Douglas Scott Brookes and his sister are the fifth generation of their family to spend their summers in the very same place – a cottage built in 1885 on southern Lake Huron in Michigan. During a visit, he discovered a diary kept by his great-grandmother from the years 1911-1915. After transcribing it, his interest was piqued enough to begin research on the history and traditions of the area. Among other things, he wanted to find out what prompted so many St. Louisans to spend their summers in Port Huron, Michigan.
Seven years later, Brookes’ research led to the book, Up North: St. Louis’s Summer Colonies on Lake Huron in the Golden Age of Travel. Using two Lake Huron resorts, Huronia Beach and Gratoit Beach as examples, he examined the evolution of vacation and travel for relaxation.
Brookes reports that prior to the Civil War, vacations were only for the rich. But in the 1880’s, the middle class started to evolve, and families had enough money and leisure time to get away in the summer. Typically, the mother of that day didn’t work, so she and the children would spend 6 to 8 weeks in rented resort cottages with the father joining them for a two week period.
In the case of St. Louisans, they could leave Union Station in a sleeping car that was transferred in Chicago so the travelers could sleep through the night and end up in Port Huron, Michigan in the morning. The resort cottages were one story wooden structures overlooking Lake Huron. Originally, the primary recreation was swimming or boating in the lake, but resorts later added amenities such as billiard parlors, merry-go-rounds, racetracks, dancing, musical entertainment and lectures.
The period of 1890 – 1915 was the hay day for St. Louisans in Port Huron. After that, Detroit residents began replacing them. The development of the automobile in the 1920s allowed greater mobility in travel. That and the Depression led to the demise of a number of resorts. While the Huronia Beach resort did not survive, the cottages at Gratiot Beach, including Brookes’ cottage, became resident owned rather than rentals.
Brookes realizes how fortunate he is to be able to continue to enjoy the home that has been in his family for almost 100 years. “There’s a million and one memories in each room of the people who are no longer with us – my mother and dad, my grandmother – back to when I was a kid. It may be somewhat rare. I know it’s rare nowadays to be so connected to one house.”
Douglas Scott Brookes was Don Marsh’s guest on St. Louis on the Air to discuss his book and the research behind it. He will discuss and sign his book on June 25 at 7:00 p.m. at the Missouri History Museum’s Lee Theater.