Recognizing National Historic Preservation Month in Leelanau

By Mae Stier

Sun contributor

My husband, Tim Egeler, and I were married at Port Oneida in the summer of 2021, on the bluff overlooking the site of the dock that Tim’s great-great-great-grandfather Thomas Kelderhouse built in 1862. My husband’s great-grandparents—Martin Egeler and Florence May Kelderhouse—who were also married at Port Oneida, are buried in the cemetery on the corner of M-22.

Before we were engaged, I knew little about the names that once populated this region. My husband did not know much either; he was only aware of a vague connection to the settlers who once inhabited Port Oneida. But the summer before we were married, as we considered our family’s future and what we hoped to establish together, the history of what came before began to feel more important. We spent the summer leading up to our wedding learning the names of family members. When we committed to creating our future together, we did so by standing under a giant old oak tree that looked out at the Manitou Islands, on a farmstead that members of his family had once cared for.

May is National Historic Preservation Month, a time set aside to highlight the important work of organizations working to preserve historic places like Port Oneida. Locally, in Leelanau County, there are 25 nationally recognized historic places and 18 additional state recognized historic sites, with several organizations which operate to support their preservation.

Preserve Historic Sleeping Bear (PHSB), headquartered at Port Oneida, works within the National Park “to preserve and interpret the rich heritage of historic structures and cultural landscapes of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.” PHSB has repaired structures on several farms at Port Oneida, including the farm near where I married my husband, The Carsten Burfeind Farm. Each summer, alongside the National Park Service, Preserve Historic Sleeping Bear co-hosts the “Port Oneida Rural Arts & Cultural Fair” to engage visitors in the history of Port Oneida from the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The Leelanau County Historic Preservation Society (LCHPS) is another organization operating out of southern Leelanau County to preserve the region’s heritage. They are working to rehabilitate the County Poor Farm Barn in Maple City. The Farm was established in 1901 by the Leelanau County Board of Supervisors to house county residents who could not care for themselves. These individuals “came under the purview of the Superintendents of the Poor for their health and welfare,” according to the LCHPS website. “Although county charters did not require each county to maintain a poor farm or house, most Michigan counties did so.”

LCHPS president Stephen Stier has a Master’s degree in Historic Preservation and more than 30 years of experience working in the field. He emphasizes the importance of caring for these historic sites, stating that, “We need to remember that the meaning of heritage is not only what we have inherited from our ancestors, but also what we choose to preserve and pass on to the next generations. We are responsible to our ancestors to remember their stories and accomplishments through Historic Preservation. We are also responsible to future generations to preserve and pass along our material culture.”

Tim and I considered this responsibility the summer we were married, when our oldest child was not yet two years old. Now, he is in preschool and has a younger sister; that sense of responsibility has only grown with time. What stories can we pass down that emphasize our connection to this place, either through family history or how we engage with what surrounds us? What habits can we pass on to encourage our children to contribute well to their community?

In addition to the LCHPS and PHSB, several other organizations preserve and share the history of the Leelanau Peninsula, including Fishtown Preservation and Save the Woolsey Airport Terminal (SWAT), located in Leland and Northport, respectively.

In Peshawbestown, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians operates the Eyaawing Museum and Cultural Center “to establish, gather, interpret, and maintain a record of the history of the Grand Traverse Band of Anishinaabek,” the first inhabitants and caretakers of the region. The center seeks to “promote the Tribe’s belief that the culture, language, and spirit of the Grand Traverse Band shall be recognized, perpetuated, communicated, supported, and shared with the people of all nations.”

Beyond offering a way to honor the history of a place and shape the stories told in the future, historic preservation can be “an essential environmental tool,” Stephen Stier explains. “The principle of ’embodied energy’ considers all the energy needed to construct a building in the past. All that energy—from excavation to material manufacture, to human labor, to machinery and tool usage—used historically is still embodied in the building. We can take advantage of that energy by saving and reusing the building. If the building is destroyed, as so often happens, all that energy is wasted, and newer, expensive energy is needed to demolish the building (and build new). And then, the worst part is that generally, all the materials of a destroyed building go into our already full landfills.”

As we look to the future of our region, preservation organizations in the area emphasize the importance of considering new uses for existing infrastructure. Another nationally recognized historic site in Leelanau County, the Omena Historic District, is “the most intact 19th-century village in the state,” according to Omena Historical Society board member Marsha Buehler. The village was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2017, joining Glen Haven, Leland, Port Oneida, and the South Manitou Lighthouse and Life Saving Station Historic Districts. According to the nomination documents for the Omena Historic District, the village’s “changes have been adaptations built upon its existing structure, and the village has not suffered the wholesale eradication, wasteful misuse of resources, and reconstruction that is so common elsewhere.”

Buehler says, “Historic preservation makes good economic and environmental sense and benefits our tourism-related businesses. Omena is a place that matters to people, a place that they return to. We feel a connection through this place that we feel nowhere else.”

That sense of connection resonates with many people who live in Leelanau. Whether or not they are aware of the history of a place, many feel a sense of significance, and the work of the preservation organizations throughout the county serves to protect those significant places, often by reimagining ways for people to engage with them.

My sense of connection to this region began long before I married into a family whose name is on a gravestone at Port Oneida. That my children’s history now entwines with the history of Leelanau is meaningful, but the determination of this place’s impact is broader than family history.

“Our historic structures are a storehouse of information about our past and shared heritage,” Stier explains. “There is an absolute need to preserve these cultural resources, whether they are houses, commercial buildings, historic districts, or sites. We must take it upon ourselves to learn from, save, adapt, and reuse these historic resources that are our collective heritage.”

The preservation of these sites extends beyond just what is physical. They are glimpses into our shared history, looking into the past for possible guideposts to lead us into a future of sustainability and better cultural awareness.


During this month of preservation awareness, there are many ways to support the work of organizations that maintain and preserve sites throughout the region. Find out how to visit the historic sites and donate to or volunteer with the organizations by visiting their websites:

Leelanau County History Preservation Society:
Preserve Historic Sleeping Bear:
Eyaawing Museum and Cultural Center:
Omena Historical Society:
Fishtown Preservation:
Save the Woolsey Airport: