Exciting New Grant Awards

Leelanau County Historic Preservation Society (LCHPS)

Receives $20,000 in Grants for Documentary 

LCHPS board members, Barbara Siepker and Tina Mehren, have been working on a documentary of the historic ‘Leelanau County Poor Farm’ for The Leelanau County Historic Preservation Society, where we both serve on the board. The documentary is entitled, Life on the Leelanau County Poor Farm (1901-1961)

The LCHPS board is very pleased to announce recent grant awards of $20,000 for this project which will enable us to continue our efforts. These include:

Rotary Charities Seed Grant: $10,000

Michigan Humanities Grant: $10,000

As you may know, the “Poor Farm Barn,” across from Myles Kimmerly Park, was saved from demolition and has been undergoing restoration under the auspices of the Leelanau County Historic Preservation Society (LCHPS). LCHPS has an agreement with Leelanau County for a twenty-five year lease of the barn as part of the responsibility of restoring it. Through donations and fundraising, the barn has been stabilized, painted, and recently had a replica cupola installed by the great-grandson of the original barn builder.

LCHPS is working with county resident and documentarian, Joe VanderMuelen, MS, Ph.D., and founder of naturechange.org, for the past year on interviews with descendants of caretakers and residents. Last fall we taped the first interview series of the Coleman, Newman families, along with others who have ties to the farm.

LCHPS is grateful for the support of area specialists, including VanderMuelen, Empire resident Julie A. Avery, Ph.D., with research expertise in agricultural history and heritage, and Adam Oster, Community Engagement Librarian, Library of Michigan, Michigan Department of Education. Julie’s spouse, Stephen Stier, is President of LCHPS board and (has also held several board positions on the Michigan Barn Preservation Network.)

Our goal is the production of a beautiful and engaging short narrative film that documents and celebrates a critically important time and place in Leelanau County. Beginning in the early 1900’s and for six decades thereafter, the Leelanau County Poor Farm provided compassionate care and rehabilitation to people in need from throughout the County.

This film will be driven forward by the memories of elders who witnessed the operations of the Poor Farm in its last years, including relatives of the last farm managers. Expert historians will help stitch these memories together into a compelling story, providing historical context and specific facts about the Poor Farm and its cultural impact in Leelanau County. 

The film will be used to educate and enrich the lives of those with interest in the history of the county. We plan to facilitate discussions and support the decision-making of a diverse group of community stakeholders who are coming together to agree upon a vision for future use of the site. We feel compelled by the unique historical records we have uncovered in our work — stories that reveal a wonderful cooperative effort to care for our community’s most vulnerable. We believe that this history is significant and might even be pertinent to stimulating dialogue and informing solutions to the current workforce housing crisis in the county. There is currently a joint committee for future use comprised of county officials, LCHPS board members, and others who will continue meeting through the coming months.

This project is made possible in part by a grant from Michigan Humanities, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. We are grateful to that organization and the excellent resources and guidance from Rotary Charities. We welcome interest and support, which can be made via our LCHPS website.