Doezema Cottage at 90
by Bob Swierenga, July 2020
The Doezema cottage on Fishers Lake  near Three Rivers, Michigan, has been in the family for ninety years. Rev. Frank and wife Celia Top Doezema purchased the one-room cottage with a screened-in porch in September 1929, as a vacation retreat, while serving the First Christian Reformed Church of Roseland (1914-44). The cottage was named Shelter Well, although wags in the family dubbed it "Swelter Well" because of the stifling summer heat.
How and why Grandpa Doezema found this cottage is unknown. Perhaps he saw this 1917 advertisement, or one similar later, in a Chicago newspaper, which John Witvliet found online.
According to the deed records, preserved by son-in-law and attorney Freeman Visser, a warranty deed, dated September 14, 1929, shows that Frank and Celia Doezema purchased the cottage in two separate transactions a decade apart, both from the estate of Charles L. Seekel, by administrator and son Stanley R. and wife Helen Seekel, and daughter Lottie Seekel, the only heirs of Charles Seekel, deceased. In the second deed, dated September 21, 1939, the two heirs, Stanley and Lottie Seekel gave the Doezemas a quit claim deed for a contiguous triangular property. Why this was a quit claim, instead of a warranty deed, is unclear. Purchase prices are not stated on either deed, only the usual phrase—“one dollar and other good and valuable considerations.”
The legal description of the triangular properties is very complicated and would require surveyors’ equipment to chart. Attached is a plat of the properties, which helps show the lay of the land (see below). The two triangular parcels (in yellow) are the Doezema cottage, and the two parcels (in red) are Jim and Cele’s cottage. Note that the Doezemas had no lake frontage, but the DeBoers did. Hence their property taxes were considerably higher.
Given that the two triangles cut the Doezema property in half, the warranty deed and quit claim deed must have covered the same property, since the cottage sits astride both. The quit claim deed must have cleared up a “cloud” on the original title.
All this property lies in the west fractional part of the southeast fractional quarter of Section 34 of Township 5 South, and Range 11 West in St. Joseph County. The two deeds ae recorded in the St. Joseph Courthouse deed registers, respectively, in Book 264, page 109 (date filed, December 11, 1930), and Book 248, page 66 (date filed, July 18, 1940).
An undedicated road runs along the east side of the Doezema property, which turns to the right below the hill. This was to allow access to cottages on the low ground near the lake, which were razed over the years. This road remains by historic usage open for common use, if I recall correctly what Freeman said years ago.
When I came on the scene in 1957, one cottage still stood under the big tree below either the Rowe or Hudson cottage, which was owned by Thelma ??, Her son was a volunteer fireman. She built a new cottage on the Little Lake two or three houses east of Lane De Vries, where her son still lives. There was also an octagonal cottage on the water below Jim and Cele’s cottage that they had razed one summer, which we witnessed (see below).
For many decades the Doezema cottage stood on a dirt road with no street address. More recently, under government regulations, the cottage was assigned the address of 19604 Lakeshore Drive (formerly Seekel’s Drive or Lover’s Lane), but it has no mailbox, although there was one briefly in the 1950s.
The cottage is one of the few original structures never winterized. The exterior and interior ceiling and walls are constructed of cedar slats. Windows are plentiful to let in sunlight by day and cooling breezes by night. The building rests on concrete blocks over a three-foot crawl space. It is served by a deep well that yields refreshing cool water. The original well, a hand pump model, stood outside the back door. A two-hole outhouse behind the garage served for several decades. The garage was just large enough for a flivver. It now serves as a storage shed.
Doezema was born in Grand Rapids and had four brothers and a sister in the Furniture City. The cottage was well-located for at least two reasons—his congregants in Roseland could never find the place, but his brothers and wives could come for a visit, by driving their Ford or Chevy flivvers south seventy miles on Division Street (original M-131). The road surface alternated between concrete and gravel and passed through Dorr, Wayland, Gun Plains, Kalamazoo, and Schoolcraft to Three Rivers, where they took state route M-60 heading southeast about four miles to another dirt road (now South Fisher Lake Road) leading to the cottage. They could also reach the cottage from the west via South Fishers Lake Road to Seekel’s Road.
At the northwest corner of South Fishers Lake Road and M-60 stood a gas station where the Doezema families and other vacationers stopped for ice for their iceboxes. An alternate source of ice was the Shell station at the northwest corner of the highway and North Fishers Lake Road, which Chicago brothers, James and George Smith, purchased in 1948. The two-pump station sold gasolines, ice-cold pop, and candy bars, along with various auto parts like fan belts and gaskets. Today it is a modern Shell Station with a wide variety of goods for sale.
Grandpa and Grandma Doezema took their vacation first in mid to late June, followed by their six daughters and young families, who paired off for two weeks each in July and August. Oldest daughter Pearl and husband John Zwart, along with Agnes and husband Gerald Wesselius, usually came first in July, followed by Annette and husband Theodore “Ted” Boomker and Bertha and husband Lester Larson. Finally came Bernice and husband Frank Boersema and youngest daughter Charlotte and husband Peter Boelens. After the Larsons purchased their own cottage on Lake Paw Paw in the 1940s, the Boomkers and Boersemas teamed up, leaving Charlotte, the youngest daughter, to host her aging parents.
Sleeping was tight. One couple slept on a pull-out couch on the porch and the other inside. The interior had two bedrooms, one separated by three-quarter-high wood walls and the other by a curtain. Privacy was not to be had at the “cottie,” the name of everyone’s favorite summer vacation home.
Sisters Annette and Bernice purchased the first brand new item for the cottage, the lamp that hangs today on the wall in the kitchen. It is an heirloom.
For many years, Peter and Charlotte Doezema took care of maintenance on the treasured cottage and handled summer rental schedules. They did this faithfully until Peter passed away and then Freeman and Shirley Visser took over that responsibility.
The brothers-in-law modernized the cottage in the 1940s. Grandpa Doezema, with the help of son-in-law Peter Boelens and neighbor Mr. Brink, owner of the cottage next door later acquired by Jim and Cele DeBoer, added a kitchen in back and a bathroom with indoor toilet (but no shower—the lake was adequate for bathing) on the inside southeast corner where the kitchen stood. The many windows that line three walls of the kitchen were given by the Boelens, after Charlotte had mis-measured them for their Lansing home.
A large wood stove, later converted to natural gas, stood next to the kitchen on the east side of the room. By then the Rural Electrical Administration (REA), a New Deal agency, had strung electric wires to service Fisher Lake cottages, and son-in-law Ted Boomker, an electrical engineer, wired the cottage for lights and ceiling fans. A well-driller sank a deep well on the east side near the bathroom to replace the original well, with the electric motor housed in a pump house. The motor was so noisy that it was not flushed during the night, so as not to awaken sleepers. More recently, the well was deepened and the motor was placed at the bottom, ending the ban on night-time flushing.
The featured watercraft was a large wooden sailboat, named Celia Y, which sailors in the family for many years sped across the lake on windy days. Celia Yvonne was the oldest daughter of Gerald and Agnes Doezema Wesselius, who tragically died at age four of an infection in the sac around the heart. Celia, named in the Dutch way after the mother’s mother, was the first grandchild to die, and the entire family mourned her passing. The Celia Y. finally rotted away.