Kim Kelderhouse takes helm of Leelanau Historical Museum

Kim Kelderhouse (right) took over executive director duties at the Leelanau Historical Society last year from Francie Gits (left), now development director.

By Sandra Serra Bradshaw

Sun contributor

The Leelanau Historical Society and Museum sits overlooking the sparkling Leland River near downtown Leland and historic Fishtown. It’s a most welcoming spot where people often congregate outside on the spacious riverside lawn, or come to see the boats that line up along the long dock. Inside, visitors may peruse collections and archives that contain more than 20,000 items. Here, one can learn of Leelanau’s fascinating maritime history, and even take a virtual tour “onboard” the steamship Leelanau.

The museum is under the careful watch of Kim Kelderhouse, a graduate of Grand Valley State University where she majored in Public and Nonprofit Administration. She holds a Graduate Certificate in Historic Preservation from Eastern Michigan University. As a sixth-generation Leelanau County resident, she grew up on her family farm in nearby Elmwood Township. Her parents are Jim and Liz Kelderhouse. She married Brian Kindt in the summer of 2019.

Thomas P. Kelderhouse, her great, great, great grandfather, and his wife, Margaret, settled Port Oneida in 1862. Kim’s great, great grandparents William and Charlotte Kelderhouse, farmed 65 acres of land. The house, which William built around 1910, was used by the couple as the local grocery store, telephone exchange, and a post office. That land and their home has been preserved by the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore since 1981. The barn was torn down in 1970, many years before the National Park took the farm over.

Kim has worked for the Leelanau Historical Society since May 2013, under then executive director, Francie Gits. Kim took over her position in the summer of 2020. Gits is now development director on the Historical Society’s board. 

“Francie Gits was very thorough in teaching me how to run our museum,” Kim related. “But nothing could prepare us for this pandemic crisis we are in.” But by learning how to run it “outside the box,” she and her staff, curatorial assistant Elizabeth Adams and archivist Emma Keaton, actively pursue innovative means to keep Leelanau history and its museum alive.

The Leelanau Historical Society was launched in 1957 when residents, dedicated to collecting and preserving Leelanau’s history, banded together. The old county jail in Leland became home to its first museum in 1959. Through the generosity of many donations, and with several grants, a new museum was built in 1985. It was expanded in both 2005 and 2015 to its current state.

Among the expansive exhibits—poised center stage overlooking the river—is the wheel of an old ship. It was donated to the museum by noted Leland photographer, Erhardt Peters. He had found it sometime in the 1930s on North Manitou Island during one of his jaunts there. But what ship it came from is a mystery to this day.

Of course, becoming curious, I shot some photos of the wheel recently and sent them to maritime author, Brendon Baillod, who also heads up the Great Lakes Shipwreck Research Group. “It is almost certainly an authentic and early wheel from a steamship,” Baillod explained. “I think it may likely have been the primary wheel for a passenger and package freight steamer of the era between 1860-1880 based on the early design … it was most likely the main wheel in the forward pilothouse of a good-sized steamer.”

Also of interest is the addition of the permanent exhibit—the Katherine Hall Wheeler, Traditional Anishinaabek Arts Room. This exhibit features Anishinaabek basket makers of the Leelanau Peninsula. In 1987, the Society began collecting, documenting, interpreting, and preserving these birch bark, black ash, and quillwork baskets. Later, in 2005, exhibit space was built. It is here where much of this unique collection is continually on display. The addition of this virtual exhibit honors the human story behind these works of art. The LHS&M collaborated with Laura Quackenbush, the original curator of the Traditional Anishinaabek Arts Collection.

The Leelanau Enterprise is also in the museum’s collections as digitized issues, currently between 1880-1927. “We are working on getting issues up to 1997 in the near future,” said Kelderhouse. “Central Michigan University is digitizing for us,” she added.

Another feature, “The Leelanau Voices Oral History Collection” contains over 250 interviews. “We just had this digitized, and they are available upon request.” The interviews can be requested by calling or emailing the society,” Kim explained.

Due to the pandemic, the society’s archives are available to view by appointment only. “The museum itself is currently closed,” Kelderhouse said. “We hope to have the museum open—by appointment only as well—this coming summer.”

The Leelanau Historical Society Museum is located at 203 E. Cedar Street in Leland. For information, call (231) 256-7475 or visit online at