The Jackson County Michigan Historical Society has recognized the Clark Lake Community Center’s building for its historical significance. Standing in front of the marker are a few of the many, who over the years, are responsible for making this happen.
In the photo left to right: Rick Belcher (Clark Lake Spirit Foundation president), Laurie LaZebnik (donated the cottage), Mick Thorrez (Foundation director), Linda Hass (Historical Society president), David Elwell (Society board member), Elaine Stewart (Foundation treasurer), Mike McKay (Foundation director), Flip Reynolds (Community Center Leadership Group). Photo taken by Diane Deming.
As you can see in this closeup, the historical marker tells, in a few words, the remarkable story of what motivated the Graziani’s to build the cottage, how it was moved down the lake from Kentucky Point, and its legacy in representing changes at Clark Lake over the last 125 years. Now, anyone visiting will have the opportunity to understand why this building means so much to Clark Lake.
Rick Belcher, president of the Clark Lake Spirit Foundation, commented on the Historical Society’s recognition with the group:
“Meaningful history can get lost in time. Not so at Clark Lake. Saving the Graziani Cottage and turning it into the Community Center preserves Clark Lake’s past going back 125 years. Clark Lakers saved and moved the house, funded two major restorations, and now provide the structure as a welcoming place for gatherings.
“Thanks go to our donors, volunteers, the Community Center Leadership Group, and the directors of the Clark Lake Spirit Foundation. Without the dedication of these, we might not be standing here today.
“Great appreciation also goes to the Jackson County Michigan Historical Society for placing the marker. I particularly want to thank David Elwell, our former police chief, who is on the Historical Society board; and its president, Linda Hass. Both worked hard to make this important recognition a reality.
Linda Hass, president of the Society, explains the purpose of this marker and the organization’s mission in Jackson County:
“We are very pleased to provide this historical commemoration for this beautiful building that represents such an important part of Clark Lake’s tradition, heritage and history. We hope the public will view it and spend a few minutes reading it and absorb the history of this landmark representing such a beautiful slice of what Clark Lake means.
“Historical markers are one of the hallmarks of the Jackson County Michigan Historical Society. We want our markers not only to inform viewers of the history behind important landmarks, but also showcase historic images and maps that help transform our markers into windows to the past. The society will be publishing a review of all the markers it has produced thus far, including the Graziani Cottage, this fall.
David Elwell, Society board member, is quite familiar with the historic building. As Columbia Township’s former police chief, Clark Lake and the structure were always within the purview of his department. Chief Elwell was instrumental in bringing the historic house to the attention of the Society. He comments:
“I am very thankful for the most recent recognition of the history of the Clark Lake Community Center by the Jackson County Michigan Historical Society.
“This landmark structure has survived the test of time, as it sits high on the hill of Jackson County’s first county park. From the original construction of the Graziani Cottage on Kentucky Point, to the ferrying of it across the lake, to the most recent restoration of this beautiful landmark structure, it speaks to the significance and importance of the Community Center to both Clark Lake as well as our County.
“I am thankful for having had a small part in this recognition, and I look forward to the continued strong support for the Community Center as it continues to thrive.
Preserving Clark Lake’s past is only beginning. A major step came with the publishing of Ted Ligibel’s Clark Lake history. The Graziani cottage was among the first on the lake. And because of its Kentucky Point location, saving and moving it continued the effort to safeguard the lake’s heritage. Now, historical items are finding their way onto the walls. Though not a museum, entering the Community Center will lead to reliving Clark Lake’s history through photos and artifacts of landmarks, Fleet 58, Raft-O-Rama, Pine Riders, and the Spirit Trail.
Steve Harris donated Rollo Every’s rental sign. He’s holding it on a chilly winter day.
Below is an expanded version of how the Graziani cottage became the Community Center. No one ever tires from telling it, nor hearing about it.
The story began with a health crisis. A lawyer’s very young daughter was struggling. In the era before air conditioning, he sought to help her by escaping Covington, Kentucky’s oppressive summer heat. When Benjamin Franklin Graziani learned about Clark Lake, he decided to give it a try. He, his wife, struggling daughter and her older sister boarded the Cincinnati Northern. Another daughter, Carlotta, who was born later, wrote about it in her memoirs. Upon arrival, “my father sniffed a couple of times and turned to mama and said, ‘We have found the spot. Our little girl will grow strong here.’” Daughter Elsie improved. Her father was intrigued.
Over the winter of 1898-99, Benjamin Graziani built a cottage for his family on a jut of land which he called Kentucky Park and became known to locals as Kentucky Point. Little did he know how this would touch later generations.
1910 photo – Thanks to Ted Ligibel, photos like these have been preserved.
For decades, the cottage stood as a midway marker between east and west ends. It watched Clark Lake morph from rural agricultural to recreational, and later, residential. It became a symbol of all the good times at Clark Lake – summer days of swimming, boating and water skiing, and summer nights with friends and family.
In its 100th year, the cottage still stood, but the years had taken a toll. (Interior photo below)
The owners planned to replace it with a full-time home. When news spread that it would be razed, Clark Lakers joined hands and mounted an effort to relocate it. Two spots looked promising. They pursued the Jackson County Park option and received the County’s blessing. But how to get it there? Trees and powerlines prevented a move by land. In an example of engineering genius, these determined Clark Lakers floated it down the lake on a barge to its new location on June 14, 1997.
The cottage landed at the east end of the lake. In this photo, it had been transferred to a trailer and was being hauled on Ocean Beach Road to its eventual forever home in the County Park.
Now in the park, the cottage cried out for restoration. It no longer radiated the majesty described by Carlotta Graziani in her Clark Lake history, “there it stood with its beautiful verandas, up and downstairs with beautiful white columns around its entirety.” The verandas were gone and slits of daylight streamed through its porous walls.
Plumbing and electrical were a disaster. For its intended use as a community center, a place for meetings and events, heating and air conditioning would be required. One by one, obstructions were overcome. The plan succeeded.
Fast forward 25 years. By then, countless events had filled its halls. As one cottage after another was replaced at the lake, residents were relieved that this one still told Clark Lake’s story. Yet, another quarter-century had inflicted serious harm.
The group then owning it lacked a solution. The future looked questionable. In 2021, an established Clark Lake non-profit accepted ownership after detailed due diligence and carefully mapping a road to sustainability. Promising restoration, the Clark Lake Spirit Foundation launched a successful fundraising campaign to enable work to go forward.
Today, this 125-year old Victorian lady continues to reign from high on the hill, still watching over Clark Lake.
Support of the Community Center is a testament to standing up for Clark Clark. A successful fundraising campaign made possible the recent restoration.
Flashback to 1997. While Clark Lakers moved the house, another project endeavored to connect neighborhoods and circle the lake with what became the Clark Lake Spirit Trail. The campaigns occurred simultaneously, and both succeeded.
In 2023, the Community Center’s future is bright as it shines light on its past, strives with new energy to preserve what matters, and serves present needs.
This photo of the west side of the house also shows the recently added Garden Angels Pretty Pergola. The Garden Angels add beauty to the setting with the landscaping surrounding the house, at the trail head, and the North Lake-Ocean Beach triangle.