Tag Archive: Old Mission


“Springer Barn” Photo by Carl Johnson

I met Evelyn Johnson in 2006 while speaking out in support of saving the barns at Maple bay during a city council meeting.  She was full of energy and described herself as “the barn lady.”  Later, I purchased her book, The Barns of Old Mission Peninsula and Their Stories, and found myself immersed in a delightful series of stories stored for years beneath the rafters of these great structures.  

Earlier this year, as I began research for my own historical narrative on Old Mission, I received and invitation from the barn lady to work on quilt barn squares for some of the historic barns out on the peninsula.  Quilt barns can be found throughout the Appalachian States, where they originated as a way for people to tell the story of their community and family history and display it proudly on the side of their barns.  These barns are found traditionally off the beaten path and quickly spur the most adventurous to explore less traveled roads to learn more about the region.  

We’ve been painting all week alongside some wonderful people from our own community, all committed to sharing our story with future visitors to the Grand Traverse Region.  Yesterday, my mother-in-law, an artist, accompanied me and helped detail a square featuring cherries at its center.  It’s wonderful to see this coming together and in the next few weeks, as the remaining squares ascend, we’ll see the beginning of a new chapter in our history – a manifested adventure for people from young to old.

Photos by S. Tengelitsch


A vision takes shape.DSC_0005

Anne and Christy demonstrate their technique to Popo.


Evelyn, Tina and Samantha work to finish the first coat on a square.DSC_0007

Windmill pattern.

Choosing yellows.DSC_0012

Popo at 2Ladds Winery overlooking East BayDSC_0022

Stacia works on the cherries.

The tape still adhered, two squares take shape.


Waking up to the rain was such a nice surprise.  The edge of the forest is blurred by a light fog lifted off the snow.  It’s supposed to be in the 50s today.  One nice thing about a cold spell, is how much reprieve a slightly warmer temperature brings to we indoor animals.

I spent some time at the library yesterday researching for OMS.  When I began this project, I really didn’t have a good grasp on just how significant Old Mission has been to our entire region.  It was significant to our family, but as I read through old RE articles, obits and oral histories, I’m learning Old Mission was the starting point for the settlers who later established a village at the base of West Grand Traverse Bay (Traverse City).  The first Blessing of the Blossoms (precursor to the National Cherry Festival) was held there.  The first apple and cherry trees planted, were planted by native peoples near the site of what is now Old Mission.  And the first non-native school was began on a schooner just offshore in Bowers Harbor.  

This project has been nothing but fun so far, which isn’t exactly what I had expected.  But like rain falling softly on a winter’s morning, I am once again pleasantly surprised.

Marjorie and her Horse Hero

As you know, I’ve been collecting stories for the Old Mission project.  My inspiration for the project came from a set of old diaries we discovered with detailed stories about life at Old Mission and Traverse City at the turn of the last century.  I won’t normally share these personal narratives on the blog, as I have yet to receive permission from the family, but I think this one story is okay to share (and since Erick is in the family, I have pseudo-permission).  

From the diary of Ms. Marjorie Rose Ghering Geary, daughter of Tompkins Ghering and Mary Swaney Ghering of Old Mission:

We had a wonderful horse named “Barney.”  He was black and of medium size.  Mother and I drove him to town on a mid-Winter day with a light sleigh.  The days were short, as even now, and it was getting dark when we started home.  The snow was so deep that Barney leaped and broke the whippletree out of the sleigh.  

He was worried about Mom and me and blew his nose at each of us trying to sympathize and converse.  Then he resolutely started home and went to a window and whinnied until Dad noticed him.  Dad knew what must have happened, so he harnessed a team and hitched them to a big flat sleigh and came after us.  We would have frozen!  No traffic!

Dad kept Barney and his mate long after he had a tractor.

And so, there it is, the story of one sweet, loyal horse named Barney who so long ago saved a family from freezing to death on what is now US-31 (Division).

And the rest is history

I’ve started working on a side-project.  It began as something of an interest, but now I’m realizing there’s a real need for this kind of historical narrative.  Initially, upon finding some old diaries that once belonged to Erick’s great-grandmother, I thought it would be neat to include some of the entries along with other narratives in a collection on life at Old Mission.  As I began to research what’s already been done on the topic, I quickly realized how much hasn’t been recorded.  

Old Mission is significant for all kinds of reasons.  In recent history, it was the site of the first gas station (Ford’s personal “Combustible Engine Destination”) and also the place where the Rev. Dougherty landed and began his mission at what is now the village of Old Mission.  What is not mentioned, or mentioned very little, is the 11,000 years prior and the significance of the peninsula as a port.  This period of time is often referred to as “pre-history” or “pre-settlement.”  What they really mean is “pre-white-man-settlement or history.” 

So, now the project has taken on a bit more in considering recent archeological finds, including petroglyphs beneath the waters of Grand Traverse Bay (from a time when water levels were lower), and song and story handed down over generations by a culture who existed here long before the birth of a country called America.  

Like any good story, it’s found a voice of its own and will hopefully help to unite two very different cultures and one simple cause.

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We drove out to Ogdensburg yesterday afternoon to deliver the long-promised flowers to Uncle Jack, the twins and family of the twins. It was the anniversary of my diagnosis and it seemed laying flowers on the gravestones was our way of saying goodbye to a year-long obsession with death and dying. And at the same time, we remembered people who had long since been forgotten. Whose time on this earth is marked by a day of birth and a day of birth, with cold white marble in between.

Perhaps by leaving flowers on these lonely graves, someone will walk by and stop to admire the roses. Maybe they’ll read the names and dates and imagine the lives lived in between just as we have done.