The Early Days
In the early part of the 20th century, Crystal Highlands was established as an apple and cherry orchard by a prominent Chicago physician, Dr. William Gleason Willard who summered in the area. In the 1930’s his son Dayton took over the orchards, bringing apples and cherries to the local markets. Dayton, his wife Leora and their daughter, lived in the last house on Highland Drive on the left as you descend to Crystal Drive. He was well-known for experimental farming (notice the ram device as you walk down the path to Long Lake), including raising turkeys (who were all killed by foxes – evidently the wild birds we have now are smarter), and for the beautiful “Dayton’s dahlias” that he grew in his later years. The orchards and surrounding land consisted of 500 acres on the north shore of Crystal Lake including the beach at the bottom of Highland Drive, and stretching north to Long Lake and east to Rogers Road.
Dayton Willard sold the property in 1969 to friends and neighbors, Marj and Jack French and Jim and Eileen Kelly. The Kellys and Frenches then purchased the Spring Valley Beach property from Chet Cutler, a local used car dealer, who lived on the (then double) lot where the Kellys now reside. They formed a corporation, Crystal Highlands Orchards, Inc., intending to continue farming, but with an eye towards future development.
In 1971 they hired the just-married Roland Koenig, who came from New Jersey with his bride, Susan, to manage the property under the tutelage of Dayton Willard. Those were the “pioneer days” when only a two-track trail connected the east and west portions of the property, and there were NO neighbors, except for the same deer raccoons and porcupines whose progeny have carried on to the present.
The Koenigs lived in the original farmhouse on the property at the top of Highland Drive near the current big barn. The following summer, Mexican fruit pickers occupied a small trailer near the quonset which housed the heavy equipment In the former classic old red barn, the Koenigs raised chickens, ducks, pigs, two goats and a horse named Ginger. For a while, Susan’s brother "Uncle Teddy" Goodwin (“Ted’s Live Bait and Tackle”) lived in the trailer, plowing and rescuing the few residents (Isherwoods, Minards and Pynes), martini in hand, throughout the harsh winters of 1972-74. Frenches and Kellys then built 2.5 miles of roads throughout the property, including Highland Drive, Spring Valley Road and White Birch Trail. They originally platted 61 lots and built a water system to service the eastern section of the community. Subsequently, they built Orchard Lane and platted eleven lots on Summit Place and Sleeping Bear View. The 72 lots of the Crystal Highlands were then complete.
The Association Begins and Development Continues
Crystal Highlands Owners’ Association (CHOA) was formed on July 15, 1975 to oversee the real property interests of Crystal Highlands and to promote social and recreational activities that would enhance the welfare of the group. About the same time, the Kellys and Frenches deeded the Crystal Lake beach frontage to the association., The Frenches and Kellys continued to make changes and improvements in the Crystal Highlands Orchards property. In 1979 they sold 27 acres in the area of Long Lake to a group of developers who created the Long Lake Heights Plat of 17 lots.
In 1986, CHOA leased 150 acres of land that was eventually donated by the corporation in 1993 for recreational use subject to a conservation easement. This land included the recreation area on Highland Drive where the tennis court is located, and the 300 feet of beach on Long Lake accessed from the turnaround on Orchard Lane. Not long afterwards, CHOA deeded a conservation easement to the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, for a portion of that acreage, including what is known as "the bowl," for creating a "natural state in perpetuity.". This parcel is located below the lots on the ridge of Sleeping Bear View.
In 1998, Eileen Kelly purchased 40 acres on the south side of Highland Drive near the recreation area and platted 21 lots. Crystal View Commons and Jack’s Way are the access roads/paths to this development. This area is known as “The Preserve” and like the Long Lake Heights development, is not part of the Crystal Highlands Association area, but homeowners in these areas can join as associate members in order to access the recreation area and trails and to participate in CHOA activities.
In 2002, the CHOA voted to purchase a 35-acre parcel, which is situated northeast of Highland Drive across from the Recreation Area, from Jim Kelly. The land, know as the “meadow,” is to be used as a permanent Natural Preserve and Conservancy with a network of walking trails throughout. This parcel was purchased on a 20-year low interest land contract for $200,000 and funded with an annual land assessment of $250/lot over the life of the land contract.
Throughout a long history, the CHOA community remains dedicated to neighborliness, maintaining the beauty of our surroundings, and enhancing the wellbeing of all residents.
About the “Farm”
Kellys continued to operate the “Farm” in the big red barn at the corner of Highland Drive and Orchard Way. For a number of years, they housed and grazed Belted Galloway cows that we all came to love (well, most of us.) Some of us referred to them as “oreo cookie cows” because of their distinctive markings. When Al Cline, the property manager, retired to write poetry and novels, the cows were retired as well. As of 2016, the future of the farm is unknown, but rests in the capable hands of the Kelly family.