On Lake Idlewild

Kris, Doris and Pearl. Lake Idlewild, Michigan. 1956.
Kris, Doris and Pearl. Lake Idlewild, Michigan. 1956.

The summer of 1956, my mother would sometimes row over to the “island”, which was downtown Idlewild, not a real island, although you did have to go over a bridge or a drainage pipe to get there. At that time, Idlewild was booming, a place for Idlewild_signsblack people to go in segregated America and forget about all that for awhile. Big name acts preformed at the Flamingo Club and there was a skating rink in the club house. But when we rowed over in the morning, we were going to get the paper or milk or something else mundane.

Sometimes my sister Pearl and I would take our savings and shop at Lee-Jon’s or at Ma Riddle’s Log Cabin.  At Lee-John’s we bought tiny bears with movable limbs, about 3 inches tall. At Ma Riddle’s, we mainly looked while she tried to sell us salt and pepper

Picture 2
Idlewild is located at the red A

shakers that looked like picnic tables. Her store was a real log cabin.  I don’t remember going inside because it was so small that the front was a shutter she raised and lowered and you looked at the merchandise right there.

I wonder why we weren’t wearing life jackets in the photo above. We certainly couldn’t swim at the time. There were life jackets because I remember playing in the water and wearing them. The lake was 4 miles around and there were spots, my Uncle Henry used to say, where the bottom had never been found.

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30 thoughts on “On Lake Idlewild

  1. Back in the 50’s we didn’t wear life jackets much – just like no one wore helmets when they went biking or roller skating or flying down hills on flexies. Now-a-days, you can’t go out in or on anything, including paddleboards, without having life jackets – if not worn, at least attached to whatever you’re in or on & accessible or the sheriff or the Coast Guard will stop you. A good thing, really.

  2. Ah the days before the health and safety culture set in. But before we get too romantic about the days of old, you are quite right to remind us that they were also days of segregation and ignorance …. and children who drowned in lakes.

  3. Yup, no helmets, no knee- or elbow-pads; it’s a wonder we all survived! Love the little store that was so small you stood outside and looked at the merchandise inside…and the little bears. Isn’t it funny what we remember?

  4. Dear Kris,

    I wonder if I’m the only one of your loyal readers who’s getting a little sick of how darn attractive your family is! (Smile.) Three absolute dolls, my gosh!

    I have the dubious honor to remain

    Envious-Lee yours,


  5. I remember the lake well. Spent many summer hours swimming in it. In the evening, the skating rink was the place to be for us youngsters. It would generally be pack with the vacationing kids from Idlewild & WoodlandPark. Boy! it sure would be nice to go back in time. From 1942 to 1954, I practically live there five months of the year (May to September). There were just so-o-o-o many of you beautiful young ladies available that us guys that live up there thought we had died & went to HEAVEN.

    1. I didn’t start skating there until about 1967. By then it had really deteriorated and we’d be jumping over holes in the floor. The Lot Owner’s Clubhouse also had a small skating rink and we skated there mostly because it was next door to my Uncle Louis’ cottage.

  6. Idlewild – such a great name. Thanks for posting the map. I wanted to post a map of Lake Burley Griffin on my blog but had to settle for a link to Flickr. Loved your memories and reading the responses too. The words that stuck with me the most were those of your Uncle.

  7. The three of you look like you are having such a good time! Who was taking the photo? I bet they were having a good time too. Infectious, those smiles.

  8. When I was a child, we went to a resort that had rowboats. I never wore a life jacket in the boat even before I learned to swim. That seemed normal at the time. Of course, we never went without our father, and never far from shore.

  9. Love the pics and the story. Such happy, simple times. God must have taken care of us all through those perilous, ‘unprotected’ times! (-:

    1. And she took so long to explain and to show us each and every special feature. I’m sure we didn’t even have the money to buy such an extravagant item.

  10. A wonderful first photograph which fitted the prompt so well. Thank you, too, for showing the map as my only knowledge of Idlewild was as the old name of JFK airport (I think!), so I was assuming it was in New York State. Now I know better!

  11. I guess it was great for you kids to have a place like this,
    but to think that this was a place for black people,
    so white didn’t have to mix with you folks,
    that I find a “little” upsetting…
    Remember, I was born when things started really shaking up.
    I’ve witnessed racism [from individuals], but never segregation per se…
    I remember when I saw my first black man.
    Not because I do remember but because my mom told me about it,
    I was still very young and curious,
    and my mom took the bus with me,
    and that’s where it happened,
    where I wouldn’t stop staring and pointing my finger,
    much to her dismay.
    Differences are still arousing my curiosity,
    as I find them interesting.
    If we were all the same,
    it’d be a pretty boring planet…
    Pity some thought differently.
    On a happier note,
    you gals were such “poseurs”!!!

  12. What a great shot your first photo is – were you posing for your Dad in a nearby boat perhaps? Wonderful childhood memories! I see from Wikipedia that the first American woman to become a millionaire owned property at Idlewild, and there’s a lovely photograph of her there too.

    1. My parents were separated. I think the divorce became final that summer. Anyway, my father wasn’t there. The photographer was probably my maternal grandfather who would have been standing on on the dock.

      There were several famous black people who owned property in Idlewild. Some of them never came up though. I don’t know if Madame Walker did.

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