Middle Island Point – One of Marquette’s Best Kept Secrets

Indian Head Rock

Indian Head Rock at Middle Island Point

I recently had the good fortune and privilege of getting to visit Middle Island Point, a visit arranged by a friend and with one of the Point’s longtime residents as our tour guide. Because Middle Island Point is private property, you can only access it by invitation and so I will respect the privacy of the residents and not display pictures of their cottages and homes, but the scenery at Middle Island Point is breathtaking enough in itself.

I had long heard of Middle Island Point but never visited it, and when I mentioned it to others, I was surprised that many people didn’t even know where it is. It is actually only a couple of miles from Marquette with access along the Big Bay Road. We have all seen it. When you are at Presque Isle Park and look across the bay from Sunset Point, you are looking straight at it. It is called Middle Island Point because a point of the mainland juts out right across from Middle Island (the Middle Island between Presque Isle and Partridge Island).

Several books have been written about Middle Island Point, including A History of Middle Island Point(1963) by Robert J. Pearce. The book has an odd cover without any words on it and only an aerial view of the point. Inside it is the history of much of Middle Island Point, including lists of every cottage there.

Middle Island Point by Robert Pearce

Aerial View of Middle Island Point - the cover of Pearce's book

The point itself is quite a rocky precipice jutting into the lake with fairly high cliffs in various places while other parts of the shore are close to the lake. The winter storms can be quite fierce as the waves dash against the rocks, but the geological beauty of the landscape is rivaled by few other parts of the Marquette area’s Lake Superior shoreline.

As for its history, Middle Island Point began as a sort of camping getaway for Marquette residents, and its former inhabitants read like a “Who’s Who” of Marquette history. The first cabin was built about 1890 by Mrs. Alice Adams, a milliner in the Harlow Block of Marquette. By the early 1900s, the Point would be filled with cottages on its rocky hill and on the beachside property as well.

Among the locally famous residents who had cottages on Middle Island Point are:

View of Partridge Island from Middle Island Point

The Harlow Clark family. They are descendants of Amos and Olive Harlow, Marquette’s founding family. Mr. Harlow Clark, their grandson, reputedly would walk from the streetcar at Presque Isle to Middle Island Point.

Forest and Esther Roberts – The Forest Roberts theater was named for Forest, head of NMU’s theatre department, and they were long time owners of a cottage at the point which remains in the family today.

Dorothy Bird – Dorothy Maywood Bird, local author of Granite Harbor and a couple of other books had a cottage along the beach at Middle Island Point.

James Cloyd Bowman – the winner of the Newberry Medal for his book Pecos Bill, Bowman was head of NMU’s English Department and had a cottage called Skytop at Middle Island Point. In Ruth Alden Clark Lill’s book Twenties That Didn’t Roar, she recalls being at the cabin when a fire broke out on Middle Island Point. Fortunately, none of the cottages burnt.

John Lautner Jr. – the famous architect was a boy who helped to build his family cottage Midgaard here. Lautner would go on to study under Frank Lloyd Wright and build homes for such notables as Bob Hope (watch for the special exhibit on Lautner coming soon to NMU and the Marquette Regional History Center).

Middle Island Point

Landscape of Middle Island Point with Bridge

Famous visitors to the Point include Cole Porter who reputedly had help from a party of guests at the Point in writing the lyrics for one of his songs.

The rugged landscape is quite a challenge for the residents, who often have to climb up one or two hills on winding paths from one cabin to another in roundabout ways to get to their own cabins. Cars cannot access the steep hills so groceries, furniture, and anything else needed must be carried up by hand, and often through steps that have been carved by hand into the rocks as well as over wooden bridges.

I could go on and on about the history of Middle Island Point, but I hope I’ve whetted your interest enough to explore it further. Pearce’s book is out of print but copies are available at Peter White Public Library.

Tyler Tichelaar at Middle Island Point

Tyler on one of many winding hillside paths at Middle Island Point.

Explore posts in the same categories: Marquette History, Marquette's Historical Homes, Upper Michigan Books and Authors, Upper Michigan History, Upper Michigan Sites to Visit

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19 Comments on “Middle Island Point – One of Marquette’s Best Kept Secrets”

  1. L. Emerick Says:

    Loved visiting Dorothy Bird at Laughing Water, Forest and Esther Roberts, Gene and Jean Elzinga, the Brebners, and climbing up to the very top cabin on the granite visita…have a great photo of our twin daughters, age 4, eating snacks on those rocks.

    Note: Of course, it’s a secret because the Association members like it that way!

    • Dawn Patch Says:

      I knew Mrs. Bird when she lived in Menominee, she included me in her writer’s group–at the tender age of 15. Do you know if her family still has Laughing Water? She was so kind to me.


      • Hi Dawn,
        Thank you for the comment. How wonderful to be included in a writer’s group at age 15. I don’t know if her family still has Laughing Water but I believe her son lives in Harvey so some of the family is still in the area. Thanks for reading.
        Tyler

  2. Karl Sponberg Says:

    Nicely done. If I may, though, the “view of Middle Island from the Point” is Little Presque Isle.

    Karl (longtime MIP user with benefits)


    • Thanks for reading, Karl, and for catching the error. I hope you continue to enjoy MIP.

      • Karl Sponberg Says:

        Thanks, Tyler, and have enjoyed perusing your sites. A bit more clarification, though – that view of Little Presque Isle is from nowhere near MIP. That view is from near the creek outlet (hence the sand bar in the pic) on the beach that runs north from Little Presque Isle. So it’s, I’d guess, 3-4 miles northwest along the shore from MIP. I belabor it only because I’ve spent a lot of time on that beach, and know it intimately. It’s a great place to body surf, the waves develop a nice break when the wind is from the NNW.


      • You’re right, Karl. I realized I visited Little Presque Isle a couple of weeks before and those photos are in the wrong folder – so I replaced that photo with one I am pretty sure (fingers crossed for your approval) is Partridge Island.🙂

  3. Karl Sponberg Says:

    Totally! Yup, that’s Partridge alright. Looks like that one was taken from near the Lautner cabin. Cheers! – Karl

  4. Sandy Heiser Pelto Says:

    My grandfather was also one of the early builders at Middle Island Point so this was the favorite place to be in the summer for me and my two sisters. We have so many good memories of both my grandfather and his stories of walking up the beach to “camp”, first beach and the beauty of the lake.


    • Thanks for reading, Sandy. It is a beautiful place and completely amazing how the cabins were built on such rock. I’m sure your grandfather’s place is listed in the book I mentioned about Middle Island Point.

  5. Mark Hamby Says:

    Tyler,

    I just ran across your posting about the Point (rather belatedly). In the early history, you may see my grandparents, Alex and Lottie Hamby. Alex had the laundry in town and was the organist at St. Paul’s for decades. Their middle son, Corbyn, was my father.

    The Hamby camp was toward the “Creek” end of Middle Island Point Beach. They sold it around 1958, but our family later spent many wonderful vacations closer to the Point at the old Burt camp. We swam off the rocks in front of the old Derleth camp. Many years later, Paul Derleth and his wife became close neighbors of my parents at Cape George outside of Port Townsend, WA.

    Anyway, in your mention of famous folks from the Point, you missed Alfred Burt. Of course the Burt camp wasn’t ON the Point, but rather a few hundred yards up the beach. But the story of Al’s much-beloved (and musically outstanding) Christmas carols is truly one for the ages (http://www.alfredburtcarols.com/burt/Web%20Pages/burt_family2.htm).

    Al and my dad were Middle Island Point buddies growing up, and those carols remain a very big part of every Christmas for my sisters and me. Although we all now live in the beautiful Puget Sound area, Marquette and Middle Island Point exert an undeniable pull. We’re hoping to visit again soon.

    Mark Hamby / Seattle, WA

  6. Phil Allen Says:

    I was born in Marquette and helped Bea and Holmes Boyton rebuild the old Bowman camp “on the rock” as a kid around 1959-1960 (carrying up bricks for 5 cents each for the fireplace — the only source of heat). We moved in 1960 to Illinois, where my father, Max Allen, who was on the NMU faculty, was president of McKendree College.

    I lost track of Marquette and Middle Island Point until 1987 (I had since moved to Evergreen, Colorado), only to discover Bea was in declining health (Holmes died in the ’70s) and had not used the camp since 1984. I contacted Bea’s adopted son, Harald Gislasen, and he let me use it as I wanted for the next 18 years (until 2005). I did, completing ongoing needed repairs. It was later sold to its present owner in 2006 (after Bea died).

    I relished my time at the camp, especially those crisp October days when the Fall colors and Lake Superior storms create a magical experience. While I have my own log home on a trout stream in the San Luis Mountains of Colorado, the lure of the Lake and Middle Island Point is still with me. I truly am haunted by those waters and Middle Island Point. I will return!

    Phil “PG” Allen
    Evergreen, CO
    conejo3807@aol.com


    • Hi Phil,

      Thank you for sharing your memories. The Bowman camp is definitely way up there so it must have been a job carrying up those bricks. I hope you get a chance to come back to visit soon.

      Tyler Tichelaar

  7. norman(buck gotschall Says:

    always a nice hike!

  8. William R. Stefula Says:

    Hey Tyler. My name is Bill Stefula and I am the grand nephew of Raymond W. Boyer who delivered the check at public auction in Detroit in 1905, representing himself as well as his partner Mr. Clark, that secured private possession of Middle Island Point for posterity. The Boyer side of the family as well as the Dawes’s and Stefula’s spent many wonderful time at Cliff Cottage during the teens, twenties, thirties & forties. Actually, my first and only trip came in1959/60.I believe it burned down in the sixties. That visit plus listening to all the stories told to me by my mother, the late Elizabeth Stefula (Dawes) has left an indelible mark on me. I have an old postcard that i found while going through picture boxes. It’s a view of Cliff Cottage from the lake. Well , thanks for the line on Mr. Pearce’s book. I’m going to try and dig up a copy, maybe on Amazon.

  9. William R. Stefula Says:

    I stand corrected. The public sale was in 1917 & the MIPCA was incorporated the following year


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