The Coopers’ Getaway Cabin

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Gary and Sharon Cooper weren’t necessarily looking for a new home or a lake house, but their family were regulars to the area, as they would take their boys to JP Coleman State Park just about every year when they were growing up. When they saw the incomplete and vacant cabin up for sale, they bought it, thinking they would complete it, and be done with it.

“We just kind of fell in love with the process,” she said. “We purchased in ‘09, and we haven’t sold yet.”

The cabin’s initial structure was laid in 2005, or at least that’s the engraving the Coopers found in the concrete. There wasn’t much history to the house, as the construction had essentially screeched to a halt after the shell of the home was built. At the time of the Coopers’ purchase, there was the outside framing of the home, and that was about it, there were no interior walls, windows or doors. 

“We had a little sketch of what the previous owner had in mind, just kind of a sketch drawing,” she said. “We didn’t have much to go on, so we basically went with our own.”

With the help of a constructor there in Iuka, the Coopers took the rough sketch and a few ideas of their own, and one month after buying it, in January 2010, started building it out from there.

What started out as a vandalized, bat-filled shell of structure, the Coopers turned into a two-story cabin with seven bedrooms and three-and-a-half baths, spanning over about 5,500 square feet. Gary and their two sons, Darren and Chase, installed all the plumbing, electrical, cable and “numerous, naturally, miscellaneous things because it was a work in progress.”

Once they established the inside layout, next came the interior designing. While Sharon says the cabin’s interior is not something she would pick naturally, after a little nudging from her family, she leaned into the rustic aesthetic. 

“It is very rustic,” she said. “Very, very good for family gatherings and boys and kids. Maintenance on it is easier sometimes.”

The couple now has three grandchildren, so when their immediate family convenes, there’s plenty of room. Their extended family often joins too, bringing it to about 14 guests, all comfortably accommodated.

“It has been a blessing, we’re so thankful to have it and have enjoyed it in what time we’ve been privileged to have it,” she said. “It has been very useful for great fun (with) family and friends.”

Over the years, the cabin has been modified, to the point where it’s almost a running joke.

“The first thing when they come in the door, they’ll say, “What has mother done this time?’” Sharon said laughing.

One ever-changing area is the kitchen. In addition to the Coca-Cola bottles Sharon collected when she was a little girl, guests will see framed puzzles. For her family, who assembles the puzzles together, they’re practically a talking point.

“‘Hey, we remember we did that when–’ ‘You remember we lost that piece and we had to make a piece?’” she said chuckling.

But one part of the property has changed significantly, and that’s the treehouse in the backyard. Sharon had the treehouse built as a Christmas present to her first grandchild, back in 2016.

Back then, it was a simple treehouse, though she did have the showers installed down below, for easily rinsing off when returning from the lake. But last year, since the grandkids weren’t using it too much, she and Gary decided to close it in, basically turning it into an apartment. The initial plan was to leave the tree going up through it, but a particularly wet season proved it wasn’t a feasible option.

“A dream doesn’t mean it has to be,” she said.

As a part of the renovations, they decided to install a full bathroom, to avoid having to go in and out of the cabin. Inside the window-lined room, there’s a microwave and a little coffee bar for the mornings. Sharon joked that her kids practically fight over who gets to stay in the treehouse.

“They fight back and forth,” she said laughing. “They always ask when they’re calling, ‘Who all’s coming?’ for strategizing.”

While her kids’ favorite part of the Iuka cabin may clearly be the treehouse, Sharon’s is the front porch. Though the couple lives in New Albany and rarely visit the cabin just themselves, Sharon said even when she goes to the cabin to clean or make some adjustments, she often finds herself sitting on the porch for a stint before getting in her car to leave.

“We don’t get a lot of quiet time in today’s world,” she said. “I just figured if I could get that, that’s what I’d do. … Just go and enjoy nature in the summer.”


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