INFLUENCES ON ARCHITECTURAL CHARACTER
LANDSCAPE AND ECOLOGICAL
Long ago, the Lakes Province may have been
dominated by mountains with peaks as high as
the Rockies; however, millennia of glaciers altered
this landscape. Each advance and
retreat of the glaciers carved the
land like a sculpture. When the
Wisconsin glacier retreated about
9,000 years ago, it left behind
rolling lands full of glacial till and
dotted with lakes.
The Lakes landscape can be divided
into two distinct ecological zones:
The northern and eastern parts of
the Lakes Province drift into the
Allegheny Mountains and Maine of
the Northeast Province. This is a
glacially carved landscape with long,
cold winters that has average winter
temperatures below freezing and only
100 to 140 frost-free days annually.
Landforms are level to rolling. Vegetation
ranges from broadleaf deciduous forests to
conifers (which grow well in the region’s acid soils)
to mixed forests. The summer landscape is lushly
green. Fall brings brilliant colors. The long winters
are white and brown. Little rock is exposed except
In the western and southern parts of the Lakes
Province, the Great Plains begin rolling west to
the Rockies. Within these open grasslands there
is not enough precipitation to grow many trees
and there is virtually no exposed rock. The climate
is harsh, with hot summers and long, cold winters.
“Forest Service architecture had an intimate
relationship with the landscape and was
sympathetic to the natural environment.…The
Forest Service’s philosophy of nonintrusiveness
called for the use of native and natural materials.”
—Kathryn Bishop Eckert, Buildings of Michigan
Native peoples arrived more than 12,000 years
ago and found a landscape dominated by glaciers.
Before the arrival of white settlers, native peoples
built dome-shaped wigwams by stretching bark
over curved poles. Other building types included
communal long houses (built by the Hurons),
sweat lodges, and earthworks (which may have
been either forts or ceremonial places). Only
remnants of the building heritage of Native
Americans remain in this province.
Waterborne commerce brought the first influences
of European design into the province. French and
British trappers and traders, who used the
province’s rivers and lakes like highways, built
fortified compounds for trading posts, military
commands, and religious missions. These
compounds were typically square complexes of
log construction protected by tall log fences or
stone ramparts. In 1817, the American Fur
Company built an agency house on Mackinac
Island in the elegant Federal style, foreshadowing
the accelerated use of East Coast architecture
in coming decades.
The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 introduced
European settlement in the form of frontier farms
and villages. The new pioneers initially built log
cabins but soon replaced them with fashionable
East Coast structures in such styles as the
Greek Revival and the Gothic Revival. They also
employed such New York and New England building
methods as coursed cobblestone and wood.
In 1833, the invention of the balloon-frame house
in Chicago introduced mass-production techniques
to the construction of houses. Railroads fostered
the shipment of prefabricated building parts
(such as elaborately ornamental cast-iron building
façades) to frontier towns across the Nation.
The log cabin was another major influence that
originated with early Scandinavian settlers in
Delaware. A staple of the Appalachian frontier,
the log cabin was reintroduced by Scandinavian
settlers in the upper Great Lakes in the 19th
century. Early versions used logs in their natural
state as they were cleared from the land. Later
versions were more sophisticated, with hewn logs
and more permanent chinking.
The abundance of wood (especially in the huge
stands of pine forests) and lakes also influenced
design. Ornate wooden houses filled the towns
where lumber was plentiful.
Later in the century, the Arts and Crafts
movement emphasized handcrafted buildings
and custom-designed details and decorations
as an antidote to standardized design. A
regional variation, the Adirondack style, created
elaborately crafted “rustic” log-and-stone
vacation homes for the wealthy. In the Lakes
Province, rustic design for hotels, resorts, and
getaway cabins peaked between 1890 and 1910.
Rustic design for public recreational structures
peaked during the 1930’s height of the CCC.
The Park Lodge in St. Croix State Park, Pine
County, Minnesota, is an example of the rustic
style in the Lakes Province.