Stewards of History

Copy of the land patent issued to the first private owner of what is now our property (Berrien County Register of Deeds, Liber 37, Page 613).

Emily and I feel a responsibility to take good care of our house and land and have a reverence for its history and the lives that unfolded here before us. A trip to the county records office revealed a long paper trail of ownership of our property dating to 1856. In that year, the first private owner, Rufus W. Landon*, received a land patent from the United States General Land Office for having made full payment on the tract. (Settlers had first ventured into this corner of Michigan in the 1830s after the conclusion of a series of treaties between the United States and the Chippewa (Ojibwe), Ottawa (Odawa), and Potawatomi tribes.) The original patent reads:

The United States of America, To all to whom these Presents shall come, Greeting: Whereas Rufus W. Landon, of Berrien County, Michigan has deposited in the General Land Office of the United States, a Certificate of the Register of the Land Office at Kalamazoo, whereby it appears that full payment has been made by the said Rufus W. Landon, according to the provisions of the Act of Congress of the 24th of April, 1820, entitled “An act making further provision for the sale of the Public Lands,” for

the South half of the South East quarter of Section Thirty-six, in Township Five, South of Range Nineteen West, in the District of Lands subject to Sale at Kalamazoo Michigan containing Eighty acres,

according to the official plat of the Survey of the said Lands, returned to the General Land Office by the Surveyor General, which said tract has been purchased by the said Rufus W. Landon:

Now Know Ye, That the United States of America, in consideration of the premises, and in conformity with the several acts of Congress in such case made and provided, Have Given and Granted, and by these presents Do Give and Grant, unto the said Rufus W. Landon, and to his heirs, the said tract above described: To have and to hold the same, together with all the rights, privileges, immunities, and appurtenances of whatsoever nature, thereunto belonging, unto the said Rufus W. Landon, and to his heirs and assigns forever.

In Testimony Whereof, I, Franklin Pierce, President of the United States of America, have caused these Letters to be made Patent, and the Seal of the General Land Office to be hereunto affixed. Given under my hand, at the City of Washington, the tenth day of March in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and fifty six and of the Independence of the United States the Eightieth.

At the time of Landon’s patent in 1856, the parcel was 80 acres in size; in 1879 it was divided and reduced to 40 then down to 20 in 1895 and finally, in 1979, to its current size of 5.11 acres. In the 1880s, a wave of German immigrants established themselves here and the names of some previous owners of our property confirm this: Mischke (1906-1917), Borgwalt (1917-1922), Schultz (1922-1925), Kelm (1925-1938), Weich (1938-1942), and Kniebes (1942-1945).

I’ve yet to find records about the house or other buildings on the property. We were told the house dates from 1920 but this is certainly only an estimate and the hand-hewn white oak beams in the basement seem to be much older. No structures are depicted on the property in W. W. Graves’ 1887 atlas of Berrien County** but a 1906 deed describes a “dwelling house and grape vineyard of about one acre” in the northeast corner of the parcel which probably refers to the current house. I believe several additions were built onto the house between about 1955 (I found a penny with this date in a wall) and the late 1970s.

Now responsibility for this beautiful piece of Michigan falls to us and we intend to follow the admonition “leave the land better than you found it.”

* Rufus Wharton Landon (1815-1886), a Connecticut native, settled in Niles, Michigan, in 1832. He was a farmer and real estate agent, postmaster of Niles (1837-1841), treasurer of Berrien County (1843-1852), and served as a state senator (1863-1864). Landon’s third wife, Linda Vought (1856-1942) was the librarian of Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University) from 1891 to 1932.
** W. W. Graves, Atlas of Berrien County, Michigan (Chicago: Rand, McNally & Co., 1887).

A Wonderful Year

Winter arrives.

As the year’s end quickly approaches, I’ve been reflecting on just how much happened over the last twelve months. In many ways, it’s been a momentous year for Emily and me.

In February, I took a multi-week course on beekeeping which allowed me to keep a hive that thrived through the spring and early summer. When we moved to Michigan, I decided to move the bees too. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to have fared well here and the last check in late October revealed a dying colony. I learned many lessons from the bees and find them to be absolutely fascinating creatures. However, with so many other pans in the fire, I likely won’t keep bees next year.

March took Emily and I through Kentucky bourbon country and to Nashville, Tennessee, where we enjoyed unseasonably warm weather and a night at the Grand Ole Opry. Emily graduated from her three-year nursing program at Ohio State University at the end of April and we celebrated her hard work (she’s still working hard). In May, members of the Columbus Philatelic Club invited me to speak to them about my book, The 1965 United States Dante Stamp, which has received favorable reviews.

Summer brought Midwestern travels to visit family and friends in Illinois and a family vacation to Leelenau County, Michigan, and the majestic Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. While I’d made good progress on my skiff, Blue Moon, I wasn’t able to finish it for the vacation. Next year.

Hazy sunset over Sleeping Bear Bay.

With a job offer in hand for Emily in St. Joseph, Michigan, we embarked on the life adventure of buying a house. We found a place to make our own in the country a few miles from St. Joseph, Stevensville, Baroda, and Berrien Springs. There is plenty of work to be done on our old house and five acres of grass and woods.

Holly basks in the sunlight.

In November, we adopted a dog from the county animal shelter. Holly is a Labrador Retriever mix and has brightened our home with her very sweet and loving nature. We hosted my dad and his wife for the first Thanksgiving in our own home and Emily’s sister will be here soon for Christmas.

We have so much to be thankful for and so much to look forward to in 2019.

Gardening with Pencil and Paper

The revised garden plan.

Recently, I finished reading an extraordinary book on gardening: The New Organic Grower by Eliot Coleman (30th anniversary edition, 2018). Coleman’s approach to biological gardening, and life in general, spoke to me loudly and I’m planning to adopt many of his techniques. For example,

  • Continuous improvement of soil fertility and biological processes using natural methods (manure, compost, organic matter, etc.)
  • Producing quality compost
  • Soil block seed germination methods
  • Cultivating often instead of onerous weeding

It is easy to farm a lot of land with a pencil and paper, but a lot harder to actually do it. — Eliot Coleman

The wisdom quoted above appears early in the book and came to my attention just in time as I began to mark out the plots of my original garden concept. After seeing the plots laid out on the ground, it became obvious that I’d been overzealous in my two-dimensional planning. The plots as planned would be expensive, time-consuming, and unwieldy to maintain and would produce way more food than we need. As Emily reminded me, we can always expand later if needed. So instead of six plots of 500 square feet each plus 1500 square feet of berries, we will have just three plots of 500 square feet each.

Plot C, shown here after tilling, is now covered with a thick layer of straw for the winter.

There isn’t much else to do outside for the garden now; next year’s garlic is in the ground and Plot C is covered with straw that I’ll till under in the spring. I’ll be busy, however, designing and building a few small germination chambers, researching supplies, and reading, reading, reading.