The Kraitz Cabin
The Kraitz cabin is located on CR-669 about 0.8 miles south of M-22. Look for a little green cottage on your left (east) setting about 100 feet from the road. This is known as the Kraitz cabin. The cabin looked like a 1940s era cottage. When the Park Service took ownership and began to inspect the building, they found a very well preserved hewn-log cabin underneath the clapboard siding!
Kerry Kelly 2007
The cabin was built approximately 1856. It was the first permanent dwelling built on the Francis Kraitz homestead, which is about one mile further south on CR-669. The homestead is on the west side of the road across from the St. Joseph Catholic Church on top of the hill. Because the family story is typical of many early settlers in North Unity, it will be described in some detail.
Francis (Frank) Kraitz, his wife Antonia, and their family arrived in Chicago from Pelhrimov, Bohemia in August, 1855. Shortly before their arrival several German families and a few Czechs formed a society they called “Verein” which is the German word for club or association. The Verein hired a sailboat to take them north in search of land to settle. They selected a site along the shores of Good Harbor Bay across from the Manitou Islands.
A barracks was built about 150 feet by 20 feet and divided into sections to provide temporary housing for families until they could select farm sites and build their own cabins. Some families or individuals built their own temporary shelters near the barracks to get them through the first winter. They were intended to be replaced by permanent structures during the next summer. Joseph Krubner, a boy of 10 years old at the time, later wrote about the construction, “It was great fun watching new homes being built in North Unity. Everybody had his own idea. Some houses were all covered with hemlock branches, leaving small openings for windows. They looked like little bear huts instead of homes for humans. Some places they built the log houses so low it was difficult for a tall man to stand up in one.” (Littell 1965) Some of these houses were built near the barracks and others were built inland on homestead sites.
A typhoid epidemic in Chicago caused the Kraitz family and their friends, the Vaclav Muzil family and the Krubner family to leave quickly for North Unity, which they did in October, 1855. Their ship ran aground off Racine, WI, but fortunately they were picked up two hours later by the Lady Elgin and taken to North Manitou Island. After a few days they were able to take a small boat to North Unity. The Muzils moved into the barracks, but the Kraitzs and Krubners moved near the Krubners’ Uncle Stepanek’s shelter.
Food supplies became low during the winter and the community was near starvation. Frank Kraitz and Vaclav Muzil and a few other men set out for the Manitou Islands across the frozen Lake Michigan to seek food at the nearest settlement. They were able to buy a few bushels of potatoes, which they carried back across the lake on a sled. The trip nearly cost the men their lives because the ice was cracking and breaking apart as they neared shore.
During the late fall and early winter, Frank Kraitz most likely hiked the surrounding land looking for the best location to homestead. Like the others, he sought well-drained, level land free of pines. He probably picked a location that had many tall sugar maples, which was an indication of fertile soil. He picked a spot about three miles from Lake Michigan. Frank Kraitz built this log cabin as the first building on his homestead. A few teams of draft animals were brought to the community in 1856. They were used to move the massive logs to the building sites. The first masses for the St. Joseph parish were held in the Kraitz cabin. The St. Joseph church, which still stands was built across the road from the Kraitz cabin. A general store was also located at the corner of M-22 and CR-669. It was locally known as Shalda Corners and served the community until the early 1970s. A country school (North Unity School) was built of log construction about the same time as this cabin. You can see it on M-22 just west of Narada Lake. The school was also covered with clapboard siding hiding the original log construction.
Kerry Kelly 2007
Like other cabins built in this area during that time, Kraitz built his cabin of logs hewn on two sides 7-8 inches wide and 10-14 inches high. The logs were close fitted so that the top of one rested on the log below it for its full length with only an occasional small gap. The corner notches are dove-tailed like the drawers of finely crafted furniture. The dove-tails were cut with a saw. The cabin was 16 feet by 20 feet and 1.5 stories with a loft that ran the whole length of the cabin. The log walls raise three logs above the floor of the second story. Hewn tie beams of 6 inches by 6 inches are mortised into the log wall and form the floor joists for the second floor. A steep stairway along one wall leads to the second floor. No evidence of a fireplace was found. The cabin was probably heated with a wood stove.
The cabin has four doors, but only two appear to be original. They are each 73 inches high. The other two doors are higher (80 inches) and appear to have been windows that were enlarged and made into doors. The gable ends are constructed of sawn boards. The roof rafters are round cedar posts 4 inches in diameter. There is no ridge pole, and roofing is made of one-inch thick boards with wide spaces and asphalt shingles. There are traces of older wood shingles.
Kerry Kelly 2007
Francis Kraitz was continuing the tradition of his Czech heritage when he built his log cabin. The Czech lands of Bohemia (Kraitz’s home), Moravia, and Moravian Silesia have a long tradition of horizontal log construction. In this area of forested mountains and foothills in Central Europe, log construction had been a common building technique for hundreds of years. The houses were sophisticated multi-room two-story dwellings. Some in use today have lasted over 300 years.
The Kraitz cabin is similar in design to the Shalda Cabin, and the NorthUnitySchool, which is just inside the Port Oneida Rural Historic District near NaradaLake on M-22. They may have been built by the same people.
Kerry Kelly 2007
This cabin is in very good condition because it has been used as a dwelling almost continuously since its construction. Frank Kraitz and his family lived in the cabin on the homestead farm. His son, Wenzel built a wood frame house, but the cabin continued to be used for members of the extended family. For many years it was used for the “grandparents’ house” keeping with Bohemian tradition of having the grandparents live in a separate house on the same property. In 1945 John Kraitz (3rd generation) moved the house to a site beside School Lake and just a few years later, moved it across the road to its current location. Several modifications were made during this move.
Did You Know?
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a popular field trip destination for school groups. Students can learn about geologic formation of the sand dunes, the fauna and flora that make this area home, and the logging and farming history as the area developed. More...