Janesville52°

A hermit’s haven

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Greg Peck
November 28, 2012

What remains of a man’s home is crumbling in a field of prairie grasses and weeds in Wisconsin’s far northeastern corner. To find it, drive straight north from Green Bay on Highway 141 a couple of hours until you hit the hamlet of Beecher in Marinette County. Turn east on County Z, drive another 8 miles or so, and you’ll see it—or what’s left of it. It stands alone in a low spot, protected to the north by rocky outcroppings, just a mile or two from the Menominee River, which marks the border between northern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in these parts.

I’ve seen this place each of the last two Octobers, and it made me wonder about the former owner. Who lived here?

A hermit, says my buddy Dave, a high school friend who owns a place on the nearby river, where we fish for crappies and walleyes each autumn.

Dave remembers the fellow from when he spent summers in Marinette County with his aunt and uncle. Dave was just a boy of 8 or 9 then, back in the 1960s. The man was old then, short, stocky and bearded, Dave recalls.

“He usually wore bib overalls—the blue ones with white pinstripes,” so common in the countryside in days gone by.

Dave didn’t recall that the man drank, that he had a job or even a car. He seemed content just to tend a big garden, guarded by scarecrows, and shoot his deer each season to provide meat to supplement the produce.

Dave and his aunt and uncle would pay visits to the man every once in a while. The man would invite them inside to, as Dave put it, “shoot the breeze.” He seemed to never have much contact with folks, so these visits always seemed a highlight in his life, Dave recalls.

The man’s place was more than a cabin, but it was still a small home, despite dormers suggesting a modest second floor. Dave isn’t sure if the man built the home himself.

“If he did, it was built to last.”

But alas, it won’t last. It’s deteriorating, month by month, season by season, year by year. It had a lean-to porch facing the county road, but that has collapsed, the shingled porch roof now sheltering, on that side of the home, exposed studs that resemble ribs on some human corpse.

Dave could ask his aunt and uncle more about the fellow, but like the man himself, they’re long gone. After leaving Dave’s river place last month, I stopped to take a few photos of this hermit’s haven. I could see the chimney deep inside, though I dared not step in lest the whole structure decide that was the best time to tumble. I figured raccoons and perhaps possums make it home these days.

As I strolled around, I saw remains of a smaller fallen structure nearby. Perhaps it was the man’s outhouse or a chicken coop.

The guy never married, as far as Dave knew. Thus, the man fit Webster’s definition of a hermit—a person who lives alone in a lonely or secluded spot. But as I snapped photos, I wondered: Was the man single by choice? Had he been, unknown to Dave, divorced or widowed or spurned by some young love interest and thus never wed? I wondered, too, if the spirit of this man long gone might be wandering the field, watching me at work with my camera. I paused to listen, but my senses sensed nothing but a gentle breeze and the start of a light rain on a dark, gray day.

As I travel Wisconsin’s rural northern roads, I see places like this from time to time—an abandoned cabin; a crumbling barn; a shuttered business. I think about the people who built such places, who poured much or most of their life savings into these dream places, only to later abandon them, apparently without being able to pass them on to interested heirs or sell them to willing new owners.

Eventually, nature will swallow them.

Winter is hurtling toward us. So far north, a layer of snow likely already covers this hermit’s former home off County Z in Marinette County. If so, that bed of snow might not melt until the walleyes start running next spring. That old home won’t last too many more winters, Dave and I agree. It can’t.

One day, it will be gone—like all of us.

Click here to view a gallery of images of the house.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook



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