Since the late 1930’s the Robertson-Yount family has welcomed guests to Robertson’s Cottages, making numerous special and lasting friendships. Guests so often ask about the history of Robertson’s Cottages. The following is a historical account of the chain of events which manifests this special place into what it is today.
In 1937 Joyce and Chester Robertson purchased the first lot on the property where Harbor Home was to be built with the intention of using the property as a summer getaway. Joyce was a substitute school teacher and Chester owned a local barber shop in Sturgeon Bay, WI. They purchased the land from Mr. Parker who was a regular at Chester’s barber shop. The Parkers and the Robertsons had become good friends over the years, and until that point, Mr. Parker had been utilizing the protected calmer waters of Sawyer Harbor as a safe place to dock his yacht.
Construction of Harbor Home began in the fall of 1938 with the support of Chester’s cousins who were both carpenters. Every Sunday after church Chester and his only child Beth would hike along the old stone fences near the church property on Shiloh RD, south of Sturgeon Bay to gather rocks for the fireplace that would be constructed in Harbor Home. The fireplace and decorative lighthouse on the front lawn in front of Harbor Home were crafted by a talented local mason, George Walters. Arrowheads and other rocks of interest were found and carefully placed into the hearth. Even though the initial intention was to make the cottage a family summer cottage, Harbor Home was rented almost immediately after its completion as money was a major incentive during the tough years of the great depression.
Soon after the completion of Harbor Home, Chester and Joyce purchased a small log home with Chester’s friend Otis Trodahl who owned a grocery store adjacent to Chester’s barber shop. The small log home was split in half. One half of the home was hauled to the property of the Trodahls, and the other half hauled to the north end of the lot where Harbor Home was built. A sunroom, bathroom and bedrooms were added to the structure, and Sportsmen’s Home was rented for the first time in 1941. (There is a family who began renting this cottage in 1943 and still rent Sportsmen’s Home every summer to this day!)
At the time Chester and Joyce purchased the parcel of land from Mr. Parker, the shorefront in front of Harbor Home was owned by the U.S. Coast Guard who had also purchased from Mr. Parker. They planned to build a large permanent pier to dock the boat that was used for servicing the nearby lighthouses between here and Green Bay. Construction of the “Government Pier” began on September 14th, 1941 and was completed that autumn on October 23rd. The Coast Guard men lodged in Harbor Home and Sportsmen’s during the entire construction.
In 1944 additional property was purchased along what is currently the west side of the Robertson’s property. This purchase extended the property of Robertson’s Cottages from the west shorefront all the way to County Road M (the main road which winds through Idlewild). Around this time an old log building near Lake Michigan was purchased, disassembled, and hauled to a section of this newly acquired property. The lumber from the disassembled log building was used to build “Log Cabin” as building materials were hard to come by in the midst of the great depression. The grove of cedar trees on the lot where Log Cabin was built were cut down and hauled to the saw mill to be processed into usable lumber. The interior of Log Cabin is finished with these same cedar trees. Log Cabin was rented for the first time in 1945.
Construction of Pineaire began in the fall of 1947, and the cottage was completed that following Summer. In August of 1948, Beth Robertson and John Yount were married and spent their honeymoon in Pineaire before returning to college. Pineaire was rented to guests for the first time in 1949. That same year, the old summer home of the Cabot family (the Edgewater and Parkview duplex) came onto the market and was purchased by Joyce and Chester. The Cabot’s were wealthy world travelers and had many interesting and beautiful antiques. Several pieces of antique furniture were left behind in the building. The pieces they left behind in Parkview are part of a French bedroom set in the south bedroom. In Edgewater, the large oak sideboard and dining room table were left behind. The Cabot summer home underwent some major remodeling as it originally had the absurd amount of 21 outside doors. It was partitioned so the large home could be used as 2 separate cottages. It is the oldest building on the Robertson’s Cottages property (built in 1905, ‘we think’).
The Cabots had a small building behind their summer home which was used exclusively for their pet monkeys. This little cottage was moved further inland into the woods along Cabots Point Road and was remodeled to include a bathroom, screen porch, kitchen and 2 bedrooms. Previously coined ‘The Monkey House’ it was renamed “Woodland Home”.
The little white cottage located directly on the waterfront on the western border of the Robertson’s Cottages property was built in 1952. It was originally named “Hideaway” and was used by Chester and Joyce as their own private Sawyer Harbor sanctuary. After Chester’s passing in 1972, their grandchildren started referring to the little cottage as “Grandma Joyce’s Cottage,” the name we still use to this day.
In 1965 Joyce and Chester decided they should sell the property as they were advancing in age. The land was purchased by their only child Beth and her Husband John Yount. Joyce continued to oversee the property as “CEO” while Beth and John worked as teachers during the fall, winter, and spring in southern California. “Aunt Joyce,” as the children who visited Robertson’s Cottages referred to her, was a talented organizer, and a very “with it” lady who had a great ability to manifest her ideas into reality.
The most significant property acquisition was the purchase of the shorefront lot in 1965 where the large dock is located. At that time it was owned by the government and was considered an unused “surplus property.” Until this point Robertson’s Cottages had been granted permission to utilize the dock for swimming, sunbathing, and socializing. There were many local property owners who also desired to acquire this property, and it was very apparent to Beth and John that if cottage guests no longer had use of the pier it would have a severe negative impact on the overall experience of guests. The sale of the property was conducted by silent auction with sealed bids at a government office in Chicago. There were many, many bids; several for the exact same amount Beth and John were able to bid. Beth and John’s bid was the last envelope opened and ended up being the successful bid.
The pier was in desperate need of repair as many planks were rotting and foot splinters were a common occurrence. Long time guests of Robertson’s, the Wooleys, who owned Wooley Lumber in Indiana were of great help in bringing about a solution. They supplied Robertson’s with special white oak boards which Beth and John hauled in two white knuckle trips from Indiana with their boat trailer. Due to the fluctuation of water levels over the years many structural changes have been made to the Robertson’s pier since its original construction in 1943, but the same splinter-free white oak boards that were purchased in the early 70’s from the Wooleys are still in use today. The pier, which has always been the main social gathering place for guests, continues to be the most important amenity that Robertson’s is able to offer all of its guests.
Today the resort is being managed by the 4th generation of the Robertson – Yount family with the intention of carrying forward this cherished tradition and honoring that nostalgic reverberation of days gone by. It is a privilege and honor to be able to preserve this unique piece of history and share such a naturally pristine and unique location with visitors while holding the intention of continuing forward this tradition and legacy for years to come.