Community campaign launches to restore historic Caretaker’s Cottage

May 19, 2021 | by Wendy K. Leigh

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Groundbreaking ceremony for historic Lakeview Teacher’s Cottage restoration includes participants from Sunnybeam School, Pioneer Park Youth Club, The Children’s Dance Conservatory, Mercer Island Saddle Club, and Mercer Island Pony Club. Photo courtesy GO Photography

Horses and ponies, budding equestrians, dancers and energetic youngsters – lots of them – romp, stomp, and roam a five-acre property adjacent to Mercer Island’s Pioneer Park on a daily basis. Though passers-by may be oblivious to the rich history tucked beneath towering fir trees, organizers of the Care for the Cottage campaign live and breathe it with a passion – one that only intensified after a devastating fire destroyed the interior of the historic teacher’s and caretaker’s cottage in 2018. 

Multiple beloved Mercer Island not-for-profit organizations make their home on the sprawling land that once held the circa-1918 Lakeview Schoolhouse. Pioneer Park Youth Club serves as steward of the property, which it shares with the current-day Sunnybeam School, Mercer Island Saddle Club, Children’s Dance Conservancy, and the newly formed Mercer Island Pony Club. But the beating heart of the youth-infused land is the original 1918 Lakeview Teacher’s Cottage, which later became the Caretaker’s Cottage housing those who tend the property and help care for the programs, horses, barns, buildings, and land. 

1918 Teacher’s Cottage, listed on the National Register of Historic Properties, awaits renovation after devastating fire.

When fire ravaged the small cottage 100 years later, hope and determination sprang almost immediately from the smoldering embers. The cottage, which holds one of only two Mercer Island listings on the National Register of Historic Places, is now buzzing with activity as renovations begin. The organizations have diligently worked to raise about one-third of restoration costs to date and is appealing to the entire island community to help fund the remaining project needs. 

On a drizzly morning in early May, MI Mayor Benson Wong, along with MI Councilman Craig Reynolds and project contractor Gary Redman, shoveled mounds of dirt from bright yellow wheelbarrows to symbolically “break the ground” outside the cottage. Mayor Wong, a longtime island resident of 35 years, voiced strong support for the project. Noting the many changes on the island over the decades, he marveled at a cottage that’s been consistently used as an integral part of island life for 100 years and counting. “This is a great opportunity for the community to preserve a nationally recognized historic building,” he said. 

Project Contractor Gary Redman, MI Mayor Benson Wong, and MI City Councilman Craig Reynolds participate in groundbreaking ceremony for restoration of historic 1918 teacher’s cottage at Mercer Island’s former Lakeview Schoolhouse. Photo courtesy GO Photography

Lisa Thompson, Board President of the Pioneer Park Youth Club, explains that an onsite caretaker has always resided in the original teacher’s cottage, until the fire made it uninhabitable three years ago. The caretakers have provided maintenance to the schoolhouse and barn on the property as well as invaluable 24-hour security. With the vast majority of the services on the grounds involving children and families, it’s a crucial component of providing a safe environment for the Mercer Island community. Previous resident caretakers have included firemen, school bus drivers, and school district employees, all of them working on Mercer Island.

“Currently, approximate 200 families and children rotate through the property every year,” Thompson said. “Students at Sunnybeam Preschool, ballerinas at The Children’s Dance Conservatory and equestrians at the Mercer Island Saddle Club provide laughter, activity and smiles every day, not unlike the first students served in the Lakeview Schoolhouse in 1918.”  

Young equestrians from the MI Saddle Club were on horseback at the groundbreaking event as they are on most days year-round. Sabine, a devoted rider and daughter of the cottage-renovation architect Suzanne Zahr, spends several days a week on the property with her pony, Moon Pie. As a cooperative facility, the boarders and Saddle Club members take responsibility for the horses’ care and feeding, cleaning the stables, and maintaining the horses’ environment in general. It’s a hands-on experience in all facets of the equestrian lifestyle, from animal care to riding lessons, clinics, shows, and pleasure riding. 

Rider Sabine of Mercer Island Saddle Club bonds with equine buddy Moon Pie at the Cottage Restoration Groundbreaking Ceremony. The club spearheads fundraising with its “Carrots for Cottage” project.

The Saddle Club offers a unique experience for those who donate to Care for the Cottage at its Carrots for Cottage level. Those who contribute in the range of $100 to $450 are invited to visit the private MI Saddle Club barn and feed carrots to resident horses (by appointment and with masks for safety, of course.) Various gift levels offer special recognition and opportunities, with information and a tax-deductible donation link available online at Reach out via email at [email protected]. All donations go directly to carrying the cottage legacy into the next century for Mercer Island children, families and generations to come. 

Update: With the support of the Pioneer Park Youth Club, Sunnybeam School, Children’s Dance Conservancy, Mercer Island Saddle Club, Mercer Island Pony Club, and numerous community supporters and donors, the caretaker’s cottage renovation was completed in 2022.

After/before photos