Otsego Lake Village was settled in 1872 and incorporated in 1875, located at the Southern tip of Otsego Lake, the village was noted to have been the former county seat situated on Old State Road leading to Mancelona and Elk Rapids.
Prior to the Otsego Lake Village settlement, around the year 1851, David Ward, a young enterprising fellow, gave up his career as surveyor, timber looker, and school teacher to become an early timber baron and began lumbering the vast thousands of acres of pine timber that he had laid claim to. As a part of his discoveries, in 1854, it was said that he had discovered the largest stand of Cork Pine in Michigan.
By 1877, a village had been established, deserted and re-established three times. The names changed from Bradford or Bradford Lake originally, finally to Waters. At that time the Wright-Wells Lumber Co came to town. With the operation of their mills, the construction of a large general store and a hotel, the village with a population of 75 residents, began to grow. The next 10 years showed tremendous growth and Waters became a bustling town. However, once the big timber had been harvested, residents moved North with the mills and by 1890 only one store and post office combination remained.
Henry Stephens, Sr. formerly of St. Helens in Roscommon County moved his operations here in 1891 and once again the village was booming. By 1905 the population rose to over 300, but dwindled to approximately 50 people by 1912.
After the remaining timber was stripped from the area, Henry Stephans1 , Jr. decided to make Waters
his permanent residence in between his worldwide travels. When his father died in 1884, Henry Stephans, Jr. inherited his father?s lumbering fortune which allowed him to build a large two story, frame house on the back of his lot, along with several other out buildings, including a large dairy barn. In 1914, he conceived the concept of a glass bottle fence as a monument to the roaring hard-drinking lumber jacks of the past lumbering era.
Stephans offered local children a penny each for bottles and hired a cement contractor to erect the fence. Work on the fence progressed according to the supply of bottles. In their eagerness to earn money from the project, Waters children robbed their relatives? pantries, dumped contents of canning jars and bottles, and probably emptied the contents of their father?s liquid refreshment cache, according to the number of whiskey and beer bottles used in the fence. Old timers tell of boys who sold bottles to Stephans during the day and would sneak back at night to pilfer the supply, and then resell them to him the following day. Stephans was well liked by everyone and purchased the same bottles over again with a chuckle.
When completed, the fence with a wrought iron gate in the center spanned two city blocks and bordered the main street that eventually became US-27. The shoulder high fence, capped with concrete slabs, was then finished off with letters two feet high that spelled out the owner?s name. HENRY STEPHANS.
Stephans left Waters about 1917 in failing health. Within a short time the village that once covered an area of 40-acres and boasted several streets lined with business places and homes, became deserted once again.
In 1927 Mrs. Edna Schotte, the matriarch of Waters and postmaster from 1930 to 1946, and her late husband, purchased 1,800 acres, including the village. The Schotte?s re-established the post office and when liquor was legalized in 1936, Mrs. Schotte and her husband were the first in the county to receive a tavern license. They built the "Glass Bottle Fence Gardens" tavern. In 1970 this old landmark fell victim to fire. After the old depot was razed, a lumberyard and warehouse did business on the site. Mrs. Schotte said they set up a sawmill on the lake where they salvaged hundreds of deadheads (sunken logs) and made them into lumber.
In the early 1920?s the Heart Lake Club, a group of land speculators, bought the old Stephans dairy barn on the edge of town and converted it into a hotel, lounge and dining room. The enterprise closed during the depression and remained vacant for several years. With the start of the tourist boom in the 1940?s, the hotel was reopened as the "Wassir Hoff" and became known statewide.
With the deterioration of the old bottle fence due to vandalism, and the construction of the expressway that bypassed the town, tourism for the area decreased as evidenced by the old hotel standing empty again for several years until late 1970 when it was again purchased and opened for business.
During reconstruction, the hotel fell victim to suspected wiring problems, and was completely destroyed in a fire in 1972. The loss of the Waters Inn (the old dairy barn), antique organ, and hand-pump fire wagon was also a loss of some of the local history.
In 1935 the old Stephan home, then occupied by Harley Kennedy, was destroyed by fire. Most of the other buildings suffered the same fate over the years.
Today, many resorts exist in the area and once more there are about a dozen business places in the village. Mrs. Schotte donated the site of the old Stephan home and the glass bottle fence to Otsego Lake Township for use as a fire hall and community building with the stipulation that the old bottle fence be restored. Unfortunately the bottle fence fell in to such a state of disrepair, that it was deemed not restorable. However, in order to preserve the history, the Township created the historical display located at the Township Hall.
1 The name Stephens had several spellings. Henry, Sr. used ?Stephens? the original spelling. Old
timers and residents often spelled it ?Stevens?, and Henry, Jr. spelled it ?Stephans?.
2 The name Stephens had several spellings. Henry, Sr. used "Stephens" the original spelling. Old
timers and residents often spelled it "Stevens", and Henry, Jr. spelled it "Stephans".