Lake County holds hidden treasure
BALDWIN — Nestled in the trees along the bank of the Pere Marquette River in Baldwin is the museum, The Shrine of the Pines. It is founder Raymond Overholzer's ode to the white pines that were cut down during the era of lumbering companies in Lake County about 100 years ago.
The Shrine of the Pines houses over 200 pieces of art and furniture carved by Overholzer from pine roots and stumps over the course of 30 years, while living and hunting in the woods near Baldwin.
"Overholzer held a very high regard for the natural root formations which he showcased through his creation," museum manager and tour guide Amy Letterman said. "Nature provided the materials and the setting, Overholzer took the materials and created an amazing place."
Everything in the museum is carved from red and white pine and many works include intricate carvings of animals within the creation.
Some of the pieces on display at the museum are; a dining table produced from a 700 pound root that includes over 60 inlays on its surface, a revolving gun rack that holds twelve shotguns and includes a compartment for smaller handguns and ammunition, a game table with drawers for holding cards, and a rocking chair made especially for Overholzer's wife.
Legend tells of a time when Henry Ford offered $50,000 for the dining table and Overholzer turned him down saying he "never made a piece for anybody, it is just a hobby I enjoy doing."
According to museum literature, Overholzer "did not use a single nail or power tool" in creating his pieces.
"There was no electricity, so the work was done using only hand tools," Letterman said. "He would hollow out the pieces and use carved pegs and dowels to allow them to fit together easily."
Overholzer moved to the area with his wife in 1920 and routinely wandered the Manistee National Forest hunting and fishing, and guiding other hunters. He began collecting large roots, partial stumps and naturally fallen trees he found that had been left behind by the lumbering operations.
He began using the pine pieces to mount his taxidermy, but decided the pine pieces were more appealing by themselves and gave up the taxidermy.
According to Mrs. Overholzer's diary, which is available at the museum gift shop, the tours began when Overholzer brought his friends over to see his works.
Eventually, the diary says, Mrs. Overholzer was so busy giving tours of his work, she could not get her own chores done.
Overtime, with the addition of new pieces and increased visitors, their home became too small to accommodate the works, so they decided to build a cabin just for Overholzer's creations.
In 1939, they purchased the 30 acre property along the Pere Marquette River and began construction of the log cabin that now houses the museum.
The cabin is constructed completely of pine logs. The door, also constructed of pine logs, weighs over 300 pounds. A fireplace in the main room includes 70 tons of natural, uncut stones gathered from around the area.
After Overholzer's death in 1962, Mrs. Overholzer she continued to lead tours of the museum and share intricate details about each piece. In her diary you can see pictures of her with many of the pieces.
Upon Mrs. Overholzer's death, the building and property was willed to the Boy's Club of Michigan granting a lifetime ownership of the property and artifacts as long as the shrine was operated for public viewing.
In 1980, the property was put up for sale. The nonprofit organization, Shrine of the Pines, Inc., was formed to take over ownership and management of the museum and grounds.
In addition to the museum, the site includes a one-mile long nature trail along the Pere Marquette River that offers visitors an opportunity to take in the beauty of the Manistee National Forest.
"The nature trail is enhanced with new signage that gives information about plant and wildlife common to the area, and benches for rest stops along the way to allow more visitors to walk, reflect, and relax," board president John Drake said.
"Some of the signs are botanical, and some are fun," added board member Ellen Kerans. "For example, one sign says 'this is an apartment building,' but it is actually a dead tree where you can see the woodpeckers are living in it. I tried to balance the botanical with the fun so the kids would enjoy it."
The museum welcomes tour groups of all ages, including school groups, 4H groups, and senior groups. Senior tours include a trip to Jone's Ice Cream shop and the Lake County Historical Society Museum.
The venue is available for weddings, meetings and other gatherings. A picnic area is available and plans are in the works to add a pavilion to better accommodate outdoor gatherings.
"The pavilion will be built from logs like the museum, with a roof and picnic tables, and will be available for events, meetings, celebrations or reunions," board member Terry Bramer said. "We have raised enough funds through donations to pay for the concrete pad, which will be done in the next couple of weeks, and if we get all the funding in place the structure will be put up next year."
The museum is opened from May through October. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Guided tours are available as well as self-paced audio tours.
"The museum memorializes the historic white pine and the man who saw the beauty in the remnants left by lumbermen and forest fires," Letterman said.
The museum is supported through admission fees and donations.
Admission is $7 for general admission; $5 for seniors 55 and older and veterans; and free for children under five and uniformed military.
For more information, visit theshrineofthepines.com or call (231) 745-7892.