Heitz, Jennifer
Pipsissewa by Bob and Peggy McKelvey as written, and told to, Jennifer Heitz
Ballard-Irving-White Birch Lakes Assn, Summer 2020 Newsletter, P. 5
Star Lake
Original Date
  • Bookwood Historical Collection, Star Lake

"Pipsissewa" by Bob and Peggy Mckelvey as written to, and told to, Jennifer Heitz

I'm sure you have noticed the "Pipsissewa” sign near a driveway along Highway K. The driveway leads to an historic home on Ballard Lake. One hundred and five years ago, in 1915, Dr. H.C. Moffett and his wife, Ola Olive, purchased land on the south shore of Ballard Lake and built a summer cottage which they named Pipsissewa. They must have really loved the flowering plant because they even recorded the name in a document filed in the Vilas County records with the Register of Deeds in Eagle River. Pipsissewa is thought to be the oldest existing cottage on Ballard Lake.

Subsequent owners of the property, Carl H. & Louise Larson purchased the property in 1941, followed by Dr. Russel T. & Edith Bothe in 1955. In 1978, current owners Bob & Peggy McKelvey purchased the cottage and Bob tells of Dr. Bothe wanting an unwritten agreement to keep the name when they were negotiating the purchase of the property.

Bob and Peggy invited me over last fall and gave me a tour of their beautiful cottage, and we talked about the history of Pipsissewa and of Bob and Peggy coming to Star Lake. When the cottage was first built, there was no running water and no electricity. The original coal oil lamps still hang in the living room of the main house. (Coal oil is extracted from a soft oily coal called cannel coal, different from kerosene.) Over the years, various owners have made additions and improvements and now the property consists of the expanded main house, a detached garage, laundry and work shop, plus a boat house and one room guest cabin at the lake shore which was added after the Moffets. The property has 489 of lake frontage.

Bob's family began coming to Star Lake more than 110 years ago, initially staying at Oliver's Lodge, now North Star Lodge, on Star Lake in 1908, and Bob made his first visit to the area in 1937 as a boy of eight years old. (The resort was closed during the war years and the family began coming up again in 1945.) His family had also vacationed at Lake Gogebic but decided that the lake was too big and too far from their home in Alton, Illinois. While looking for something closer, they settled on Star Lake and took the train to its final stop in the Northwoods.

The Forbes (Bob's stepdad) and McKelvey families built summer homes on Star Lake and now have a four-home compound on Star Lake owned by Bob's two brothers, their wives, nephews and their families. Joe and Harriet Aldous (Mr. Forbes brother-in-law) initially bought property on the north shore of Star Lake from John Oliver, owner of Oliver's Lodge, in 1934, and Bob's stepfather bought some of that property in 1955 where he built a vacation home. Bob's brother Jim built a home on Star Lake as well in the 1950's.

Bob is an Air Force veteran who served in the Korean War. Peggy started coming to the northwoods with Bob in 1955, the year they were married. By the time Bob and Peggy were ready to have their own summer home on Star Lake, then was no longer any lake frontage at the Star Lake family property available so they began a search and were fortunate to find that the Bothes wanted to sell their Ballard Lake property as they were retiring to California. So began their 42 year wonderful years on Ballard, where Bob and Peggy have been visited every summer by their three daughters, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, four generations sharing in the joy of Pipsissewa! Thank you so much, Bob and Peggy, for sharing the wonderful history of your special home!

Pipsisewa (also called prince's pine) is a small woodland perennial, a type of wintergreen plant. It bears small pink flowers in the spring. The word originated in the Cree language, and means "it breaks into small pieces”.