Wilkinson family cabin purchased by great-aunts in 1912
The big party at Juniper Ridge on July 21 won’t be a potluck.
Margie and Pete Wilkinson, and Margie’s brothers Bill and Dick Geib, are celebrating 100 years at 7341 North Shore Trail on Forest Lake.
“It’s a thank you,” Margie said. “The purpose of our 100th anniversary celebration is to honor and thank the people who made it possible for us to be here, and to return year after year.”
Over the years, she said, people lent them stuff, neighbors served as handymen, and grocers accepted their personal checks from California. All these people have been invited to the celebration next Saturday.
Four generations have owned the 12-acre property on the north shore of Forest Lake, yet no family member has ever lived there year-round.
The cabin was built in the 1870s and purchased in 1912 by two sisters, Bridget and Margaret Phelan. They were Margie Wilkinson’s great-aunts.
Bridget and Margaret were single, but their three other sisters were married. “The beginning of our family story in Forest Lake,” Margie Wilkinson said, “is the story of the generosity of unmarried sisters who bought the place so their nieces and nephews could come out and play.”
“Great-Aunt Bridget was quite something,” Margie said. The family was living near Dubuque, Iowa, when the young parents of the five girls died. Bridget raised the family and ran the house, she explained.
Bridget became the principal of the Longfellow private school in the Summit Avenue area. She went to summer school at Harvard. With her sister Margaret, she traveled to Russia.
Margaret and Bridget are both buried in St. Paul across the driveway from Archbishop John Ireland, a major figure in St. Paul history.
The family story during the next 100 years is rich with higher education and career success, with plenty of lawyers and several people named Dick or Margaret. It’s a fascinating story (worth keeping track of the names).
One of the five sisters, Alice Phelan, was Margie’s grandmother. Alice married Denis Sullivan from County Kerry, Ireland, who came to this country at age 16.
Denis and Alice Sullivan had three children: son Richard in 1901, daughter Alice in 1904, and daughter Margaret in 1905. Of the three, only Margaret married. Margaret was Margie’s mother.
“So our family owns the property because that uncle and aunt never married,” she explained.
Margie said her mother visited the Forest Lake summer home as a child when her family lived in Chicago. When she was 14, her mother’s family moved to St. Paul.
Margie’s mother and father attended Central High School in St. Paul. Her mother was a University of Minnesota graduate. Her father, Philip Geib, got an undergraduate degree in law (there was no UM law school at the time).
While looking for a job after the war in Europe, Margie said, her father saw “all the lawyers are poor,” so he went into banking, working at First National Bank in St. Paul.
She remembers her father, whose ancestry was half Irish and half German, calling the Irish “all sail and no rudder.”
The four Geib children were Philip Jr., Dick, Bill, and Margie. The family lived in Philadelphia, then moved to California in 1959.
When Margie and her siblings came to the summer house on Forest Lake, she said, it was a retreat: a center of healing, rest, and fun.
Visitors made things more formal–the kids had to dress up–so her mother preferred to have no phone, she said. There was also no TV, unless someone borrowed one for important news. The kids learned to play bridge.
When Margie was a girl, her mother’s brother, Dick Sullivan, expanded the property. To protect the value of their lake properties, Sullivan and next-door neighbor Bill Anderson (Anderson Hall at the University of Minnesota is named for him) bought land across North Shore Trail.
So now the house has not only 550 feet of lakefront, with woods on both sides, but also the woods across the road.
Margie said Dick Sullivan was a lawyer who clerked for Pierce Butler, U.S. Supreme Court Justice from Minnesota. Sullivan was a friend of Arthur Fleming, Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in the Eisenhower administration and president of Macalester College.
Uncle Dick, who eventually settled in Manhattan, was an important influence in Margie’s childhood.
She now realizes, she said, that “When we had evening prayer, Uncle Dick was teaching us how to speak.” Visiting Calvary Cemetery in St. Paul was an opportunity for him and his sisters to teach family history.
Uncle Dick also brought back from Manhattan a game for them to play: The Murder Game. “You found out your part four or five hours earlier,” Margie said. “The trial was in the living room. Bill Anderson was always the judge. Only the murderers could lie on the stand.”
When Sullivan died in 1970, the family was invited to dinner at the Macalester College president’s house.
When they grew up, Margie’s brothers became a doctor (Philip), a lawyer (Dick), and a priest (Bill). Margie got a BA in history from Stanford in 1966 and an MA in theology from Notre Dame in 1967.
“My four years in college were same time as the Vatican II Council,” she said: “Antediluvian times for lay ministry in the Roman Catholic Church.” She found a job as instructor in theology at a Catholic women’s college in Washington, D.C.
A later job was program director at the Newman Center, the Roman Catholic Community at the University of Minnesota. There she scheduled courses, taught seminars, planned retreats, and wrote liturgy.
Margie eventually studied law at Berkeley. She is now a retired attorney.
Her husband Pete studied law at Stanford, then spent most of his career in the California Attorney General’s Office. From 1971 to 2001 Pete was an appellate prosecutor in the criminal section.
Pete and Margie live in Piedmont, California.
Cabin and Cottages
A hunting cabin by the lake when it was built in the 1870s, the original structure had two rooms on the second story and no basement.
Before the Phelan sisters bought the lake property in 1912, the previous owner was a doctor from Iowa, Leopold Metzger. The doctor’s wife had a doll collection in the wood-paneled room of a building on the west side, so that building was called the doll house. Porches were built around it, and it had an outhouse.
Also on the west was the barn for the horses. Located near the present garage, the barn had its own well and outhouse. Margie said they fetched barn water for drinking because it tasted better than water from the house well.
Two buildings east of the house also had outhouses. One, the gazebo, was a tea house, open to the public. “We have a guest book from the 1920s,” Margie said. When it was moved to the ridge, the tea house was closed and the gazebo became a rental cottage.
The boathouse was also moved to the ridge, and sleeping areas were added.
While the family spent summers in the house, the cottages were rented to other families. The family referred to the cottages as “the Lee house” and “the Sundberg house,” she recalls.
The cottages were torn down when the community sewer went in.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Margie remembers, the main house had a kitchen, an indoor bathroom, two bedrooms, two rooms upstairs, a porch by the front door and one facing the lake.
There was no tub. “We took our baths in the lake,” she said. The house was not winterized.
In 1983 renovation began. Margie said she met the contractor, Rick Reuter of Minneapolis, when he was a graduate student in German at the University of Minnesota.
The original cabin was preserved and became the living room. When they oiled the wood, Margie said, “it just shone.”
Rooms that had been added on to the cabin were torn off and new rooms put in their place.
The old porch on the south, facing the lake, had a raised roof. The new south porch got a flat roof so the upstairs window above it could be replaced with French doors opening to a deck. Two bedrooms are upstairs.
The new porch on the west, a large room with views of the lake and woods, has a dramatic high ceiling for a spacious lodge feel. A dining room table in the center makes a good place to gather.
To match the high ceiling of the west porch, the new master bedroom also has a vaulted ceiling.
The original cabin, now the living room, was raised and a laundry room was added underneath.
In addition to local friends, people who rented the cottages in past years are invited to attend Saturday.
The Wilkinson’s two sons, David and John, will be there, playing soccer on the lawn.
Their daughter, who’s expecting her second child, can’t make it, so she came earlier this summer with her first child.
Now here’s the tricky part: Margie’s daughter is also named Margaret. And her granddaughter!
That makes for five Margarets in five generations: Great-Aunt Margaret, Peggy (Great-Aunt Margaret’s niece and the mother of Margie), current owner Margie, Margie’s daughter Meg, and Meg’s daughter Daisy.
And like Margie’s uncle Dick, Margie’s brother Dick, Margie’s husband Pete and Margie herself, Meg is also a lawyer: Stanford undergrad, Berkeley law school, works for downtown law firm in San Francisco.
Other relatives expected to attend are the Kerwin and Donohue families. A relative who owns a restaurant, Justin Grecco, will cater the event.
Former renters invited to the festivities include the Larsons, who now live on 235th. The families of neighborly handyman Keith Mielke and friendly grocers Ray Houle and Tom Ersfeld are also invited.
Minneapolis contractor Rick Reuter, Margie’s friend from her University of Minnesota days who handled the renovation, is coming.
After the celebration on Saturday, a smaller family gathering on Sunday will include mass on the front yard, with the family planning the liturgy and picking the readings.