(Crystal A. Proxmire, Sept. 9, 2017)
Holly, MI – “It’s not going to fall over on my watch.”
Holly Township Supervisor George Kullis spoke about the Hawley Farm’s large red barn at 13409 North Holly Road. The 14-acre property – complete with two farmhouses, a barn, a chicken coop and an outhouse – had been purchased by the Township for $291,000 in the early 2000s and now is in need of repair and a plan.
A $40,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Flint’s Mott Family Trust was matched with Township funds last year to stabilize the building, and another $11,000 had been allocated. Large stakes and metal harnesses temporarily added some stability, but even in a year the barn has leaned far enough to pull the stakes several inches opposite their original inclination.
When reviewing contract that had been approved prior to his election, Supervisor Kullis had concerns about the funding of the project and the lack of clearly defined goals. The grant agreement called for restoration of the barn, yet the funding allocated was much lower than a restoration would cost.
“I didn’t want to just sign the contract because I knew we’d be coming back to ask for more and I don’t think that’s how we should operate,” he said. “The more responsible thing to do is look at – what are our goals here? What is the long-term plan?”
On Aug. 30 the board approved spending another $50,000 to do what is now called Phase One of the project – lifting the barn and pouring a new foundation. The funding also includes the cost of removing historically significant equipment and storing it during the work. Trustees also voted to allow the Supervisor to seek out grants and partnerships for the creation of a plan for the property that would give reasonable cost estimates and goals.
“It’s not far from going at this time,” said Trustee Patrick Feeney. “To be honest I felt uncomfortable in there.”
In an interview and tour of the property, Kullis shared ideas for making it more of a destination location, as well as a money-maker. “You look at places like the Ellis Barn in Springfield Township and Van Hoosen Farm, those projects were expensive but they bring people in,” he said. “You can have events, weddings, meeting space.”
He also likened the potential to places like Greenfield Village or The River of Time event in Bay City, where people in historic garb recreate the atmosphere of times past. “You could have someone come in and run a general store and a candy shop,” he said.
There could also be a working demonstration farm, where groups like 4-H can raise animals and grow crops, with lots of educational features that people could enjoy and learn from. The community garden program, which now has a section of the land, could be expanded and done in a more creative way to work the plots into the landscape.
Kullis also pointed out some ways to improve the landscape, including cleaning up the scrub along the roadway, and thinning out the growth along the back of the property to reveal Swartz Creek which runs along the edge.
Also on the property is a dilapidated chicken coop that is being restored as an Eagle Scout Project. The homes are currently vacant, but someday could be used for meeting space or to have a live-in caretaker.
The property had been in the Hawley Family since 1850, with the second parcel purchased in 1880. Thomas H. Fagan, who served as Supervisor for 11 years, Highway Commissioner for three years and Justice of the Peace for 7 years, lived in the farmhouse and conducted much of the community’s business in his office at the front of the house.
Having a plan and getting estimates, as well as getting input from the community, will be the next steps for the long term vision.
But in the short term, some excitement will take place in the coming weeks as a crew comes in to lift the barn up and pour the foundation and basement underneath. The height of the basement will go from 7 feet to 9 feet.
The tour showed the crumbling rockwalls, the uneven parts of concrete, and even plants that have taken root in the cracks. Also, keen observers might notice some of the history embedded in the concrete’s form. “You can see where in the past they would use old doors to hold the concrete while it dried,” Kullis said.
Inside the barn, the damage is evident. Sunlight comes through the holes in the wall and the floor of the second level is just as spotty. Beams in the basement lean towards the back, and the main wooden interior wall has a distinct wave to it. There is evidence of animals too, including the many nests of barn swallows and large sections of bat excrement.
From vintage equipment to remnants of a “haunted barn” Halloween display, the barn is full of stuff. Local teens helped Thursday evening, moving out non-historic items. “Some of this stuff we can’t even touch because it’s helping hold the walls up,” Kullis said.
Items in the basement will require more specific care to remove and store, including an electric milking system that runs on a track from the rafters, and the metal braces used to hold cows in place for the job.
The barn-moving and basement work will take place in the coming weeks. And once a path is found for creating a plan, Township officials will reach out to the public for ideas.
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