WCMU to broadcast new documentary on Leelanau County Poor Farm


From staff reports

WCMU Public Television will air Saving the Barn: The Leelanau County Poor Farm, a locally produced documentary on the history, preservation, and future of the Leelanau County Poor Farm/County Infirmary. The film is a multi-year project of the Leelanau County Historic Preservation Society (LCHPS) and videographer, Joe Vandermeulen.

WCMU Public Television has scheduled three broadcast times in March for Saving the Barn: The Leelanau County Farm: Sunday, March 17, at 6:30 pm; Thursday, March 21 at 5 am; and Saturday, March 23 at 10:30 am. The film will be subtitled. Click here to view a 30-second preview.

“This film helps bring to life a little-known part of Leelanau County’s history … a history shared by nearly every other county in Michigan,” said documentary filmmaker, Joe VanderMeulen. “The film combines interviews with expert historians and the childhood memories of the elders with images and artifacts from the last century to recreate the Leelanau County Poor Farm. Beginning around 1901 and for many decades thereafter, the Poor Farm provided compassionate care and rehabilitation to people in need from throughout the County.”

Narrated by storyteller and musician Norm Wheeler, the film includes appearances by historical reenactor Susan Odom and the massive draft horses of Fantail Farms.

Educator and barn preservation expert, Steve Stier shows viewers the unusual architecture of 100-year-old Poor Farm Barn and how it was used. “This is a historically significant artifact from a time when all farming was done by hand,” said Stier.

The film includes childhood memories of farm operations by descendants of the Poor Farm manager, called the Keeper. Now in his 90s, Duane Newman describes his role in helping with the planting and harvesting at the Poor Farm as a teenager.

Project leaders for LCHPS include local historian and founding board member, Barbara Siepker and Tina Mehren, who secured $20,000 in funding, including a grant from Rotary Charities of Traverse City and a matching grant from Michigan Humanities. From a wide array of historical photographs, images of historical artifacts, and interviews, they hope viewers imagine and connect to the farming practices and public care for the vulnerable in society of 100 years ago.

“We feel so fortunate to have had Joe’s involvement,” said Mehren. “As a longtime county resident and historical advocate, he understood how to capture detailed, cinematic views of the architecturally significant barn and enhanced cinematic representations of activities on the old farm. From gardening to canning to working in the fields with a team of horses, the film truly transports the viewer. Thanks to the preservation efforts of LCHPS, this familiar and renowned building is now a lasting relic of a bygone era of cooperative welfare in the United States.”

LCHPS hopes this short documentary will be a lasting educational contribution to the local historical record and will further facilitate discussions and support the decision-making of community stakeholders who are coming together under the County Park Commission to plan for the future use of the site.

LCHPS will provide a big screen viewing of this film on Sunday, August 4, at The Bay Theatre in Suttons Bay. Details of that event will be forthcoming. Learn more about the Leelanau County Poor Farm at www.LCHP.org.