Family Histories

Doezema Cottage at 90

by Bob Swierenga, July 2020


The Doezema cottage on Fishers Lake [1] near Three Rivers, Michigan, has been in the family for ninety years. Rev. Frank and wife Celia Top Doezema purchased the one-room cottage with a screened-in porch in September 1929, as a vacation retreat, while serving the First Christian Reformed Church of Roseland (1914-44). The cottage was named Shelter Well, although wags in the family dubbed it "Swelter Well" because of the stifling summer heat.

How and why Grandpa Doezema found this cottage is unknown. Perhaps he saw this 1917 advertisement, or one similar later, in a Chicago newspaper, which John Witvliet found online.


1917 ad in Chicago for Fisher's Lake, Three Rivers, Michigan


According to the deed records, preserved by son-in-law and attorney Freeman Visser, a warranty deed, dated September 14, 1929, shows that Frank and Celia Doezema purchased the cottage in two separate transactions a decade apart, both from the estate of Charles L. Seekel, by administrator and son Stanley R. and wife Helen Seekel, and daughter Lottie Seekel, the only heirs of Charles Seekel, deceased. In the second deed, dated September 21, 1939, the two heirs, Stanley and Lottie Seekel gave the Doezemas a quit claim deed for a contiguous triangular property. Why this was a quit claim, instead of a warranty deed, is unclear. Purchase prices are not stated on either deed, only the usual phrase—“one dollar and other good and valuable considerations.”

The legal description of the triangular properties is very complicated and would require surveyors’ equipment to chart. Attached is a plat of the properties, which helps show the lay of the land (see below). The two triangular parcels (in yellow) are the Doezema cottage, and the two parcels (in red) are Jim and Cele’s cottage. Note that the Doezemas had no lake frontage, but the DeBoers did. Hence their property taxes were considerably higher.

Given that the two triangles cut the Doezema property in half, the warranty deed and quit claim deed must have covered the same property, since the cottage sits astride both. The quit claim deed must have cleared up a “cloud” on the original title.

All this property lies in the west fractional part of the southeast fractional quarter of Section 34 of Township 5 South, and Range 11 West in St. Joseph County. The two deeds ae recorded in the St. Joseph Courthouse deed registers, respectively, in Book 264, page 109 (date filed, December 11, 1930), and Book 248, page 66 (date filed, July 18, 1940).

An undedicated road runs along the east side of the Doezema property, which turns to the right below the hill. This was to allow access to cottages on the low ground near the lake, which were razed over the years. This road remains by historic usage open for common use, if I recall correctly what Freeman said years ago.

When I came on the scene in 1957, one cottage still stood under the big tree below either the Rowe or Hudson cottage, which was owned by Thelma ??, Her son was a volunteer fireman. She built a new cottage on the Little Lake two or three houses east of Lane De Vries, where her son still lives. There was also an octagonal cottage on the water below Jim and Cele’s cottage that they had razed one summer, which we witnessed (see below).

For many decades the Doezema cottage stood on a dirt road with no street address. More recently, under government regulations, the cottage was assigned the address of 19604 Lakeshore Drive (formerly Seekel’s Drive or Lover’s Lane), but it has no mailbox, although there was one briefly in the 1950s.

The cottage is one of the few original structures never winterized. The exterior and interior ceiling and walls are constructed of cedar slats. Windows are plentiful to let in sunlight by day and cooling breezes by night. The building rests on concrete blocks over a three-foot crawl space. It is served by a deep well that yields refreshing cool water. The original well, a hand pump model, stood outside the back door. A two-hole outhouse behind the garage served for several decades. The garage was just large enough for a flivver. It now serves as a storage shed.

Doezema was born in Grand Rapids and had four brothers and a sister in the Furniture City.[2] The cottage was well-located for at least two reasons—his congregants in Roseland could never find the place, but his brothers and wives could come for a visit, by driving their Ford or Chevy flivvers south seventy miles on Division Street (original M-131). The road surface alternated between concrete and gravel and passed through Dorr, Wayland, Gun Plains, Kalamazoo, and Schoolcraft to Three Rivers, where they took state route M-60 heading southeast about four miles to another dirt road (now South Fisher Lake Road) leading to the cottage. They could also reach the cottage from the west via South Fishers Lake Road to Seekel’s Road.

At the northwest corner of South Fishers Lake Road and M-60 stood a gas station where the Doezema families and other vacationers stopped for ice for their iceboxes. An alternate source of ice was the Shell station at the northwest corner of the highway and North Fishers Lake Road, which Chicago brothers, James and George Smith, purchased in 1948. The two-pump station sold gasolines, ice-cold pop, and candy bars, along with various auto parts like fan belts and gaskets. Today it is a modern Shell Station with a wide variety of goods for sale.

Grandpa and Grandma Doezema took their vacation first in mid to late June, followed by their six daughters and young families, who paired off for two weeks each in July and August. Oldest daughter Pearl and husband John Zwart, along with Agnes and husband Gerald Wesselius, usually came first in July, followed by Annette and husband Theodore “Ted” Boomker and Bertha and husband Lester Larson. Finally came Bernice and husband Frank Boersema and youngest daughter Charlotte and husband Peter Boelens. After the Larsons purchased their own cottage on Lake Paw Paw in the 1940s, the Boomkers and Boersemas teamed up, leaving Charlotte, the youngest daughter, to host her aging parents.

Sleeping was tight. One couple slept on a pull-out couch on the porch and the other inside. The interior had two bedrooms, one separated by three-quarter-high wood walls and the other by a curtain. Privacy was not to be had at the “cottie,” the name of everyone’s favorite summer vacation home.

Sisters Annette and Bernice purchased the first brand new item for the cottage, the lamp that hangs today on the wall in the kitchen. It is an heirloom.

For many years, Peter and Charlotte Doezema took care of maintenance on the treasured cottage and handled summer rental schedules. They did this faithfully until Peter passed away and then Freeman and Shirley Visser took over that responsibility.

The brothers-in-law modernized the cottage in the 1940s. Grandpa Doezema, with the help of son-in-law Peter Boelens and neighbor Mr. Brink, owner of the cottage next door later acquired by Jim and Cele DeBoer, added a kitchen in back and a bathroom with indoor toilet (but no shower—the lake was adequate for bathing) on the inside southeast corner where the kitchen stood. The many windows that line three walls of the kitchen were given by the Boelens, after Charlotte had mis-measured them for their Lansing home.

A large wood stove, later converted to natural gas, stood next to the kitchen on the east side of the room. By then the Rural Electrical Administration (REA), a New Deal agency, had strung electric wires to service Fisher Lake cottages, and son-in-law Ted Boomker, an electrical engineer, wired the cottage for lights and ceiling fans. A well-driller sank a deep well on the east side near the bathroom to replace the original well, with the electric motor housed in a pump house. The motor was so noisy that it was not flushed during the night, so as not to awaken sleepers. More recently, the well was deepened and the motor was placed at the bottom, ending the ban on night-time flushing.

The featured watercraft was a large wooden sailboat, named Celia Y, which sailors in the family for many years sped across the lake on windy days. Celia Yvonne was the oldest daughter of Gerald and Agnes Doezema Wesselius, who tragically died at age four of an infection in the sac around the heart. Celia, named in the Dutch way after the mother’s mother, was the first grandchild to die, and the entire family mourned her passing. The Celia Y. finally rotted away.


Seekel's Landing


The Doezema cottage was one of a half dozen constructed after the resort, called Seekel’s Landing was developed beginning in 1907. The property was part of the William and L. Seekel farm, a forty-acre parcel fronting the lake’s west shore that was purchased in 1889 from the John Boudeman, the original homesteaders in 1837, the year of Michigan statehood. Fishers Lake marked the southwest corner of the Potawatamie Nottawaseppi Reservation until 1827, when the tribe was forced to deed its land to the federal government for white settlement. Fishers Lake covers much of section 34 of St. Joseph County.

The Sekeels gave their name to the southwest side of the lake; the entrance road bears their name to this day. Son James Seekel (1849-1914) and wife Sarah, who next owned the farm, developed Seekel’s Landing and Resort in the cove on the lake’s south side. James died in 1914 and son Charles and wife Lucy Seekel became the owners. Grandpa Doezema purchased the cottage from Charles and Lucy in 1929. [Confirm by finding the sale deed in the St. Joseph County courthouse in Centerville]

The resort originally included two rows of cottages, one row at the edge of the lake and the second atop the hill a hundred feet up from the lake, which included a six-bedroom resort hotel that was rented by the week. The entire front of the hotel featured a screened-in porch, with a social hall behind. The cottages were individually named Maple Cottage, Lake Cottage, Yellow or Pleasant View Cottage, and Green or Honeymoon Cottage, etc. The Octagon House, named for its unique shape, stood directly on the beach, with part extending over the water on stilts. For a time, it also served as a cottagers’ store accessible by row boat.

The Seekel family sold and leased lots and rented at least four cottages to vacationers from the 1910s, often Chicagoans who responded to Fishers Lake resort advertisements in Chicago newspapers. When the resort closed in the 1930s, a victim of the Great Depression, the hotel was divided in 1934 into three separate cottages spaced a few yards apart, which remain today. Charles, a Three Rivers jeweler, and wife Lillian Rowe purchased 19630 Lakeshore Dr. (owned for many years by daughter Suzanne Rowe and husband Bruce Schmidt); a Bowers family bought 11936 Lakeshore Dr. (owned for many years by Hugh and Deb Hudson), and the Rixes family purchased 19616 Lakeshore Dr. (later acquired by William Monroe, a local manufacturer). The Monroe family eventually purchased two cottages immediately to the west, the last from the Percy Robinson family. The middle Monroe cottage was torn down in the mid-1970s. The current Goff house is on the east end of the former Seekel Resort property.[3]

The original Seekel farmhouse, a classic clapboard structure with walls eight inches thick erected by Boudeman, stood among trees up from the lake. Joseph Teroni, a Three Rivers dentist, and wife Mary Ann, bought the farmhouse and acreage in the 1970s, and rented the house to a large family of “hillbillies.” Doezema family members recall the sight and smell of raw sewage running across the road from the non-functioning septic tank. After the last renters left in the 1970s, and vandals had had their fun in the abandoned house, the Teronis tore down the dilapidated house, which was well over one hundred years old, and built a modern home closer to the road, where they lived in retirement until selling in 2019 to a Chicago couple.

The “hot spot” on the lake from the early 1900s was Thompson’s Resort, on the northeast side along North Fisher Lake Road. The resort featured a sandy beach and swimming hole, a huge raft, a high water slide, and “The Grove,” a wooded area with picnic tables. Canoes and fishing boats were available for rent. Nearby was a row of rental cottages, named “City of Rest.” The hey-day of Thompson’s Resort in the 1940s and 1950s attracted day visitors from miles around. Using the changing room cost 10 cents, so most folks wore the swim suits or changed in their cars.

Grandchildren at the Doezema cottage

From the 1950s, married grandchildren took turns vacationing at the Doezema cottage for two weeks at a time. Peter and Charlotte Doezema took care of maintenance on the cottage and handled the summer rental schedules. Later, Shirley Boersma Visser kept the books and husband Freeman Visser kept the cottage in tip top shape. The couple’s passing in 2015 left cottage management in jeopardy, especially since the six Doezema daughters had inherited one-sixth shares, reduced to one-fifth share when Bertha Doezema Larsen sold her shares to her siblings. As each daughter died, her shares were divided equally among living grandchildren, leaving each with fractional shares—one-tenth (with two heirs), one-fifteenth (with three heirs), and one-twentieth (with four heirs). Not all the grandchildren rented the cottage, since a half dozen had purchased their own cottages on Fishers Lake (see below), and those that did not were reluctant to pay for repairs, and especially for improvements. Managing the financial affairs became too complicated. Fortunately, Carl and Lynette (Lyn) Visser (Carl is a son of Freeman and Shirley Visser) purchased the shares of the relatives at fair market price. Carl and Lyn at the same time purchased the adjoining Celia DeBoer cottage and seventy feet of lake frontage, which included the old Octagon cottage that the DeBoers had purchased and razed. The last few years, only three Doezema relatives have rented the Visser cottage—Robert and Dianne Swierenga, Peter and Emily Redder, and Ted and Ruth Boomker.

Charlotte Doezema Boelens cottage

Only one of Frank and Celia Doezema’s six daughters purchased a cottage on Fisher Lake. This was youngest daughter Charlotte and husband Peter Boelens. Several years before Dr. Boelens retired from his dental practice in Lansing, IL in 1973, he and Charlotte bought an old cottage as a tear-down, located on Lakeshore Drive a short distance north of the original Doezema cottage. They had a commodious vacation home erected on the site, where they eventually lived out their days. Peter died in 1996 and Charlotte in 2010, having reached her 102nd year. The cottage is now owned by two grandchildren, David and his sister Charlotte Van Oyen (Mrs. John) Witvliet.

Grandchildren’s cottages

Grandchildren who came to the lake as children could not resist buying cottages as adults with children of their own, to enjoy vacations at Fisher Lake. Celane “Lane” Zwart (1925- ) and husband Fred De Vries (1911-1997) were the first to buy a cottage in the early 1960s. It was located on Lakeshore Road fronting “Little Fishers Lake.” Property values were somewhat less on “Little Lake,” as it was called, because the lake was shallow and accessible by boat via a very shallow channel from the main lake. Little Lake drained into the Portage River amid lily pads galore, which provided the best fishing on the lake. The Portage, St. Joseph, and Rock Rivers converge at Three Rivers, which gave the city its name. Laney De Vries sold the cottage ten years or so after Fred’s passing, when the burden of upkeep became too much. Fred and Laney shared their cottage every summer with her brother Melvin Zwart and wife Cornelia (Corry) Bloemendal and family.

James “Jim” C. DeBoer, and wife Celia Boomker of Tinley Park, IL, the oldest daughter of Ted and Annette, in 1965 purchased from the Brink family the Maple Cottage on Lakeshore Drive in the former Seekel’s Resort. It stood immediately north of the Doezema cottage. The non-winterized cottage had a cozy screened in back porch and a finished upstairs full of beds for their five children. The parent’s bedroom was on the main floor, along with a kitchen and front room that had a TV. On July 20, 1969, the DeBoer and Swierenga families watched Neil Armstrong descend the steps of the Eagle landing module onto the surface of the moon. It was an unforgettable moment, when he declared “One small step for man, one giant step for mankind.” In 2007, some years after Jim’s death, Celia DeBoer sold her lake property to Carl and Lyn Visser.

Pearl Doezema Zwart’s youngest daughter Frances and husband Wayne Terpstra from Roseland purchased an A-frame home on North Fisher Lake Road in the 1970s, and after Wayne retired, the family moved there permanently. Francis died in 2017, and Wayne and son Wayne Jr. continue to live there.

In the 1980s Barbara Boersema and husband Gary (Gerrit) Eilander of South Holland, Illinois, purchased a cottage on the east side of South Bay, with easy access off M-60 on Crescent Beach Road. Son Everett maintains and uses the cottage after Barb’s death and Gary’s incapacity.

Charlotte’s only son, Peter Boelens of Vicksburg, Mississippi, a retired medical doctor and founder of the Luke Society, an international medical mission, and wife Eleanor Vander Vliet, purchased a cottage on the west side of South Bay on Lakeshore Drive in 1999. After Peter’s death in 2017, Eleanor continued to spend summers at the cottage until she sold the cozy two-level cottage in July 2020.

Every descendant has enjoyed the Doezema “cottie” and have their own stories to tell of wonderful summer weeks at Shelter Well. All are invited to add memories to this history.



This history is based on issues of Fishers Lake Magazine, 2004-2009, the author’s recollections, having vacationed at the Doezema cottage every year but one since 1957, and family members Ron and Fran Redder, Ted and Ruth Boomker, Carl and Lyn Visser, Cele DeBoer, and Eleanor Boelens. Swierenga was married for 58 years to Joan Boomker, middle daughter of Theodore S. and Annette Doezema Boomker.




[1] Fishers Lake, without the apostrophe, is the original and correct name of the lake, although it is often called Fisher Lake.

[2] See Frank Doezema Family History, written by Robert P. Swierenga (swierenga.com).

[3] Suzanne Rowe Schmidt, “Three from One?” Fishers Lake Magazine, Summer/Fall 2004. 


Doezema Cottage Plat



Doezema Cottage Deeds, page 1



Doezema Cottage Deeds, page 2



Doezema Cottage Deeds, page 3



Doezema Cottage Deeds, page 4