1911
• Leicester, 1915
“Wherever else he went in the world — to Europe, Africa, Key West,
Havana, Idaho — Ernie always remembered Walloon Lake and Windemere with
affection. It was here he lived and gathered the material that would
make his first stories, here that he vowed to be ‘ ‘fraid of nothing.’
“It was here, too, that I knew my brother best – in the long summers when we tramped the fields and enjoyed the lake together. Those days were more than 60 years ago, but at times they are as bright and vivid to me as the foliage across the lake on a bright autumn day.”
Madelaine “Sunny” Hemingway Miller, 1975, in her book, “Ernie, Hemingway’s Sister Sunny Remembers.” Sunny, who died in 1995, is the mother of Ernie Mainland of Petoskey, the owner of Windemere.
A plaque hanging in the house commemorates it as among the country’s most significant structures, as designated by the U.S. Department of the Interior: “Windemere, Ernest Hemingway Cottage, has been designated a Registered National Historic Landmark under the provisions of the Historic Sites Act of Aug. 21, 1935.”
Issues » July and August 2009 » Windemere on Walloon