Sunday, June 19, 2022

The Story of the Cottage

Since 1954, the Elfners have been fortunate enough to spend a lot of time on White Lake in Marquette County, Wisconsin.  This is the story of how we came to be here.

In 1954, my grandparents, Joe and Dit Elfner, were searching for some land on which to build a summer home.  My father, Eliot, has told us stories of looking at land on a river, swimming in a mucky pond on some farmland and visiting many other parcels until they came upon the property on White Lake.  It was an ideal location for them being only an hour North of Madison.  It was and is a beautiful, clear lake, just barely big enough for waterskiing.

They had purchased a mobile home (or the Trailer as we called it) from my grandfather's employer, The University of Wisconsin, that they were going to put on the land.  The trailer had been used as excess student housing during the boom of GI Bill students after World War II.  Evidently by the time they had bought the land and were ready for it, it was beyond the time UW had given them to remove it from the premises.  There is a vague story that my grandpa hired a couple of his larger students to help him break into the yard and liberate it for delivery to White Lake.

So they brought it up to the lake and put it on blocks with a nice view of the lake.  It's interesting to wonder how much thought they gave to the spot because the location they chose is where the cottage stands today.  I always wondered what it looked like when it was just the trailer, and only recently (2007-ish) found and scanned some slides that showed what it looked like back then.

In 1955 they really got to work.  They must have painted it, and then my grandfather (with my Dad's help) built a HUGE screen porch off the front of the trailer.  It is about 16' x 24', and is the only part of the cottage that is virtually unchanged to this day.  Here's how it looked from the front.  If you stood at the northwest corner of the current cottage today, the view would be remarkably similar to this shot from 1955.

According to Eliot, "The cottage was built by Giese Lumber Co from Princeton (subsequently known as Stock Lumber and now out of business) in the spring of 1956, so it was ready for us during that summer. The fence with the brightly colored squares was completed by my Father after the cottage was completed, and uncle Rick's mode of attire and the open window in the cottage kitchen suggest the temperature was not too cold, so this was probably later than spring. I also like the red 1954 Mercury station wagon - a V8 with three-speed column shift."  The trailer was moved to the side and used for storage, a kids playhouse and an extra bedroom for years to come.

Unfortunately my grandfather only got to enjoy the finished cottage for a year because he died in September 1957.  The remaining Elfners, my Grandma, my Dad and his brother Rick, enjoyed the cottage for the next nine years, but when my Grandma died in 1966 (five days before I was born), the cottage almost left the family.  This is where my other grandparents, Larry and Bert Hansen, stepped in.

Because Uncle Rick was still a minor, my Grandma Elfner's will put all of her assets into trust for the benefit of Eliot and Rick.  She had no provision for the cottage in her will, so the executors of her estate insisted that it be sold.  My dad wasn't happy with this, but being in his twenties with a young family and a new house of his own, didn't have the ability to purchase the cottage.  My Grandma Hansen told me that she knew the cottage was in Eliot's blood and hated to see him give it up.  She told her husband Larry, "You've always wanted a cottage, and Eliot loves that place.  Why don't we buy it and keep it in the family?"  So they did.  Nice save, Grandma and Grandpa!

That's how we got to grow up spending summer weekends at such an awesome place.  My brothers and I would explore the woods, climb trees, ride our BMX bikes, climb the hill, fish, sail and waterski as much as my Dad would let us.  He had to institute a one-and-a-half time around the lake per kid limit during the oil crisis in the 1970s because we would have skied all day.

Except for my mom's decorating touches (Uncle Rick once accused her of trying to turn it into "House Beautiful") the cottage remained relatively unchanged until 1984.  It was a bit crowded, and we weren't old enough to sleep in the trailer, so the kids got to sleep on the porch.  One of us in Grandpa's bed, one on the fold down couch and the unfortunate one on the wooden chaise lounge with a very thin pad.  When Grandma and Grandpa Hansen were there too, Grandpa would actually sleep in Grandpa's bed and Chris would have to go into the back bedroom in the house.  Jon and I recall that if we were still awake when Grandpa came out to bed, we would count how many seconds elapsed from the time he began to snore.  It was usually in the 20 to 40 second range.

In 1978, my parents decided that we needed a tennis court (there were lots of interesting ideas in the 70s), and a good chunk of the back woods was cleared to create one.  At the same time, the trailer was removed and replaced with a 1 car garage with a sleeping room above it.  My Grandpa, Larry Hansen, gave it the tongue-in-cheek moniker of "The Palace", which is what we call it today.  The upstairs was unfinished, but had some chairs and a fold down couch, and had a cool deck off of the second floor.  My mom also had the idea to use a ladder to get up there and a fireman's pole to get down (again, the 70s.)  She was quickly horrified by the 12 foot drop from the second floor and it was replaced a few years later with some steps.  Unfortunately the steps were way too narrow and steep, and really were about as dangerous as the ladder and pole.

In 1983 my parents decided it was finally time to expand the cottage.  I put up some resistance because I liked it the way it was, but I was over-ruled (as most 16-year-olds are.)  They worked with Norm Prachel, a Princeton builder to design an expansion and renovation to the old cottage.  To check him out and evaluate his workmanship, they had him finish the upstairs of the palace with drywall.  This made it much more usable, but sealed up some adult magazines I had stashed in the eaves (they're still there, including the Suzanne Somers Playboy from the late 70s!)

The end result was that they pushed out the sides of the cottage itself 8 feet in each direction, and added a second story.  This allowed us to include 2 real bedrooms downstairs, and another bedroom (with its own bathroom) upstairs.  The porch remained the same.  This renovation also made the cottage inhabitable for the entire year with electric baseboard heating and insulation.  We still closed it down in the winter, but typically had Thanksgiving there before we turned off the water and brought it back online around Easter.

The latest renovation occurred in 2003 as the cottage began to feel tight when all the grandkids came to visit.  My parents designed an 24 foot addition toward the driveway that would include a huge living room downstairs and a master suite and office upstairs.  They used Glen, a Montello builder, who did a great job with it.  The new addition is not quite as streamlined as the 1984 addition from the outside, but it looks OK and is fabulous on the inside.  Now when all the grandkids come to visit, space is not the primary problem.  Preparing dinner and trying to get 9 kids ready for dinner at the same time is chaos, but it's a good, fun sort chaos!

A Collection of Vintage Photos
If you don't see my comments on the photos, click the little 'i' on the upper right.

This post was adapted from an essay that I wrote for the old website in 2007.  Then it was difficult to get all the grandkids ready for dinner.  Now (in 2022) it's difficult to get them back from their busy lives to get to the cottage, but that will change too.

Eric Elfner
Fathers Day 2022

Some Milestone Dates, mainly for me and future caretakers of the cottage if they need to know when something was done.

  • 1954 - Land and Trailer Purchased and Setup
  • 1955 - Porch built onto the Trailer
  • 1956 - Trailer moved to Palace's spot, and base Cottage was built
  • 1950s boat was tiller steering with a 15HP Evinrude
  • Sept 1957 - Sherb Elfner passes away.  All his touches that are still at the cottage were done in those short 4 years.  Eliot tells me they planted 3,000 red pine seedlings so the big pines there are almost 70 years old.
  • 1960s boat was a 14 foot runabout with a 40HP Gale.  Steering wheel with cable and pulleys, no open bow.
  • Somewhere in the 60s, Dit sold 2 of the 5 lots between us and the resort
  • 1966 or 67 - Larry and Bert buy the cottage from Dit's estate
  • 1970s - Uncle Rick paints the Pier with leftover paint so each pier slat is a different color.  He used house paint so when it peeled, Bonnie re-did it with white paint and an occasional blue slat.  Larry bought the green rowboat and added the 5HP motor
  • 1977 - New Boat - 70HP Johnson on a 16' open bow Starcraft.  We had to put the cover on every night, which was an ordeal, but totally worth it for the waterskiing.
  • 1978 - Palace and Tennis Court Added
  • 1983 - Palaces upstairs Drywalled
  • 1983-84 - First Addition to the Cottage
  • 1986 - Septic System Redone (from the 1950s Cinder Block Tank)  Redid the outflow to the south and added one to the east.
  • 1997 - New Boat!  70HP Force on 17' Starcraft.  It was used.  We think it's a 1995 model
  • 2000s - Purchased the 2 lots to the West
  • 2003 - Second Addition Remodel - Added the Upstairs Suite above the expanded Living Room
  • 2008-ish - New Motor 75HP Evinrude E-Tec (Oil Injected 2 Stroke)
  • 2016 - Renovated Tile Shower on Main Floor
  • 2021-Spring - Replaced collapsed 80s Septic Tank - They did not find a connection to the outflow to the East so it's either not hooked up or is connected outboard of the tank
  • 2021-Fall - Replaced Boat Trailer Tires (from 1995-ish)
  • 2021-Dec - Replaced Well Pump.  We think the one that failed was from the 2003 addition.  Learned that the pressure tank is buried out by the well (actually Eliot told me that and the Wells by Welch guys confirmed.)
  • 2022-June - Replaced Tires on the Cargo Trailer (Napralla)
Elfners welcome to make corrections or suggest events I may have missed.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Oliver Fairfield Wadsworth, Jr and Rose Evelyn Miller

This photo found on a site called 'Geni' in 2021.

When I was growing up, my father, Eliot, told me that his grandfather, Oliver Fairfield Wadsworth, Jr., heard Horace Greeley's advice, "Go West, Young Man" and that he did.  I knew he had settled in Great Falls, Montana.  I knew his sons, Oliver Fairfield III and Eliot, moved back to Boston, while my grandmother, Zylpha Mary (Dit), met my grandfather at Glacier National Park and came back with him to Wisconsin.

I knew that his wife's name was Rose, and that they were friends with the artist, Charles Russell, but that was all I knew until I began corresponding with my fathers cousins, Oliver Fairfield Wadsworth IV (Waddy) and Eliot M. Wadsworth in October of 2009.

Eliot was kind enough to answer my questions of "What sort of work did he do?" and "How did his sons get back to the East Coast?" in an e-mail on October 19, 2009.

"What I know, or think I know, is that Oliver went to college in Boston, maybe a mix of Harvard and MIT, and then went to Montana representing Boston investors interested in participating in the big mining/minerals boom going on there, including coal, copper, etc. About 5 years ago, I went to a wedding in great Falls and took the opportunity to search out the family home, a tall, wood frame structure which is still standing on a point of land at the northeast corner of the city, overlooking what is not a very channelized Missouri River.

"The local newspaper archives were not very revealing but did mention him as one of the active business community in Great Falls, where I am quite certain he died, I think in 1934-5 while my father, Eliot, was in law school in Boston. Yes is it my understanding that both sons, and likely your mother as well, were sent east to school and college and never went back for any meaningful amount of time. My father evidently spent a year in bed with typhoid fever when he was about 10 years old, spent a lot of happy summer days at a place called Flathead Lake where he evidently enjoyed running speedboats of some sort, and learned to fly an airplane very early, apparently because his Dad had some financial or operating role in an airport. As Waddy will report, all of our old papers include lots of worthless mining stick certificates.

"Our grandmother was of German extraction, may have actually been named Muller, which was Anglicized, and was a serious pianist. I could find no record of her passing but I believe she was no longer alive when I was born in 1942, but could be wrong."

Waddy added an interesting story about his college football career in an e-mail on October 20, 2009.

"Oliver F. our Grandfather was a football player.  In his days one did not have to be a giant, physically, to play the game.  He played for Harvard his first year and then decided ,according to my Father, that M.I.T., the following season, might have a better team.  So he left Harvard and enrolled at M.I.T.  After that season he determined that Harvard would have a better team, so he returned to Harvard and graduated there in 1891."

Waddy also shared a story about Oliver and Rose in an e-mail to my father on October 13, 2009.

"Allow me to tell you, both Eliots, just another little story about our Grand Father in common . Note well I have not written common Grand Father, because I assure you that this gentleman was far from being common.  The following was told to me by Eliot W’s Father on a winter’s evening in Beverly Farms.  According to him, our Grand Mother, Rose, Oliver’s wife was a very devout roman catholic.  In fact my Father, the oldest of the three children, as a little boy, had to go to church every Sunday in Great Falls Montana and pump air into the organ so that instrument could produce its melodious sounds.  He did so by peddling a peddle, attached to a series of pipes which fed air to the organ.  Rose would sing beautifully, which probably identifies the source of all the musical talent of Eliot W, his son and his siblings.  Rose’s husband, Oliver, our Grand Father, according to Eliot W’s Father would never set a foot inside the church.  Indeed the only time he was adjacent to it was when he designed the tennis court probably still located on its grounds today. ---- Irrespective of anyone’s religion whether it be Hindu, Moslem, Budhist or Catholic or any other religion for that matter.  If an individual passes the Pearly Gates and notices a man measuring out a tennis court in the heavens of Paradise----That man is our Grand Father."

Waddy also mentioned to me that the Olivers in his family alternated nicknames by generation between "Ollie" and "Waddy", so this Oliver was called Waddy as well.  I can confirm that because I've seen a postcard from Charles Russell to him addressed to "Friend Waddy".

All of this discussion piqued my curiosity, and led me to conduct some Internet searches.  In I found a pamphlet produced by the Harvard University Class of 1892.  It was written in 1907 evidently as a prelude to their 15th reunion, and collected information on their classmates current endeavors.  Here is the entry Oliver, which also includes a good deal of information on Rose.

Born at Boston, Massachusetts.

Is still engaged in the real estate and insurance business at Great Falls, Montana. Was married at Shawano, Wisconsin, November 8, 1899, to Rose Evelyn Miller, daughter of Mathias and Katheryn Miller. Has one son: Oliver Fairfield, 3d, born at Great Falls, Montana, June 27, 1904. Home address: 104 Third Avenue Park, Great Falls, Montana. Business address: McKnight Block, Great Falls, Montana.

I had seen a note that Rose was from Wisconsin where I grew up, and this entry seems to confirm it.  Perhaps it wasn't such a stretch for my grandmother, Dit, to settle in Wisconsin, if she had relatives here on her mother's side.

I note that Waddy and the pamphlet have different graduating years assigned to Oliver, perhaps due to his year at M.I.T., but I left it as the sources indicated.  To me it is close enough 100 years on.  I'll leave it to more committed genealogists than I to discover the truth.

Eric Elfner
Originally publshed on the Elf Home Page - October 2009

In the 2010s, a woman named Susie from Great Falls, Montana, contacted me.  She said she'd been doing some work in my Great Grandfathers house in Great Falls.  We exchanged messages, and then the owner of the house, Theresa, got in touch with me.  She sent me a bunch of pictures about Great Falls back in the day and specifically about Oliver Fairfield Wadsworth, Jr.  Check this out:

A 1915 letter addressed to Mrs. O. F. Wadsworth in 1915.

A rendering of their home at 104 Third Ave in Great Falls, MT.

Included in her pictures were several clippings from the Great Falls newspaper.  Below are his obituary, a story about his passing and a memorial article written a few months after his passing.  If you click on them, they should appear as a bigger size for easier reading.

Eric Elfner
October 2021

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Dr. Oliver Fairfield Wadsworth & Mary Chapman Goodwin

My Great Great Grandparents were Dr. Oliver Fairfield Wadsworth and Mary Chapman Goodwin.  Oliver I was an Opthalmic Surgeon in Boston in the late 1800s.  I was able to find some more information about them for my old web page in 2009 and wrote this little essay about them.

In a book titled, "The Goodwins of Hartford, Connecticut, descendants of William and Ozias Goodwin" By Frank Farnsworth Starr (which I located on, I found this entry on Mary Chapman Goodwin, Dr. Oliver Fairfield Wadsworth's wife.  It includes a great deal of information on their family, that I had not seen before.

Mary Chapman Goodwin, born in Boston, Mass., November 24, 1841; married, April 16, 1867, Oliver Fairfield Wadsworth, born in Boston April 26, 1838, son of Alexander and Mary Elizabeth Hubbard (Fairfield) Wadsworth. Oliver F. Wadsworth graduated at Harvard, 1860, is a Physician, residing in Boston, and is the Ophthalmic Surgeon in the Boston City and Massachusetts General Hospitals.


Wadsworth Children:

  • Oliver Fairfield, b. Jan. 23, 1868. 
  • Lucy Goodwin, Aug. 17, 1869.
  • Elizabeth Fairfield, Aug. 25, 1871.
  • Richard Goodwin, June 30, 1874.
  • Eliot, Sept. 10, 1876.
  • Philip, Jan. 6, 1881.

Also on the Internet, I found a memorial written by a Myles Standish, MD in 1912 in a medical journal Trans Am Ophthalmol Soc. 1912; 13(Pt 1): 10.2–14:  Dr. Oliver Fairfield Wadsworth.

The original link was to this article was .

There are several descendents named Eliot in Dr. & Mrs. Wadsworth's line.  Their son, Eliot, born in 1876 had a successful career in business and government.  As his great nephew, Eliot Wadsworth, recalls in an e-mail from October 22, 2009: 

"The Eliot who was born in 1876 was my great uncle, member of the Harvard Class of 1898. His primary career was with a Boston civil engineering and construction company called Stone and Webster, after which he served in the Treasury Dept under Andrew Mellon and headed the International Red Cross."

Eric Elfner
Originally Published on the Elf Home Page - October 2009

Monday, February 22, 2021

Uncle Rick

Richard Wadsworth Elfner

My uncle, Rick Elfner, did not have the benefits of a long life.  He got cancer in his early 20s and passed away in 1974.  I was pretty young, but I have some good memories of him.  He rode a motorcycle and had a cool, silver wrap-around helmet.  A couple years before he died, he bought a farm near portage.*  That was only about 20 minutes away from the cottage, so he would visit the lake or we would go see him there.

When my parents were moving out of Bitters Court, I found some pictures and a letter he wrote in 1972.  So I thought I would share them here for my family.  Here is a picture of us during a small plane journey we took from Green Bay, with my Dad's colleague, and pilot, Nat Lebish,  We picked up Rick and flew around the area.  Rick had a Single 8 movie camera and got some footage of his farm.

The picture above is in our front yard on Bitters Court in 1973 or so.  He had a Whippet named Justa.  He told us it was short for Just a Dog.  We had a smaller dog, and my brothers and I thought Justa was pretty cool.

Rick, Eric & Eliot Elfner and Nat Lebish's son.

In 1972, my dad, Eliot, bought a 1972 Gran Torino station wagon for our family car and sold the old one, a 1968 or 69 Ford Fastback to Rick (the Fastback is in the background in the top picture.)  Shortly after, Rick wrote this letter to Eliot finalizing the terms of the deal and sharing some news about the farm.  That letter hung in my Dad's office ever since, and I remember reading it when I was in high school.  It was still there last month so I liberated and scanned it.

I like his signoff, 'With Brotherly Regards'.
I use that with Jon and Chris sometimes.

I don't know that much else about Uncle Rick.  It's nice to see how he talked in the letter.  I remember one time he came to the cottage in jeans.  He decided he wanted to water ski, but didn't have a swimsuit.  So he just got a scissors and cut them off then and there.  We were impressed.

The farm had a barn with big piles of hay bales and a think rope from the ceiling.  Depending on how brave you were, you could climb pretty high on the hay bales and swing across the barn.  He was a lot braver than we were!

Last story, he was building an RC model airplane on his kitchen table.  When he would finish a section, he would hang it from the ceiling right above.  Maybe off of the light or maybe there was no light.  Every time we visited, I would check it out to see the progress.  One visit it was almost done, but on the next visit, I saw that it was hanging in its place, but was completely smashed and trashed.  I asked what happened, and he told me it was on its maiden flight, but he lost sight of it over a hill and that was the end of it.  He seemed OK with it, but I was sad!

There are a few more pics of his farm in this roll of film from 1973.  

1973 Cottage and Uncle Rick's Farm

Here's to you Uncle Rick.  See you on the other side!  I want a ride on the motorcycle, please!

* I saw it as soon as I typed it.  A couple years before he bought the farm, he bought a farm....

Sunday, February 21, 2021

1979 Sha Na Na Concert at Brown County Arena

Yesterday, my buddy, Phil, sent me a link on facebook to a Sha Na Na concert at the Brown County Arena that happened 30 years ago in 1981.  He wondered if that might possibly be the show we saw with my parents.  That was an eventful night where lots of things happened, but it didn't feel like 1981 (8th grade) to me.

I did some research and found this website listing all concerts at the BCA.  It is not complete, but it did find an August 12, 1979 show - Sha Na Na and The Shirelles.  Phil and I would have known who Sha Na Na was - they had a TV show and were the band in the Grease film, but I'm pretty sure we weren't familiar with The Shirelles.  

Here are the stories that make me think we saw the 1979 show.

I wasn't sure how Phil and I ended up going.  I have a vague memory that we met some of my parents friends there, so I thought maybe we tagged along on a couples night.  My Mom tells me that I wanted to go to the show with a friend, and they weren't comfortable with us going alone, so they came along.  She confirms we did meet some of their friends who were sitting nearby.

The four of us drove their together in my Dad's 1973 BMW 2002 (clue number 1, he traded that in for the 1980 Avanti) very much like this one.  It was a tiny car, and he was able to fit it into a tiny parallel parking spot right in front of the Arena.  I remember he was quite proud of that parking job, but someone took umbrage with how close he parked to them and kicked a dent in the door.  Mean streets of Green Bay in the 70s!

Honestly, I don't really remember the show.  I was getting to the end of a phase where I really liked the idea of the 50s.  Happy Days, Grease - who didn't want to be Fonzie or Danny Zuko.  By 8th grade I was starting to figure out my own musical tastes (definitely influenced by Steven La and his brother and sister.)  Summer between 6th and 7th grade, I may have still been interested in 50s culture, but I slammed the door on that pretty hard shortly after.

The other story is that we had really good seats.  Second or third row.  During the Sha Na Na set, they had a dance contest, and three of the band picked out three cute girls from the audience to be their dance partners, and Denny picked my Mom, Bonnie.  They danced to one song and big Lenny announced the winner.  My Dad must have had his camera because he got this shot.  Lenny is announcing the winner and the prize...a dream dance with Lenny!

I suspect Denny was the best dancer in the band and could get the most out of his dance partners.  He probably won the contest most nights.  A sad side note is that he died in 2015.  It sounds like he had an interesting career outside of music.  He graduated from Yale Law School and taught entertainment law at as a Professor at the University of Dayton Law School (all this is from wikipedia.)

Another memory that makes me think it was the 1979 show is that I have an image in my minds eye of getting out of the car that night.  The arena loomed close by, it was a nice night, but it felt like summer was waning and there was a very nice sunset off toward Lambeau.  I had to double check that Lambeau is west of where the arena was, and it is.  If that memory is accurate, it feels like August.

Phil, thanks for the question generating the second essay on the replacement for my website.  I am glad we have this memory from early in our friendship.  My respect for Sha Na Na increased in high school when I learned they played at Woodstock.  As a kid, I just focused on the new songs from Grease - Summer Nights, One That I Want, but I have revisited that soundtrack and really enjoyed what Sha Na Na was playing at the dance.  One of the numbers, 'Those Magic Changes' was in the original broadway Grease.  It is playing in the background under dialog, but John Travolta sings along for a bit.  He did a lot of Grease on Broadway.

This is the list I found.  It's good, but it is not quite complete.  The 1981 show Phil mentioned is not listed.  I'm sure I went to a George Thorogood show there in the late 80s this isn't there either.  Elvis played BCA in April 1977.  I did remember that he played there shortly before his death.  That Elvis show did not get a good review as you might imagine.

Note:  On the new blog sites, I am trying to limit PII to first names, but I guess I just aged us too by saying what grades we were in.  This is hard!

Sunday, January 12, 2020

New Web Presence for the Elfs

I have a pretty large collection of html pages for photos, essays, missives and what not that was fun to create over the past 20 years, but definitely belongs in the late 90s.  This blogspot is a marker for me to begin moving it somewhere that is easier to edit, easier to view on mobile devices and more secure.

Here we go!

The Story of the Cottage

Since 1954, the Elfners have been fortunate enough to spend a lot of time on White Lake in Marquette County, Wisconsin.  This is the story o...