Sears & Roebuck Lodge
Besides the beautiful and diverse scenery, having many kinds of lush trees for shady camping and dunes to climb on by the sunshiny beach, I think one of the main reasons I enjoyed my time at this park was due to its Superintendent, Blake Gingrich. From the moment I met him it was obvious how much he loved this park – he wanted to show it off like a proud papa – his pride in its history, his plans for its future, and his enthusiasm was contagious!
Hoeft State Park was established in 1922 and is one of the original 14 Michigan state parks. The original property was donated by lumber baron P.H. Hoeft, who was also one of the founders of Rogers City. One of Blake's friends is a direct descendent, Harry Whiteley, who was the Natural Resources Commissioner for 25 years and and is still very active and interested in the park.
Due to its architecture, landscape architecture and social history, the park has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
But besides just spouting dry statistics, as we were standing in the Pavilion, he pointed out the massive beams and the arched stone doorways that are not easy to construct with the modern tools of today, much less when this structure was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1938 for use as a picnic shelter.
Today it still serves that purpose with a stone fireplace, a great path down to the beach, which also makes it popular for weddings and other family gatherings.
I enjoyed the historic aspects of the park scattered throughout the trails, picnic areas and grounds, like the old grills and water fountains.
Blake has worked with Michigan's Department of Natural Resources since 1995. This is the 9th park at which he has worked and he's been here since 2003. He's worked at two of the largest state parks in the system and he grinned when he said "you feel like a real park ranger when you work at a big park" but he also says he prefers it here. "For a 300 acre unit, it's one of the most diverse parks I've ever seen as far as topography, trails, buildings and history – and the way the community cares about the park is great!"
He says he gets a lot of good comments from campers, but that some of the park's infrastructure does need upgrading, primarily the roads throughout the park. Another thing on Blake's wish list is to get more info on the the reservations site – he'd like to have an interactive map online so you can click on and see what every site looks like. From all the wish lists I've seen from RVers about the parks they're planning to visit, this would be a big hit for sure!
Everybody says this park is one of Michigan's "hidden gems" says Blake. "Well, I say, "Let's polish this stone – make it shine and build it as a destination park. This will also help bring visitors to Ocqueoc Falls, the only natural waterfall in the lower peninsula, and will also help the local community. This is a smaller community with not as much funding, so I'm trying to put the park on the map. That's why I'm here – to fight for that so that when people come, they say, "This park is just perfect!"
For now, Blake thinks the park is passed by because most people use I-75 to get to where they're going as fast as they can instead of hugging the coast on the way up to the UP. While US-23 is a highway, it's lower speed limit, driveways, limited passing lanes, etc. makes for slower going.
I was very impressed with Blake's eagerness to hear feedback about the campground's accessibility and how important it is to have clear signage to direct you into the sites. I mentioned that it wasn't very clear to me which way to go once entering the campground to get to the site you're trying to find. With the large trees and small roads, we RVers want to be sure we know where we're heading (especially in my case driving a motorhome towing a car and not able to back up even a little bit). I told him how initial impressions were so important and can add or detract from your stay right from the beginning.
He responded, "Well, we're in hospitality business and we're here to make people feel welcome." He followed up with me later to let me know he had placed orders for better signage to direct people around the campground. I appreciate that kind of care!
Early Hoeft Camp Host?
Early camping at Hoeft State Park (2 pictures at top)
Street scene (left lower corner): Third Street in Rogers City in the late 1920's. Many of the building are still in use today, including the "Sanitary Market," (meat market) still operated by the Plath family.
Log Train: Loud-Hoeft Lumber Co. (to the right of P.H. Hoeft portrait)
Tall Bear Story: The lady standing proudly next to the bear hanging in the tree was the daughter of the second park manager – year approximately 1934. Her dad was the one who actually shot the bear after the bear had gotten too friendly and fearless around the house and kept getting in their cooler. This is the rear of the Sears & Roebuck Lodge and the red oak tree is still there, but much bigger.
|Sears & Roebuck Historic Modern Lodge|
I certainly agree with the DNR's assessment of the Sears & Roebuck Modern Lodge: "History is never but just a step away when you're at P.H. Hoeft State Park…That includes the 1920's Sears and Roebuck Lodge."
Also called "Sears Catalog Houses," this was when you could order pre-fab "kits" from the catalog and they'd ship you all the materials and you erected it yourself. This one was ordered in 1927 and completed in 1929 to house park managers, and many raised their families here, the last manager having lived here for over 15 years.
Since 2006, park managers no longer live in the state park, so this 3 BR, 1.5 bath bungalow is fully furnished with everything you need to sleep 8 and is available to rent year round.
Another interesting thing about the house is that much of the furniture was handmade by prisoners in the Dept. of Corrections. Everything is heavy duty and built to spec – the park paid for the materials and the DOC did the rest. Says Blake, "It's beautiful stuff. They have skilled carpenters that teach the prisoners…they do a good job."
The floors are hemlock and the appliances are totally modern, but there are no TVs in the lodge. However, there's a great sun room and reading room, so just relax and pull up a chair, or go outside and build a fire in the huge fire pit.
When Blake and I were speaking about the community of Rogers City, I told him I had visited the 40-Mile Lighthouse and was so moved when I read the account of the sinking of the SS Carl D. Bradley. He told me about November Requiem – a local documentary on the tragedy and the effect it had on the community.
I looked it up and read this Overview:
"On the evening of November 18, 1958, the freighter Carl D. Bradley went down in a brutal Lake Michigan storm—but what sets this tragedy apart is that out of 33 lives lost, 23 came from one small northern Michigan town: Rogers City. Rather than dissecting the accident with forensic detail, our story takes place on land, in the town where so many faced unimaginable grief literally overnight. The harsh numbers reflect the tragedy: 23 widows, 52 children made fatherless. Virtually every one of the 3,000 townsfolk was affected in some way. As one resident tearfully put it, “It’s been fifty years, and some of us still haven’t gotten over it.”
All I can say is that after I had the chance to camp in the woods here and then was treated to the grand tour of this beautiful park and all that it offers here and nearby, there's no way I'd be in any hurry to pass it by in the future, that's for sure!
For you readers who do decide to camp here, please pass on my best wishes to Blake and his staff!
I'd love to hear your own experiences about places I've been - and what you think are "must-sees" - and I really value any suggestions and feedback from readers, so please let me have your 2 cents in Comments below: