A Thumbnail History of Wandawood Resort
By Carolyn Palmer Shah; revised by Kamala Huron (October, 2015)
Today’s Wandawood is the culmination of over 150 years of evolution from a homestead farm and orchard operation on the frontier of settlement, to a summer resort property with a history of vacation rentals going back to the late 1920s.
The property on which Wandawood Resort is located was settled in the mid-1800s by my great-great grandfather (Moses Fish Gates), who farmed the land. One of his daughters, Mina, married Delos Wilcox in the late 1800s and they decided to continue the family farming tradition, in addition to Delos’ career as a consultant on municipal utilities and Mina’s teaching. In April of 1908, my grandmother, Emily, was born to Delos and Mina.
During the early 1900s most of the buildings at Wandawood were devoted to farm usage, including barns, storage sheds, an ice house, apple packing sheds and pump houses.
In 1924, Wandawood Hall was constructed to the northeast of Pilgrim, the family’s original lake home, which was completed in 1899. Pilgrim now houses the Wandawood Office and Upper Story. It was my grandmother’s summer residence and then my mother, Carolyn’s until 2014. Wandawood Hall was intended to be the family’s permanent residence on Elk Lake, with a large second floor office facing the lake designed for my great grandfather’s writing studio. My great grandmother, Mina, planted a special garden on the southside of Wandawood Hall and encircled it with white lilacs.
After Delos’ sudden death in 1928, Mina continued to run the Wandawood Farm until her death in 1948. In order to make ends meet, in the late 1920s she began converting farm buildings to cottages for summer rental purposes and also started renting rooms in Wandawood Hall for overnight guests.
In 1938 my grandmother, Emily Wilcox, married Carlos Palmer from Imlay City and together they built a total of nine cottages, including the Vagabonds, the Ramblers, the Ventures, Fancy Free and the last duplex Wayfarer which was completed in 1948 after Mina’s death. During this period, my grandparents had two children, my uncle, David, born in 1943 and my mother, Carolyn, born in 1944.
Until Mina’s death, my grandparents and Mina ran the resort together. After her death in 1948, the original estate was divided among the three surviving siblings, Emily, Paul and Helen, with my grandmother Emily keeping the resort and a section of Bay frontage, totaling around 100 acres.
My mother and uncle David grew up spending every summer at Elk Lake in the midst of Wandawood Resort. During that period (1940s and 50s) longer vacations were typical and several of the resort families spent the whole summer at Wandawood. They both helped out at the resort, particularly in their teenage years, and made many friends among the resort families. After graduating from high school and then moving out of state, David spent little time at Wandawood, while my mom continued to be actively involved, while raising a family and continuing her career as an urban planner and market analyst.
Emily and Carlos continued to run Wandawood Resort until their deaths in 1979 and 1980, at which time my mother took over the management of the resort.
A significant change in the resort occurred in 1999 when Cairn Highway, the county road which previously bisected the resort and had grown increasingly busy over the decades, was realigned to loop around the resort buildings. My mother initiated this change and the cost was covered by Wandawood Resort.
As a result of the road change Postscript, Cheerio and Orchardside cottages were moved forward and the Hideaway cottage was demolished. In addition, to pay for the cost associated, Wayfarer was put up for sale. My husband, Steve, and I, having relocated from New York to northern Michigan in 1994, purchased and renovated Wayfarer, making it our year round residence.
My sister Chandra and I, having spent all of our childhood summers at Wandawood, have grown to love the resort and the families that vacation here. In 2011 my mother, Carolyn, was diagnosed with Alzheimers, at which time I took over the management of the resort. Chandra now resides in Denver, Colorado with her husband, Mike. They visit several times per year, but have no involvement in the management or operation of Wandawood. My children, Jeff (born in 1992), Lisa (born in 1993) and Sonya (born in 2000), “Wandawood kids”, hope to continue the operation of Wandawood throughout their lifetimes.
Much of the rich history of Wandawood Resort is retained in the cottages and their furnishings. Wandawood has appealed to vacationing families for decades and has many repeaters who have built strong family traditions at the resort. While retaining the atmosphere of “The Way Things Used to Be”, the facilities at Wandawood are maintained and improved annually.