Fighting for the Farm Life
But there’s a special place in Leelanau where farm life is forever preserved — the Rex Dobson Ruby Ellen Farm in Bingham Township.
Mike and Marina Deering were among the 20 or so people who showed up Sunday for the third annual Valentine’s Day Snowshoe & Ski Trek at the farm, located on Co. Rd. 633 about two miles north of the Bingham Township Schoolhouse.
“We try to come out and support the museum,” said Marina as she returned from a snowshoe hike. “It’s a really good representation of history.”
The farm’s origin goes back to 1865, when William Core, fresh from service in the Union Army, homesteaded the property in the southeastern part of the county. He and his wife, Margaret, went on to raise four children on what grew to be a 400-acre farm stretching from Lake Leelanau on the west to Center Highway on the east. The farm, with the exception of a brief period in the 1920s when the Cores were forced to forfeit the property to a land bank, has remained in the family.
The Dobsons grew fruit; hay, oats and corn; vegetables; flowers and feeder cattle on the farm with much of the work falling to their son, Rex, who took on a larger role after his father’s death.
Rex remained a bachelor and lived on the farm with his mother until her passing in 1993. Six years later, with assistance from the Leelanau Conservancy, Rex signed a farmland development easement with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in 1999 — protecting in perpetuity 90 acres of prime farmland at Ruby Ellen Farm, some of which is part of the 80-acre parcel homesteaded by Wiliam Core in 1865.
This was the first step of many taken by Dobson to preserve not only the property but the cultural heritage of life on the farm.
In 2000, the Rex Dobson Ruby Ellen Farm Foundation was organized to use natural and cultural resources to “educate and inspire stewardship, self-sufficiency and balanced relationships with nature and the community.”
“In the long run, we’re destined to be a source for people who want to research about Bingham Township and Leelanau County,” said Peggy Core, director pro-tem of the foundation.
She is at the center of a small group of volunteers who are working together to maintain the farm and the wealth of artifacts collected by Rex — all reflective of farm life on the Leelanau Peninsula.
One of the biggest and most time consuming efforts since Dobson’s death in 2011 has been the identification and cataloging of items left behind.
”Rex was interested in history and saved everything,” said Core, adding that grade school papers belonging to her cousin were found in the attic of the farm house. “There were hundreds of thousands of items — a daunting task really — but I figured ‘I have to start somewhere’ and I’ve been plugging away at it.”
The farm includes 15 buildings in total and features two “museum” structures where a portion of the farm collection is now displayed.
One is a simple building which dates back to 1892.
“It was used by the Native Americans who came from Peshawbestown to help in the harvest,” Core said of the structure that was originally on a neighboring family farm. “Rex got wind that it was going to be torn down, so he pulled it apart, piece by piece, and reassembled it on the farm.”
A brick from the chimney was kept which reads “Little Famous Shanty, P.A. Core, Everything is Fine, 1892.”
Dobson built a second, mirror-image building, nearby. Both include photos, antique farm implements like planters, plows, shovels, rakes, chains, ice tongs and lanterns.
But there are other items that reflect other — more leisurely — activities such as early rollerskating, ice skating and skiing.
“I love this place,” said Mike McAndrews, a Traverse City resident and volunteer who helps out whenever he can. “I’ve learned so much about history.”
McAndrews was one of a handful of volunteers who gathered Sunday in one of two tractor buildings on the property.
Others included Peggy Core’s brother, Richard Core, who lives in the main house on the farm and does a lot of maintenance. Lorin Lardie, a brother-in-law married to the Core siblings’ sister, Cathy, was also there.
But more help is needed to maintain the property that was recognized in 2005 on the national historic register as a site of “local level significance.”
“We could really use a few more volunteers,” Richard Core said.
The group has been raising money to put a new roof on the house at the farm, but its been slow-going.
“We’ve set aside about $5,000 in donations. But the bids we got three years ago were for between $25,000 and $75,000,” Peggy Core said.
Costs are higher, in part, because of the multiple layers of material on the roof.
While the cost of maintaining the historic gem is significant, it remains important in light of the decline of farms nationally.
“It’s great for kids to be able to see what things were like,” snowshoer Mike Deering said. “You can’t see it anywhere like you can here.”
This year on the farm
April 23 — Friends and neighbors are invited to the Bingham Schoolhouse to help identify people and places in a photo collection found in the farmhouse.
May 21 — Plow Day — The Northwest Michigan Draft Horse and Mule Association will demonstrate horse-drawn plowing and offer wagon rides.
June or July — Kids third annual day camp. During the first two camps, youth explored how bats and bees help or hinder work on the farm. The specific days of the camp will be announced at a later date.
Sept. 23 — Barn Repair Workshop with the Michigan Barn Preservation Network.
Oct. 1 — Fall Time Gathering — A social gathering that includes a pig roast, pie auction, horse-drawn wagon rides, games, music and more will be held Sunday at the Rex Dobson Ruby Ellen Farm in Bingham Township.