Big Bass Lake History


Part One: “Noreika”
This is according to my grandmother, Barbara Noreika. “The east half of section 33, Elk Township, was purchased from the Swigart Realith Company by a Mr. Durham. Around about 1913 he sold it to Joe Noreika (my grandfather), a blacksmith who came into the area from Sheboygan, Wisconsin. He cleared off about 80 acres of the southwest portion of the property, built his home, barn, and other buildings while he plied his trade. Big Bass Lake cuts off about half of the south half of the southeast quarter of section 33.

At the time of my grandmother’s death only a few small tracts had been sold and the property was in the name of the eldest son, Adam (my deceased father). He turned the property over to Elizabeth Norris (his sister) having wanting nothing to do with the land.

PART TWO The “Five” Islands Plus One
There are two small islands off the northwest shore of the former Camp Martin Johnson. The smaller island was purchased by Mrs. George Johnson of Luther, Michigan, and is still in the family name as I understand it. The larger of the two sister islands belonged to Mrs. Van DeWalker. There used to be a small house on it that was called “The Four Winds”. Camp Martin Johnson later purchased this bigger of the two islands but since the camp closed I’m not quite sure who now owns that larger island.
The westernmost island was homesteaded by Mr. George Mac Pherson who later sold it to Mr. John Kennedy (not the former President). He willed it to his niece. The island was then purchased from that niece by Albert Matson. At one time a lone home was constructed in the middle of that island surrounded by pine trees. For a time many believed that old house to be haunted.

The other two islands were purchased by William Amidon Seaman. The smaller one was originally known as Tiny Tim but since affectionately renamed “Grandma’s Hat” by the locals. It at last report was still in the family name. Mr. Seaman sold the large island to Mr. Burhalter who later sold it to Mr and Mrs Clyde Waite. The Waite’s plotted it into small tracts, built a road out to it and it is now called “Isle O’ The Winds”. A bridge was constructed so that people would have easy access to it and a picture of that bridge is forthcoming in our regular posts.

The extra island must have been an island at some time. It is located in the north section of the lake and is best described as the “Sunken Island”. If you get out of a boat onto it the water comes about up to a normal persons knees. From the shore it would appear that the lake was quite shallow as this sunken island is almost in the middle of that north section of the lake. Not that far away is the deepest portion of Big Bass Lake also found in the north section.

PART THREE “Martin Johnson”
In 1889 while on a camping trip Martin Johnson discovered Big Bass Lake and decided that this was the place of his dreams. He purchased the south half of Section 34 that lies east of the lake. He built a temporary log cabin and spent part of his summer there. He wintered in Sparta, Michigan. But in 1901 he said farewell to city life and moved to his cabin with a plan to build a more permanent site.
Visitors couldn’t believe how he could live such a solitary life at Big Bass Lake but he replied, “I can’t understand how anyone could be lonely in this beautiful place. It’s God’s country”.
Through all the years of building his home, planting an orchard, and clearing his land his thoughts drifted as to what he was doing all this for? In 1923 he received his answer when a Chicago based committee of the YMCA came up to Big Bass Lake searching for a summer camp property for boys. Wonder no more! He kept a small piece of land for his home on a life lease and gave the YMCA the rest of the property he had held at that time. He felt this action was the will of God on his life.
In Part Four the death of Martin Johnson.

Martin Johnson died on June 29, 1931. 73 boys and their counselors carried his coffin, followed by relatives and friends, to his grave by his home on the point behind his house. The site overlooked the lake that he loved so well.
Visitors enjoyed going through Martin Johnson’s House to view his paintings in an upstairs room where he did the majority of his work. Today in Irons, Michigan, there is a museum bearing his name where most of those paintings can be found.
The camp also no longer exists as due to some miscalculation by the YMCA it was lost and is now a housing project on Big Bass Lake. Instead that camp should have been allowed to continue into perpetuity as that was the desire of Martin Johnson for his beloved land and lake.

PART FIVE “Otto Bartlett”
Lillian Seaman’s lake shore cottage and a parcel of land was purchased from Mr. Seaman by Otto Bartlett. He later bought the land where the Big Bass Lake store stands from Joe Bender. A small tract of land remains between the two properties owned by the Seaman family that for a time served as a Real Estate office.

PART 6 “Frank Benish”
The north half of the northwest corner of Sauble Township of Section 4 was purchased from the Swigart company by Mike Benish of Illinois in 1908. The northeast quarter (now the Big Bass Lake boat launch) touches Big Bass Lake, and the northeast quarter of the northwest quarter was owned by his son Frank Benish who was married to his wife Agnes.

PART 7- “Second Camp”
Most people, including those from Camp Martin Johnson, probably don’t realize that there was a second camp on Big Bass Lake which at the time of that camp was known as Lake Na-Tah-ki (By an act of Legislature in 1907). Dr. Fredrica Baker purchased land from William P. Jones and she named her cottage Okwa Lodge (Welcome). She came up with the idea to create a camp for little girls from both families she knew and also from clients she had as an obstetrician.
She was the all in all at that camp. They traveled to that camp on the Goodrich Steamship Line across Lake Michigan from Chicago to Muskegon. They then took the Pere Marquette train to Peacock where they were met by Anton Matson with his horse and buggy. Quite a trip! It seemed that Anton then owned the Lakeview Resort and many of the campers had their meals either there or at the Old Homestead Resort.
Dr. Baker is buried in Lakeview cemetary in a plot surrounded by an iron fence (1866-1917). In truth this was the first camp on Big Bass Lake.

PART EIGHT: “The Lights Go On”
The first power to the area came in 1939 but it was limited to say the least. In the summer of 1940 a single line to the Bass Lake area was built and put into operation June 15, 1941. A substation to serve the Big Bass Lake area was built three miles north of Branch, Michigan. In the early and mid 1960’s a high voltage three-phase line was constructed and this cut right through the Noreika property so trees came down to make way for progress. Snowmobiles now use that area to plow through. This line powered up in 1967 giving residents of that area power. Now they had lights to enjoy plenty of action!

Schools in the Big Bess Lake area were known as districts and District School #5 was located at the Southeast Corner of Big Bass Lake where my father and his sisters attended. The building is now used as the Sauble Township Hall. There is another old building at the Northeast corner of section 27 in Elk Township that was known as the Anderson School. It’s now being used as a summer cottage.
An old hexagon cement block school building in section 21 of Sauble Township was called the Myers School and it is not presently being used for anything. In later years, the school district was known as The Brethren District and then part of the Luther School District. Presently the area is served by the Baldwin School District.

In 1894 William Jones purchased 63 acres bounded on the east by Little Bass Lake and the channel between the two lakes and on the south by Big Bass Lake. He and his family lived in an abandoned lumber camp. In 1896 he started to build his home to be known as The Old Homestead. In 1897 they moved into that home. He and his wife had started a very popular resort on the North end of Big Bass Lake where they would pick up their guests at the Pere Marquette Train Depot in Peacock and bring them to The Old Homestead in a wagon.
Another resort by the name of Dinty Moore’s was built on the northwest shore of Big Bass Lake. It is said that the Old Homestead still stands at the North end of Big Bass Lake. Part of the family that owned the Dinty Moore resort constructed a store and gas station which was later sold to E H Lucas who expanded the project and Luke’s Country Store was the outcome. Later under new ownership it turned into the more well-known name of Luke’s Corner (pictured elsewhere in the album).

In 1898 the Peters Company sold the west half of section 34 in Elk Township to John Bowers who in turn sold it to Jay Lee in 1901 and this is on the west side of Big Bass Lake. In 1902 Karen Matson discovered the shores of Big Bass Lake and purchased the land from Mr. Lee. This was done because her son, Henry, had become ill and doctors recommended a place with a lot of pine trees. The father, Anton, continued his trade as a blacksmith in this location.
The Matsons operated another resort (Part 10) from 1909 to the early 1930’s called Lakeview Resort which was later changed to Big Point Lodge.

It started as a mission in 1912 as a priest from Traverse City officiated in those days. As the Lithuanian population increased more Lithuanian priests were sent in to minister. Services were held in various places as there was no central meeting place at that time. Joe Bender and others formed a committee to find a central meeting place for the church. Two families offered an acre apiece for the church but since the priests came in by train the decision to build in Irons was pivotal.
At one time there was a hotel and livery where the present St. Bernards now stands and in those days a priest was brought in by the bigger Freesoil area each week. In 1919 a priest from Grand Rapids put forth a generous donation for the start of the church in Irons and his name was Bernard McNeel. Because of that gift the church was to be named after him, thus St. Bernard’s. More

In 1948, when Father Marcelonis was priest, the mission became a parish. About that same time, the wooden building was tore down and the brick/cement block church was built. Also a wood frame rectory was constructed. In 1954, under the watchful eye of Father Al Bernott, the brick rectory was built.
During the leadership of Father Ernie Bernott, the membership grew and in 1953 a committee was formed to plan and build an addition to the church. The addition was completed in the Spring of 1964 and services were first held in the new addition on Sunday, June 28, 1964. Father Joe Reitz was serving at that time and gave the first message.

The Irons Union Church is non-denominational and serves the protestant members of that area. It was a mission in nature and different preachers used to come and hold Sunday services. Now there is a regular pastor that serves the church and he lives in a home near the church location.

Irons, Michigan- Part One (4-10-09)
This township was first settled in 1877 when the lumber town of Willville, later renamed Eden, was built. Shortly afterwards, the Chicago & Western Michigan Railroad, (Later the Pere Marquette) built a line to the area. Irons was begun in 1894, named after the Irons family, early settlers to the area.

Irons, Michigan- Part Two (4-13-09)
Irons is an unincorporated community in the northeast part of the township at near the boundary with Elk Township. In 1894 it was a station on the Chicago and West Michigan Railway (later the Pere Marquette Railway). It was platted in about 1909 by A. Glen Haslett and G.E. Hilderbrand. It was named for the Irons family, who were early settlers.
A post office was established in July 1910. The Irons ZIP code, 49644, serves almost the entire township as well as all of Elk Township to the west, and a small portion in the northeast corner of Meade Township to the west of Elk; a small portion in the southwest part of Norman Township to the north of Elk; an area along the northwest corner of Newkirk Township to the east of Eden; the northwest part of Peacock Township to the south of Eden; and the northern and eastern portions of Sauble Township to the southwest of Eden.

Joseph Noreika (5-7-09)
His birth certificate was written in Russian, being from Lithuania as Yusip Noreyko in 1873. He arrived in the United States in 1899 when he was 26 years old. He had two brothers and one sister. He was raised in poverty. His mother died when he was six years old.
According to the Lake County, Michigan, Court House Library (Book 58, pp. 283), my grandfather purchased the family farm in 1913 at the age of 40 and acquired the deed in 1914 for the 256 acre property. It was re-deeded on April 27, 1921, to include his wife, Barbara Noreika, my grandmother.

The original land survey of our farm included one half (north to south) of the Haunted Island, now known as Matson’s Island. I would hazard to say that when my grandparents sold Albert Matson his tract of land on Big Bass Lake that they also included that part of the island that was originally theirs. Even so, Elizabeth Norris once said that the northern tip of Haunted Island remained in the Noreika family name as of the early 1980’s.

Irons was named after Wilfred Wilcox Irons. Prior to leaving his native Ireland for New York and eventually Lake County, Michigan, his name was McIrons. Irons was an early homesteader of the area.

6-28-2011  Noreika Property in View

This was the 256 acre farm and forest of my grandparents, Joseph and Barbara Noreika.  I often wondered why they amassed such a large piece of land while only cultivating a small portion of it. 

This aerial shot of our former property is as it appears today.  The yellow dividing line was our easternmost property line whereas the remainder of the land bordered from the now public landing all the way to Matson Road following Big Bass Lake Road. 

The actual farm was from the public landing to Noreika Road.  That was named after my grandparents.  North of that location was the forest and several swamps.  We owned about a half mile of shoreline until my grandmother sold several tracts of land along Big Bass Lake in the 1940’s. 

That white line in the center of the picture was a phone line that was put in during the early 1950’s.  Originally, about one half of Matson’s Island (Haunted Island) was in the original deed of my grandparents and that post can be found elsewhere on BBL and Beyond.

Most of the land served no real purpose until the 1970’s when I began to take Boys Club of America camping trips to our land with the Marion, Indiana; Columbus, Ohio; and Hoffman Estates, Illinois, boys clubs.  Even one Marion YMCA trip came to our property.  We camped on our wooded beachfront (end of yellow line) and made good use of all our forested land.  You can see Haunted Island in tis aerial view of our land.

My last trip to our property was in 1996.  With all the changes since that date, I will never return there again. 

Noreika Original and Title (7-23-2011)

As you can plainly see, our original Noreika title included ownership of one half of Haunted Island and actually contained the very land itself where the old Haunted House once stood in the middle of that island.

Maude Waite was the first woman mail carrier in the United States working out of the Irons office until 1922. She late married Frank Jones and they operated the Old Homestead Resort on the north side of Big Bass Lake.


My nephew, Bob Marks, sent me the 1940 Elk Township Census of Lake County, Michigan, that recorded the property of Joseph and Barbara Noreika’s house value that was then set at $770.  That must have been before the addition in the rear of the house.                                                                11-5-17. Comments again open on this page.        11-24-17. Pictures of Anderson home corner, Dinty Moore Homestead, and Homestead.IMG_20171125_181201IMG_20171125_181135IMG_20171125_180648

28 thoughts on “Big Bass Lake History

  1. Norris family…I think I may have found a connection to our family. My cousin Dawn and I are relatives of Otto Bartlett and we also have the Hartley family and there is a family tree on Ancestry from an A. Norris that shows a living daughter Hartley born to Howard Hartley and Edna Denbrock that married a William Arthur Norris born on 9/2/1936 in MI. Are you related to this person….if so we have a connection. Look forward to hearing from you soon!

    Lisa (Bartlett) King


  2. Lisa-
    My grandparents were NOREIKA, not Norris. My dad and his brothers and sisters changed the family name legally to Norris in the 1930’s and 40’s in order to sound more American. Even now to honor my grandparents I use the name Dave Noreika here and if I had a preference I prefer the name Noreika.


  3. This comments is going to be really random, but does anybody remember the name of the owner of the original bass lake store, before they built the new one. I think his name was john but I cannot remember his last name.


  4. The owner of the original Big Bass Lake store was Otto Bartlett as he and his family at that time even lived in the store/


  5. His name was John Wilson, but he has passed away, and like many said, was not the original owner.


  6. Yes, the original owner and builder of the Big Bass Lake store was Otto Bartlett which was also his home for a time.




  8. Hi,
    I am not sure had the first store but my grandfather John Woolsey had it for several years. He was married to Karen Matson. Our family has been up north for over 100 years. My mother still lives in the home that her father built and my sister and her family live in the other one. The memories of the store and the lake are truly wonderful.


  9. Good thing you have here! I actually love how it is easy on my eyes as well as the details are well written. I am wondering how I could be notified whenever a new post has been made. I have subscribed to your rss feed which really should work! Have a nice day!


  10. This was our annual vacation resort for years – relatives still return each year.
    My grandfather came here as a child, so did my dad, so did we.
    This is some of what I remember from the last 50 years …

    A quiet lake and beautiful surrounding, but sand everywhere.
    Cabins before they had hot water or heat
    The YMCA camp and hearing Day is Done played every night
    Seeing the amazing, beautiful stars; like the milky way and southern lights while fishing at night
    That Otto lived in the house next to the Realty Place, next to the store
    That Dinty Moore lived in a house on the lake in the summer and drove to Florida for the winters
    The Benders owned/operated the Na-Tah-KA
    The roller skating rink on Loon Lake that lit up the area on Friday nights
    Spiders as big as the center line in the street
    The fish bait place past Otto’s (to get minnows you used for catching large pike-like my little sister caught on her bamboo pole)
    Martin Cass’s cabins and the fish head tree that was next to the Bass Lake Store
    Crappies were everywhere and easily caught
    Leaded gas pumps on the dock at the store
    It is nice to remember some things about the good old days.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Does anyone remember a camp ground called
    “Circle Park” with a large roller rink, water slide into
    the lake, and restaurant,, and camp grounds?

    I remember enjoying this place as a child with my
    family in the 1950’s.


  12. Hi Marty!

    My name is Bert Bossardet. I now own the house that, as I understand it, was the home that Clyde once built and lived in. It is the first house on the left after you cross the bridge on The Isle of the Wilds. My family has been visiting the Irons area, and have had a couple of cabins in the area as well since 1965. I am very interested in hearing about your times in Irons and am very interested in the history of the area.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Hmm! I am a grand-DAUGHTER of Clyde Waite! If it’s the same one, at least! Umm, hi, maybe cousin? XD


  14. Nope – Michelle is my aunt. I guess I should say I am a great grand-daughter XD — Don was also Clyde Waite, if I’m reading my badly-written notes correctly.

    I went to the island years and years ago and my grandma showed me the bridge… said that the land on the island had been sold off but many of the people who lived there were still relatives or friends of relatives.

    Anyway, it’s really neat to see a cousin here. Small world! I was just searching for any info on the island as we were having ‘interesting family notes’ discussion yesterday evening. So, thank you Dave Norris for making this site. I will have to direct grandma Waite here!


  15. hello,
    My grandfather was Ernie Sykora. He was a friend of the Benders. He was the one who talked Joe Bender into opening the Na-Ta-Ka tavern. Ernie built a cottage down the road from 0tto’s store. I also know that my grandfather was a friend of the lady who owned the big island at one time. She was one of the Burnum’s. ( of the Burnums who designed the Chicago lakefront). The easment to the big island was right next to our cottage. I have pics of my grandfather and friends building the cottage. I think he bought his parcel fo land from Joe Bender . Next to our cottage was the Furzland’s, the Pitchers (who were from Grand Haven) and then the Sun Peacok resort. Delores and Rosie owned the resort. I know that Ted Nuggent was a big friend of theirs and used to go there at times. On the other side of our cottage was Bloomstrom and what we called Ann’s bend. That is where they put in the boat ramp. My grandparents have passed on but my uncle still owns the property and my cousins go there all the time.


  16. Frank Benish owned the land at one time where the Publi Landing is and his dock was akin to my grandparents property (Joe and Barbara Noreika). They were the driveway just west of the landing and our farm and forest went all the way to Matson Road. Thanks for stopping by.


  17. James- In the 1950’s, when I waa in my young years, Frank Benish had his boat dock in that area and I presumed it was his land. Perhaps the Bender’s let him use their land for that purpose? He took my sisters and me on many speedboat rides from that dock and I always thought that was an extension of his land.


  18. I am a great niece of Anton and Karie Matson. Thanks for putting up the property map. That is so cool. Do you have any more information on this family? John and Karen Matson would be related, also. I have an OLD photo of Karen holding one of her children that is awesome. Please contact me at Rachel Anderson Williams


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.