When Midwestern architect Charles Buechner designed West Bay Lodge on remote Sand Island in 1912 as a vacation home, necessity dictated that he include an icehouse in his plans. The wooden structure, constructed right on the shore of Lake Superior, still stands as a relic of pre-refrigeration days. But decades of harsh winds and heavy snow took their toll.
“It was an original building, built along with the lodge,” explains Jeff Peters, whose family has cared for the property, located within the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore off the coast of northern Wisconsin, for the last 50 years. “It’s important to keep that story alive, and the way to tell that story is to have the icehouse still standing.”
This past summer, the whitewashed log structure was restored with the help of the Peters family; contractor Mike Polencheck of Mosinee, Wisc., who specializes in preservation and restoration work; the National Park Service; and the Conservation Corps of Minnesota and Iowa. The restoration included replacing rotted boards, installing a new roof and a drainage system, and rebuilding the door and two of the windows.
Polencheck previously completed a survey and report of restoration work needed on both the lodge and the icehouse in 2010, funded by a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Five members of the Conservation Corps of Minnesota and Iowa spent a week on the island to complete work on the icehouse this summer, working closely with Polencheck to ensure that the work was high-quality and historically exact.
The Conservation Corps of Minnesota and Iowa involves between 500 and 600 young people in construction and restoration projects around the Midwest each year.
“This project really was a unique opportunity to expand the scope of what we do -- to do something new, to do something different,” says Eric Antonson, program director at the Corps. He adds that for Corps members, the experience was one-of-a-kind, due to both the opportunity to work closely with Polencheck and the project’s out-of-the-way location.
“I can’t say enough about how well this project turned out and how hard the crew worked,” says Peters. While the icehouse is now mostly used to store life jackets and rope, Peters explains that for him, restoring the structure is an important part of preserving the fabric of the landscape the way Buechner had originally envisioned it.
Antonson hopes the Corps can complete more preservation projects, and that Corps members can work with professionals as skilled as Polencheck, in the future.
"To go there, work there, contribute to the long-term vision of the area was really cool," he says. "For the crew, this was really the highlight of their year."