Magical Madeline Island comes to life

  • Article by: LYNN UNDERWOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 14, 2013 - 5:33 PM

A new book celebrates the distinctive summer houses of the popular island retreat.

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A ferry ride from Bayfield, Wis., to Madeline Island in 1970 led to author Linda Mack’s love affair with the clean air, sandy beaches and views of blue-gray Lake Superior surrounding the largest of the 22 Apostle Islands. Mack and her husband, Warren, joined other smittten summer islanders when they bought a beach cottage in 2005.

Over two summers, Linda, a former Star Tribune architecture critic, and one of her daughters, photographer Kendra Mack, gathered colorful stories and shot photos of 27 different cottages, cabins and retreat homes, some more than a century old and passed down from generation to generation. Their new book, “Madeline Island Summer Houses: An Intimate Journey” (I Was There Press, $39.99), is not about the architecture and whether windows are arched or a roof is gabled, said Linda. “These are love stories about what the homes mean” to the owners.

We talked with Linda and Kendra, as they lounged on a Madeline Island beach, about being invited into strangers’ homes, the Wal-Mart of Lake Superior and the log “honeymoon cottage.”


Q: You’d been vacationing on Madeline Island since 1970. Why did you decide to buy a second home there?

LM: We had been sailing there for years, and I got interested in learning more about the island. It became a fantasy to have a place. Warren is an amateur pilot, and his idea of fun is visiting friends with cabins in Minnesota. At the end of the summer, I announced over the engine noise of the airplane that I didn’t want to see other people’s cabins. I wanted my own cabin.


Q: What’s your house like?

LM: It’s right on the water and faces south, which is a great advantage in the north country. It’s a very simple timber-frame home with one bedroom, built in 1995. The dining area has sliding doors that look out on the water. It looks like a shoebox with a gabled roof on top. We come up as many weekends as we can — even in the winter to cross-country ski and snowshoe.


Q: How did you decide to do a book?

LM: My daughter Leslie, a year-round islander, suggested I do a book. I had been inside the Donna Woods cottage, and I thought it would be beautiful for the book. And it was a good excuse to spend a lot of time on the island in the summer. I recruited Kendra, and we had a team.


Q: The islanders are a close-knit community. Did word spread fast that you were doing the book?

LM: I figured I would be cold-calling people to be interviewed. The first person I called already had heard about it. To put together a list, I biked to Beth Fischlowitz’s place — they owned the Chateau Madeline. She rattled off 25 homes I should see. Most people were excited and happy to share their stories. Two families turned us down. The interviews were pretty darn easy and fun. It was a joy.


Q: Which houses were you always curious about?

LM: The Ferguson cottage on Nebraska Row. It’s an exotic and mysterious house that had fascinated me over the years. I’ve always loved the charming little Mission Cottages that were built as part of a retreat for ministers and their families at the turn of the 20th century. It’s an intimate living arrangement among different families that is very touching to me, maybe because I grew up in a small town. It’s a way of life that seems rare these days.

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  • Author Linda Mack, left, with daughter/photographer Kendra Mack.

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