Michigan Roadside Attractions: Leelanau County Poor Farm Barn
Michigan Roadside Attractions on Travel the Mitten highlights our attempts to explore the many interesting things that can be found on the highways, byways and back roads of Michigan, ranging from the interesting to the unusual.
We love finding new and interesting pieces of Michigan history as we travel the state, and on a recent journey to Northern Michigan we came across the Leelanau County Poor Farm barn. Michigan historical markers are always something that grabs our attention, and this site is the newest addition to Leelanau County’s collection of historic marker sites (currently 11 total). The preservation of this barn and the poor farm site is a true testament to what can happen when a handful of people come together and decide to not let history be destroyed. The two-sided marker here tells about the history of the farm on one side and the barn itself on the other:
“In 1901, Leelanau county supervisors purchased 120 acres of farmland at this site, including two residences and one barn, from Roswell and Mary Burke. The county established a poor farm where indigent citizens, most of whom were elderly or unable to work, could live under supervision. After a few years of operation, the county hired architect Jens C. Petersen to design a new residence with plumbing and heating. It was completed in 1908. The farm grew to include a new barn, a hog house, a henhouse and an icehouse. It housed up to twenty residents at a time, along with a farm manager and his family. Neighboring farmers called it the “county farm” and helped plant and harvest. The poor farm closed in the 1960s and its residents moved to the Maple Valley Nursing Home.”
“In the 1970s the Cedar-Maple City Lions Club transformed the Leelanau County Poor Farm land into the Myles Kimmerly Recreation Area. This barn is the only surviving structure from the farm. It is architect-designed, which is unusual for a barn. Jens C. Petersen designed it to replace a barn that burned in April 1911. He incorporated the latest materials and techniques, including a concrete foundation and plank framing. His design featured a gambrel roof before the style became commonplace. John Schettek built the barn during the summer of 1911 at a cost of $1,400. It contained four work-horse stalls, nine milking stanchions and seven hay chutes. In 2017 the Leelanau County Historic Preservation Society formed to save the barn from demolition and began rehabilitating it.”
A small sign on the barn notes that it was awarded Barn of the Year status from the Michigan Barn Preservation Network in 2021.
Several beautiful signs on the side of the barn tell the story of the LCHPS through words, pictures, and news stories as they detail the steps of preserving this piece of Michigan history. You can learn more about their ongoing mission as well as upcoming events at lchp.org.
The Leelanau County Poor Farm Barn is located at 1110 W. Burdickville Rd., across from Myles Kimmerly Park’s ballfields.