Who built the wall?

Mark Brooky • Jul 21, 2015 at 12:14 PM


The Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Project Administration were both part of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal initiatives during the Great Depression, and both worked on many projects in the Grand Haven area and Ottawa County.

The WPA built several landmarks in Grand Haven in the 1930s, but I couldn't find any connection for them or the CCC to the Lake Avenue wall. In fact, the wall predates the Depression.

City officials said they have no documentation on the retaining wall's origin, but City Project Manager Julie Beaton said it was probably built after 1910, based on reviewing old photographs of Highland Park. Jane Ladley at the Tri-Cities Historical Museum said Lake Avenue was paved in 1910.

Elizabeth Clark, who lives near the west end of the wall, said her grandfather built the wall between 1918 and 1922.

"According to Otley family lore, my grandfather, Thomas Otley, had the wall constructed to enclose his property (a sand dune, now designated a "critical dune"), which extended east from what is now Edwards Avenue to Khardomah Lodge," Clark said. "At the same time, walkways were built on top of the dune. All of the construction was of the same 'rusticated' block."

Clark said her grandfather built his Lake Avenue home, where she now lives, in 1922 on the site of an old summer cottage.

"The property he owned was originally called the Highland Park Camping Club and it was incorporated in 1875," Clark said. "I gave the ledger where the Articles of Incorporation and the minutes of meetings were recorded to the Tri-Cities Historical Museum last year. 

"My grandfather also built the Highland Park Tennis Club courts," she added. "There is a plaque on the wall of the courts acknowledging the gift. Maybe it was selfish — he played tennis all his life, so he had a place to play in Grand Haven."

By the way, WPA laborers built Grand Haven City Hall (1933-34) and the city's old fire barn at 20 N. Fifth St., and Spring Lake Village Hall (1937). Also in 1937, WPA workers erected a new service center for Grand Haven State Park and a new park entrance off Harbor Drive, at the foot of Five Mile Hill.

There was a CCC camp at Mulligan's Hollow from 1939-41. Among other land-preservation work in the area, the corps' recruits planted trees and beach grass throughout Ottawa County to help implement the soil conservation districts plan for erosion control, Dr. Dave Seibold explained in his book, "Grand Haven in the Path of Destiny."

The Lake Avenue wall, meanwhile, is destined to be torn down and rebuilt later this year as part of a $530,000 city project. To read the latest Tribune story on the wall, CLICK HERE.

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