Nostalgic trip back to Assembly Park
DELAVAN — Earlier this summer, author Pete Wurdock was spending time at his family cottage in Assembly Park, the 214-cottage colony on the north side of Delavan Lake not far from Lake Lawn Resort. He was trading stories of childhood summers there with a woman he knew and joked, “Someone should write a book about this place.”
“I heard someone did,” the woman said. She described the book, but said she couldn't remember who wrote it.
“I did,” Wurdock said to his nonplussed friend.
“Between the Cottages: Assembly Park in Lake Delavan,” Wurdock's photo-packed, memory-evoking book, was first published in 2007. It's now being offered again in a limited press run through www.blueboundarybooks.com.
Who better to chronicle decades at Assembly Park than Wurdock? His great-grandfather built a cottage for a wife and four daughters there in 1911, not long after the community was established in 1898. Steadfastly maintained by succeeding generations, the cottage still stands, bringing four branches of cousins, aunts and uncles who've spread out as far as Eugene, Ore., and Rockville, Md., back for a week or two every summer. Family members celebrated their “first hundred years” there in 2011, Wurdock said.
He believes the family cottage is the second oldest structure in the community.
“We're the only family who has been the original owner since day one,” he said. “It's our ancestral home. And unquestionably it will stay in the family. There's no real option otherwise.”
For Wurdock, a Michigan native who lives in Royal Oak, Mich., Assembly Park started as a childhood vacation destination for a few sweet summer weeks. It's continued to be a summer go-to spot as an adult, worth a six-hour drive to relax in cool southern lake breezes and on shady lawns.
Some things have remained unchanged in the cottage, as the book's photos detail, from a wall that marked the height of family children each summer to hand-decorated doors Wurdock and his siblings created. There's still a wooden board game one uncle created to be played on rainy days. And “Tales of Delyte,” is an ongoing journal of anecdotes and stories contributed by family members.
But “Between the Cottages” captures a broader base of vacationers.
“I wrote the book in a kind of generic way — not just me and my family, but common things that people remember, like the gazebo, the shuffleboard court, the phone booth. The book conjures up memories,” he said.
Readers, including Gail Reese, a longtime caretaker for Assembly Park, sent him letters and emails of their own summer stories in the community.
“It's become a real conduit for memories,” Wurdock said. “I've heard of one man proposing to his wife-to-be in the gazebo. And there was a woman there who'd spent years there with her husband. He died, yet she still comes back. It's bittersweet for her there, but she cherishes her summers.”
Wurdock said he was surprised the initial run of 500 books in 2007 sold as quickly as it did. But a few years ago, when a woman contacted him, pleading for a few copies of the book to give as family Christmas presents, he realized a demand was still there. He's added some pages and revised the book's forward for the current run.
Wurdock's also been busy with other projects, including “Bending Water and Stories Nearby,” a collection of short stories that looks at the human condition, from relationships to death.
He's also pondering a book on Walworth County. Thanks to the family cottage, southeastern Wisconsin has a special place in Wurdock's heart — and in a collection of trinkets and memorabilia, from “every postcard ever made of Assembly Park” to books on the history of Delavan and Walworth County.
It's Wisconsin spots like Assembly Park that draw him — and others — back year after year, long after childhood vacations have ended.
Wurdock's photos in “Between the Cottages” reveal a changing landscape in Assembly Park: a public phone booth has disappeared, and new street signs have sprouted.
The community also recently added Wi-Fi, he said.
“People don't want to get consumed with electronic technology there,” Wurdock said, adding that his cottage doesn't have a TV or landline phone. “On the other hand, Wi-Fi is one of the things that also brings in the younger kids. And some of them are at that age where they don't realize what they have yet.”