History Comes Alive at DeYoung

What Did We Find In The DeYoung Farmhouse?

Submitted on 5/16/13

When staff from Leelanau Conservancy called the Historic Preservation Program at Eastern Michigan University, we were intrigued by the survival of the 150 year-old farmstead that has been inhabited by one family—the DeYoungs—for nearly 80 years. While the house has changed over time, the family appears to have rarely disposed of their belongings. Who knew how they might come in handy? As a result, the house was chock full of letters, books, textiles, knick knacks, and kitchen equipment from several decades. What do these things say about the DeYoungs and their life on the Leelanau Peninsula?

First and foremost, the DeYoungs were a frugal family. Old magazines and cookbooks were kept for useful nuggets they included. The kitchen pantry was full of old pots and pans, including Styrofoam containers that could be reused. Master bedroom furnishings purchased for newlyweds in the late 1920s still served as “best” bedroom furnishings through the end of the century.“Mendets,” a product that repaired inexpensive enamelware, was found among Louis’ belongings. Pat, her mother Verney, or both, sewed some of their own clothing. Louis stockpiled wood and metal in Louis’ workshop. He said he never knew when he could use these things in his projects. We found old windmill parts, wagon spokes, lightning rods, and much more, waiting to be re-used. (Amazingly, he created an unusual snow blower from scraps and pieces he had collected.)

Leisure activities for kids and adults are reflected in items found on the farmstead, too. Skates and skis found in the house indicate they dealt with harsh winters by enjoying the snow and ice. Louis’ waders may have been used for fishing in Cedar Lake. The family bought toys for Ted and Pat. Ted’s toys were so typical for ca. 1935—toy airplanes, battleships, books for the intrepid adventurer. Pat owned a child’s Donald Duck tea set and paper dolls. She may have been worn this homemade summer dress of cotton printed with cherries during Traverse City’s annual cherry festival. Bottles and magazines found on the second floor of the Carriage House indicate this was a place of leisure. Louis enjoyed building clocks and an old cobbler bench filled with clock parts was pulled near a window in his workshop.

The workshop includes machinery for metalworking, iron working, woodworking, and fruit growing supplies. Louis—and all successful farmers in this part of the state—had to wear many hats so they did not have to pay others for these services. Louis DeYoung’s signs for peaches and apples tell us he was selling fruit to the public to supplement profits from his cherry crops; indeed, neighbors recall his luscious peaches with delight.

Finally, Elly Fibranz, Louis’ third wife, has an intriguing past that is hinted at but is not yet documented. A mezuzah and a lamp made from an old Mogen David kosher wine bottle raise the question as to whether this refugee was Jewish but perhaps converted upon arrival in the New World. Perhaps they were a gift from a friend or in-law? Whether she was Jewish or Lutheran, Elly found solace and a loving husband in Leelanau County after the turbulent years of World War II.

What happened to these items?

Since the Leelanau Conservancy is not a museum Eastern Michigan University worked with local museums to find good homes for many of the artifacts we found in the farmhouse. After students identified and researched items in the house, local museums visited and then took away the items they wanted for their museums. You will find DeYoung family pieces at the History Center of Traverse City, the Grand Traverse Lighthouse and the Leelanau County Historical Society. A long-serving historian and collections manager at Leelanau Historical Society, Claudia Goudschaal, took away the quilt you see here for her institution shortly before her death in November 2009.

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