Rough Building: Our Country Cabin

For years two brothers dreamed of building a country cabin, and finally did on an island in Lake Bonaparte, New York.

| April/May 1994

Round Island is a 20-acre range of miniature mountains, giant boulders, old aspens, birch, maturing pines, and one ancient oak in the western portion of Lake Bonaparte, New York. That elder statesman of an oak was the only one of its kind to endure the fire that a hundred years ago burned even the topsoil right off the ridge-backs at that end of the lake. The island is so irregular and divided by so many ridges and draws that on foot it takes a half day to circle the shore, especially if you are a nester and stop to dream at the many possible harbors. This story is how I, with generous help from my family and friends, managed to build a country cabin there for summer residency. I have every reason to hope it will be filled with generations of adventurers who love the lake as I do.

Another Exiled Bonaparte

Having escaped the failure of his family fortunes in Europe, Joseph Bonaparte bought the lake now called Lake Bonaparte to be the center of his own nation-state. With Round Island as its capital, he built big, he built with wood, and it all burned down. Not much was recorded much about it, except that it served briefly as an imported civilization with a railroad driveway 20 miles long, bringing courtly clothing, gondolas, and musicians for lavish parties.

Since gondolas are meant to be poled, I imagine that more than one must have been blown past pole depth into deep water and is preserved at the bottom of the lake, or else was paddled home with a lute. Joseph's dream was not designed for a land of deep water, snow, and flies.

The Island Has a New Family

In the sixties, a few years out of school, my brother Herb did a title search on the property and discovered that it had been separated from the mainland by a dam that had raised the Bonaparte water level back in Joseph's day. The original land survey had described no island, so it had been unowned through much of its history. Somehow, it had come to belong to people in California who had never seen it. So, along with a few partners, Herb bought Round Island in 1969.

The lot lines and numbers for each partner were painted on the shoreline rocks, but thankfully, that was all that was done to it through the sixties and seventies. During those years my brother and I exchanged many letters about building something on Round Island. But in the seventies the power company wanted $20,000 to bring electricity to the island. Our designs on the property suddenly took a nosedive down the grandeur scale.

In 1987 Herb's wife died. In memory of their old dreams he had me build a gazebo on the point of Round Island that faces across to Loon Island. A few seasons after I built the gazebo, we decided to design a summer cabin 30 yards or so inshore from the gazebo. We would keep it simple and primitive, with no power lines from the utility company and made of local rough-sawed lumber.

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