Elk Rapids District Library

History of the Library


Island of Nobility

by Jackie Weber

In 1855 the Noble Family moved from Washtenaw County, Michigan, and settled in Elk Rapids. The Nobles and the Dexters grew up in Dexter, Michigan, and they remained friends throughout their lifetimes.  Wirt Dexter and Henry Noble were the founding fathers of Elk Rapids.

In 1866, Henry Noble and his partner Wirt Dexter purchased the Island from the United States government.

During that year, Edwin Noble (brother of Henry), moved from Dexter, Michigan, to Elk Rapids where he worked as an office manager and manager of the mercantile store.  Later he became partner in the firm of Dexter/Noble and became secretary and treasurer of the organization.

The company was one of the largest in the entire state.  Dexter was President and operated the company's office in Chicago; Henry Noble was Vice-President and in charge of the company's operation in Elk Rapids. With the knowledge Edwin had with figures, he was the real driving force of the Iron Company's success during the first twenty years of the business.

Edwin wanted to build his home on the four-acre island.  The island rose 25 feet above the waters of Lake Michigan and had a beautiful view of Grand Traverse Bay. Most people were against him building on this formidable place. Edwin knew that it was the most ideal place in the village to build a home for his family. He had the island filled in with dirt and an area leveled for his dream home. The island was later named "The Isle of Pines" because of all the trees that he had planted there.

The house was small at first... as Edwin's family grew, so did their needs, resulting in additions. Rooms were added to house the servants who cooked, cleaned and took care of the Noble family. The house was 106' by 44' in size consisting of four bedrooms, parlor, dining room, two bathrooms and four tubs.

In 1892, Edwin was involved in a very mysterious boating incident. The boiler blew up and he was badly burned. The accident left him an invalid for a number of years. Many of the family members suspected foul play.

Around 1898, Edwin began to lose his power with the company. When he was well enough to go back to work, he found his name completely missing as a stockholder in the company. A Detroit law firm advised him that there were enough accounting errors to warrant an investigation. For reasons unknown today, Edwin did not pursue the matter.

Many of Edwin's financial obligations were coming due at that time and with everything that had happened, he found himself without a job with the Dexter/Noble empire. He was forced into semi-liquidation and in 1903 was forced to sell his beautiful island home to the new owners of the Iron Company, a firm from Grand Rapids.

Edwin died in Elk Rapids in 1922. He worked his whole life for his family and the village. Henry died in 1989 and Wirt Dexter died in Chicago 1890.

For a number of years, the Island House was used as a vacation home to accommodate the business associates of the Iron Company. In 1926, it became the property of Dexter's widow, Josephine, and eventually went to their daughter, Katherine. In 1948, Katherine Dexter McCormick deeded the island to the Village of Elk Rapids.

Part of the Island House became the Elk Rapids library in 1949 and today it is filled with over 12,000 volumes.

On April 26, 1979, the Village of Elk Rapids was notified by the Michigan Historical Commission that the "Isle of Pines" had been listed in the State Register of Historic Sites.

In 1992, the library did a renovation of the porch. No matter what happens within the Island House; whether they string fiber optics for the new computer system, move walls and furnishings, or add more book shelves, it will always be the Island House and the Nobles will always remain part of the history of Elk Rapids.