A Very Modest Cottage makes its public debut

By Marla Blair / Star-Gazette editor:

When a little run-down building was moved 245 miles from Beardstown, Illinois, to Elkhorn, Wisconsin, to become part of a summer camp, it was the beginning of yet another chapter in the long life of the tiny structure. But this time, with this owner, it has been given a place of distinction—restored with love, filled with treasures and given a history by people who were happy to share their memories. The building’s journey from roadside cabin to a well-appointed piece of history is told in a new book that starts as a chronicle of the journey; takes the reader through stages of restoration; and offers a personal side to taking a project to heart and pulling others along for the ride.

Historic facts, restoration tidbits, a large assortment of pictures and the author’s personal thoughts are included in, A Very Modest Cottage, a Country Living book produced by Hearst Books/ Sterling Publishing, and written by Beardstown native Tereasa Surratt. The book was released in early April and the first book- signing event was held April 10 at a Barnes and Noble Booksellers in Chicago. It is not just a book about a little building, but the story of many things that came together to breathe life back into her childhood memory.

The little (12 X 12 ft.) one-room building was originally built as a tourist cabin in the 1920s–one of a foursome located on old Route 125, on the edge of Beardstown. In Surratt’s book, she writes about cabin camps, and how they morphed into motor hotels, i.e., “motels”, a step up from camping and affordable over-night stays for the average family as they traveled across the country. When a new highway moved traffic away from the old route, the cabins were no longer filled with visitors; they fell into disrepair and were eventually forgotten. Tereasa’s cabin was used for many things as the years went by, and finally served as a yard office for A.C. Jones Construction. And then it went dark.

Tereasa Surratt called this office two years ago and asked if I could get the word out that she was in need of information on the cabins. An article about the project to restore the cabin brought multiple responses. Several local individuals agreed to meet with her, to share pictures, stories and personal accounts of the way things were “back then”. Local contributors included Squire Tyson, Milt Lamaster, Milt McClure, Sr., and George Buck. She visited the Cass County Historical Society, Cass County Abstract Company, Old Lincoln Courthouse and Museum, and the Cass County Clerk’s office, to obtain pieces of the puzzle. She credits her family, and especially her brother Sam, for initially humoring her, but quickly supporting her desire to move the cabin to Wisconsin, restore it to its former self, and to retrace its history.

Tereasa Surratt is Creative Director for the advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather, and has directed advertising campaigns for well- known brands such as Dove, Sears, Suave and Miller. Her interior design projects have been featured in national magazines.

Now, the New York Times has toured Tereasa and her husband David’s summer camp as it is being restored in Wisconsin, and the little cabin itself has been featured in Country Living and Chicago Home and Garden.

“I’m really happy to say that I just got offers from three different publishing houses on my second book,” Tereasa recently reported, “and I have decided to accept Random House’s offer.”

Visit the cabin’s book site at www.averymodestcottage.com and view Tereasa and her husband David’s summer camp where the little cabin has found a home at www.wandawega.com.