Saturday, January 14, 2012


Marianna and Herb Gibson in the West Harbor Resort living room.
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

If there had been doubts as to the course of action the Gibsons would take following the early November fire that nearly destroyed the entire main lodge, including their living quarters, that doubt didn't show itself to others.  The Gibson family began work immediately.  Some of the Gibson children not on the island returned from afar to a sight that shocked their emotions:  Frank had been visiting Anita and husband Bob in Pennsylvania;  Art later managed to fly home for a short time from Saudi Arabia, where he currently lives with his family while working for an oil company.  

Removal of damaged material began the day after the fire and continued at a steady pace as the Gibsons dedicated themselves to the enormous challenge ahead.  Several large dumpster bins were soon filled with lath, plaster, and charred wood and trashed contents.   Once the tearing-out was completed, just before the holidays, Jim Jorgenson and crew arrived to start reconstruction.  

One consolation in this process, Herb and Marianna noted, is that they've been permitted to rebuild close to "as was" regarding the dimensions of the original structure and room divisions, including keeping intact the main stairway in the front hall.  Hard-wired smoke detectors are a new requirement, and the secondary set of exit stairs will be rebuilt on the building's exterior, Herb noted.  

Jim Jorgenson carried boards up the
stairway (Monday, Jan. 9th) 

Approximately 20 feet of roof on the eastern end had to be replaced, and work had begun on reframing several damaged window openings when I stopped earlier in the week.  By this afternoon Herb and Marianna were pleased to point out new windows that had already been installed, and the start of new wiring, by electrician Tony Young.  Both of these were positive signs of renewal.   Within the next week they anticipate insulation will go in, with drywall to follow.  

Several sections of hardwood flooring on the building's second floor, adjacent to the chimney, had to be replaced with plywood, but much of the original hardwood flooring beneath those areas on the first floor is in good shape.

Slight slopes noticeable in the upstairs floors, caused by settling of the wood frame building over time, are unique wrinkles that give the building character.  They will remain, as will many of the original guest room doors that will be stripped of many coats of paint and rehung.

Herb noted he had refinished one of the guest room floors several years ago, the ones that were burned and have been replaced.  With an older building there are many such memories, time and energy spent in renewing, ongoing repairs now negated by the fire.  

Original hardwood flooring will be refinished.  Roof trusses that
run side-to-side are nearly
30-ft pieces, milled by the company that built this
as a boarding house for workers in the 1870s.

The original dining room tables are good, Marianna commented. 
"I think the oil cloths saved the tops of the tables, and where maybe there's a little charred wood, well, that adds character, too."   

Furniture that had a wood finish and was not upholstered was taken to Sturgeon Bay.
These pieces will be placed in an "ionization chamber," a process where smoke particles are removed.  In the meantime, in addition to construction work, the Gibsons have begun searching for new beds and furniture for the upstairs, looking for the right products - in multiples. 

The community of friends and former guests has supported the Gibsons, surely bolstering their energy levels and faith when the going hasn't been easy.  One who always appeared optimistic about life, Herb showed a twinge of the discomfort they've experienced in recent months.  

"Here I was supposed to become the groundskeeper, the social director, the gardener," Herb said, sweeping his hand toward the building, "But now this..."

Visual progress will be steady as new materials, windows, new lighting and paint bring about a more dramatic transformation.  The Gibsons have set Memorial Weekend as a goal.  Marianna qualified that by saying, "We're not taking reservations just yet, just in case we can't meet that date."  But given the present pace, if not by the end of May, a completion date and reopening of Gibson's West Harbor Resort ought to follow shortly thereafter.
-Dick Purinton

No comments: