Cleaning House at the DeYoung Farm

Restoration teams were especially enthusiastic about the waterwheel-driven powerhouse. The stream runs under the building and turns a waterwheel that once powered farm tools, and later, turned a generator, producing electricity for the house. Louis DeYoung Sr., the family patriarch, was the first in the area to bring electric lights into a family home.

This kind of building is a “rare form,” said architectural restoration expert Jeff Weatherford, and the uses it was put to are creative and unique.

Weatherford, along with a team of graduate students, worked to replace the powerhouse’s original glazed windows with accurate, handmade replicas. The windows are the fruit of perfectionism, all the way down to the hand-whittled pegs holding them in place. If it weren’t for the absence of wood rot, nothing would separate them from the authentic 19th-century panes they are replacing.

Building restoration was crucial to the work being done at the farm; the safety of the structure is always a top priority, according to more than one team member. Equally important, though, was the home’s “material culture.” Historical Preservation students carefully sorted and painstakingly cataloged every item pulled out of the farmhouse. Rowe described the house as “a time capsule” and talked excitedly about all the “treasures” found inside.

The group uncovered a preservationist’s dream at DeYoung Farm: a fully-furnished house, full of records and silverware, newspapers and personal correspondence. Louis DeYoung Sr., the last of the family to live there full-time, never moved his belongings out of the house, and continued to stop by even while living at a local retirement home, Rowe said

Enough was pulled from the house to crowd the floor of the barn, fill one of the outbuildings and spill out into tents on the lawn as the cataloging began. All the DeYoung farmhouse treasures are destined eventually to be divvied up between local museums and historical societies including the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum, the Leelanau Historical Society, the Grand Traverse Heritage Center, the Traverse City Historical Society and the Simms Farm.

Stefanie Staley is the executive director of the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum. She showed off the items she had staked her claim to: a metal stove plate, vinyl records, and a child’s Donald Duck tea set, all of which, she said, were great finds.

Friday afternoon, the goals of the week were nearly accomplished: students sorted the material culture of the house as their teachers looked on, teams fit the last windows on the powerhouse and surveyors added final measurements to an updated plan of the property.

The goals of the conservancy are much more ambitious, though.

Rowe said she would like to see all the buildings on DeYoung farm restored and usable within 10 years. They would then be used for education: in farming and natural resource management, by EMU and other groups.

She also said she would like to see a water trail marked out along the property, from the stream diversion through the fields, to the remarkable little powerhouse and out into the wetlands past the farm.

“The story of this property is really the story of the water,” Rowe said.

The students of the Historical Preservation Program had their own excitement for the project, but focused more tightly on the work they were doing and the skills they were learning.

“It’s history and science and research all wrapped up together,” said graduate student Susanne DeVries as she cleaned the powerhouse’s new windows from atop a ladder. “There are just so many facets.” 

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