2018-03-01 / Front Page

Nonprofit offered keys to county barn

By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff


STEVE STIER of the Michigan Barn Preservation Network listens to the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners deliberate about the fate of the historic barn at Myles Kimmerly Park last week. STEVE STIER of the Michigan Barn Preservation Network listens to the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners deliberate about the fate of the historic barn at Myles Kimmerly Park last week. The Leelanau County historic Poor Farm Barn at Myles Kimmerly Park isn’t going anywhere.

At its regular monthly meeting last week, the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners voted 7-0 to lease the barn to the non-profit Leelanau County Historic Preservation Society for the next 25 years for an annual rental fee of $1.

The 107-year-old structure will begin undergoing renovations later this year.

“Less than a year ago, the future of the barn looked bleak,” said County Administrator Chet Janik.

In early 2017, the County Board was considering spending $66,000 to demolish the structure, which helps to create a pastoral scene just off Burdickville Road in Kasson Township. A consensus had been built among commissioners to demolish the structure following decades of debate and inaction. Meanwhile, the empty and unused barn continued to deteriorate.

But a public outcry ensued, including an appeal from county resident Steve Stier of the Michigan Barn Preservation Network and others to save the barn. County residents Barb Siepker and Laurel Jeris were also instrumental in convincing the County Board to consider rehabilitating the barn rather than destroy it.

At the time, the barn was thought to have been built from a kit shipped by railway to Leelanau. But historians dug deeper, and learned that a local craftsman, in fact, had built the structure.

Working with Janik and a committee of District No. 6 Commissioner Casey Noonan and District No. 7 Commissioner Melinda Lautner, the group agreed that a newly-formed nonprofit organization could take responsibility for raising funds and overseeing the barn’s renovation. The lease agreement approved last week will allow exactly that.

Rehabilitation of the barn will take several years, according to Jeris, and will likely cost $75,000 to $100,000. But she said more than $40,000 has already been raised, with additional funds pledged by private donors pending signatures on a lease agreement with the county. The lease will allow the non-profit to proceed with a capital campaign to raise additional funds for the project.

Jeris said no decisions have been made on how the barn might be used once it has been preserved and rehabilitated. In keeping with the mission of the Leelanau County Historic Preservation Society, however, uses considered in the years ahead will be “educational in nature and/or clearly designed to benefit the residents of Leelanau County.”

Future uses of the barn “should also be in keeping with the park-like setting of the county Poor Farm Barn…” according to a policy statement provided by the non-profit organization. “Decisions to preserve (the barn) will take into account the structure’s importance to Leelanau County history and culture, along with community wellbeing, civic identity and sustainability.”

For many years, the barn was referred to as the “4-H Barn” because it is located immediately adjacent to property at the park used by Michigan State University Extension’s 4-H youth program.

Constructed in 1911 to replace another barn that had burned to the ground, the Poor Farm Barn is all that remains of a facility used to accommodate indigent people and those living in poverty in Leelanau County in the last century. Not far from the barn is the Maple Valley Nursing Home, which was owned and operated by Leelanau County for many years before it was sold to private owners nearly two decades ago.

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