Reimagining Port Oneida


By Jim Kelderhouse
Sun contributor

Last November 19, Port Oneida Community Alliance (POCA) became a nonprofit corporation under Michigan state law. This was the first milestone in a vision that my daughter Kim and I have shared for many years. The organization was formed with the purpose to adaptively reuse the Port Oneida School and Kelderhouse Homestead as a community center and a teaching farm. The vision is to provide hands on opportunities for education, recreation and celebration of historical knowledge, environmental stewardship and sustainable agriculture in order to honor and perpetuate the legacy and community spirit of the resilient and loyal subsistence farmers who called Port Oneida their home. We hope that POCA will give people the opportunity to rediscover the value of local history, commitment to community, and a shared responsibility to care for the land, water, animals, plants, and people in order to create a living, resilient community.

Soon after POCA was established, we began discussions with the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and Glen Lake Community Schools about making these goals a reality. Our shared goals include perpetuating understanding, appreciation, respect and stewardship of the historic and natural treasures of the Port Oneida Rural Historic District of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Also included in this mission is the creation of sustainable farming on the property to model farm practices using ecological concepts which repair over-grazed and over-tilled land to bring it back into productive use.

Port Oneida, its history, structures, natural resources, agriculture and culture are all part of the Kelderhouse family’s six-generation connection to the area which began with my great, great grandfather, Thomas P. Kelderhouse. Thomas came to Port Oneida and purchased the land that my great-grandfather William Kelderhouse inherited and built a farmhouse on. Thomas also swapped land with Carsten Burfiend at the same time, and built the Kelderhouse dock in 1862. He donated the Port Oneida school property to the Glen Arbor School District for one dollar in 1865, and built a school for the children from the growing agricultural community, as well as to hold community potlucks and meetings. He built the gristmill in Glen Arbor in 1879. Only remnants of the dock remain, but the farmhouse, schoolhouse, and the gristmill still stand.

Rolland-Leon-Kelderhouse-1930-webMy grandfather, Rolland Kelderhouse, inherited the farm and house from his sister Florence Egeler in 1942 after he retired from the Coast Guard in Glen Haven where he began his service in 1927. The school closed in 1939, but in 1944 my grandfather Rolland, his sister Florence Egeler, Ole Thoreson (Leonard Thoreson’s father), Marie E. Rader, and Estelle L. Grady formed an organization to lease the school for one dollar from the Glen Arbor School District for 99 years, as a community center for the surrounding area. With the help of the community, the club raised money to maintain the school for the community’s benefit until the community was displaced by the formation of the National Lakeshore in the 1970s, and the school returned to the Glen Lake School District.

Who I am today and the values I hold were instilled in me as a boy and young adult spending time in Port Oneida with my grandparents, Rolland and Agnes Kelderhouse. My grandfather dedicated himself to serving his community until his death in June 1975. My environmental consciousness and love of this land were born and formed with my grandparents’ encouragement and guidance.

I have spent my adult life working as a sustainable farmer in Elmwood Township, but my heart has always been called to return to Port Oneida. My daughter Kim and I started the Glen Arbor Farmers Market in 2003. I was the market master there for three years, and a vendor for many more. I drove past the farm and school every week and it was sad to see them standing idle and deteriorating.

I first heard of the Park floating the idea of adaptive reuse in Port Oneida in 2005 and learned that the National Lakeshore needed assistance from adaptive use partners through historic leases to carry out its Port Oneida Historic Landscape Plan to prevent further diminishment of Port Oneida’s cultural resources represented by the buildings, community landmarks (the school and cemetery), and diversity of heritage plants, in this rural agricultural landscape. This mutually shared desire and purpose to preserve family heritage, legacy and sense of place provided the spark that reignited our passion and desire to make Port Oneida part of our daily lives again. My family encouraged me to pursue it. About the same time my father Leon began telling oral history on the front lawn of the Kelderhouse home in Port Oneida during the National Park’s Port Oneida Fair, and my daughter and I supported him.

ThomasKelderhouse-webIn 2009 after my father’s passing, my daughter Kim approached the Park at the end of the Fair to ask if they would let us clean up the house inside and open it up to the public during the Port Oneida Fair to share Kelderhouse history, pictures, genealogy and artifacts my father had assembled. The Park readily agreed, for which we are grateful.

In 2010, my daughter headed to college, and she encouraged me to go back to school, as well. We both pursued degrees that would prepare us to follow this dream of starting a nonprofit for adaptive reuse of the farm and school. The last five years presenting at the Fair while going to school have been a hugely rewarding endeavor for us, with a growing appreciation of the heritage we all share that benefits community members, visitors and the National Park alike.

Upon graduating in Spring 2013, my daughter and I dove in, dedicating hundreds of hours into pursuing adaptive reuse of the schoolhouse and farm to enhance community members’ and visitors’ experiences in Port Oneida. We adopted the Kelderhouse orchard and field maintenance on the Kelderhouse farm last year through a program initiated by Friends of Sleeping Bear. In 2013, I volunteered with Preserve Historic Sleeping Bear and spent five days on North Manitou Island helping restore the Katie Shepherd Hotel, and am scheduled to go there again this year and also work on the Burfiend house. In March of this year, my brother and I pruned the apple trees on the Kelderhouse farm. On June 14 this year we will have our first work bee (with more to follow) to begin working on the windows of the Kelderhouse farm home, for which we are again grateful, thanks to the National Park approving this project.

Kelderhouse family descendants seek to emulate what the Port Oneida Community Club did in 1944, and have donated $27,000 to be used on the Port Oneida School to put on a new roof, install an ADA-compliant entrance, update the wiring and paint the exterior. POCA seeks $27,000 in matching pledges to put in a septic system, well, rehabilitate the interior, and put in an ADA compliant bathroom should our proposal to adaptively re-use the Port Oneida School be accepted by the Glen Arbor School District. Our goal should the Park accept our proposal for the Kelderhouse farm consists of leading and modeling an adaptive reuse that rehabilitates and maintains the Kelderhouse farm as an ecologically sensitive working/teaching farm, inspiring all to collaborate in stewarding this land in Port Oneida for future generations. We hope that the Port Oneida Community Alliance will grow to be a community endeavor, sharing in the preservation and conservation of historical and environmental assets in the Port Oneida Rural Historic District.