Welcome from the Editors


We greet you!  After a long vacation, we resume the composing stick and quill, a calling in which we have spent the happiest and best portion of a life now past its meridian.  We present you to-day the first number of the GRAND TRAVERSE HERALD.  It is modest and unpretending in size,–perhaps some may think too much so,–but remember it is only one day old!  It will have time enough to grow, and will expand its dimensions just in proportion to the nourishment it receives.  In typographical appearance, we think it will compare favorably with any paper in the State.  At all events, we have consulted our own taste in that matter, and are satisfied with the result.

So begins Morgan Bates’ first editorial for the Traverse area’s first newspaper.  Not holding composing stick and quill, we struggle with hardware and software, though perhaps not as Bates would have imagined those things in 1858.  Whatever the differences in composition and production, we do share his enthusiasm and his high expectations that something interesting and new is in the offing—for us, THE GRAND TRAVERSE JOURNAL (GTJ).

GTJ tells of Nature and History, always with an emphasis on the Grand Traverse region.   Every month we will support that focus through regular department features, photographs, and articles written not just by us, but by you–our readers–who will share your experiences, articles, and photographs with hundreds of your fellow citizens.  Alas, we cannot pay you for your trouble—after all, we are supported by two nonprofits, the Traverse Area District Library and the History Center of Traverse City—but we can inform an entire community about who you are, what you are interested in, and what projects you are involved in.  Please look at the Submissions Guidelines, which spells out what we are looking for.  As Morgan Bates said, our magazine will expand (and improve!) just in proportion to the nourishment it receives.  You, the readers and soon-to-be writers, will supply the nourishment required for the Grand Traverse Journal to grow.

The Grand Traverse Journal may be viewed at gtjournal.tadl.org.  In addition, paper copies may be obtained at the Reference Desk of the Traverse Area District Library and at the Archives of the History Center of Traverse City.  Readers may make copies of articles for the cost of reproduction.

Enjoy this first issue of the Grand Traverse Journal.  Spread the word among your friends about our new magazine and send us your thoughts about how we can make it better.  Our email address is gtjeditor@tadl.org

Amy Barritt and Richard Fidler, editors

Grape Ferns and the Art of Becoming Invisible

Botrychium matricarifolium photographed in Leelanau County
Botrychium matricarifolium photographed in Leelanau County

In late spring, when the morel hunters and spring wildflower admirers have disappeared from the woods, I go out in search of grape ferns, the Botrychiums. They are not good to eat, they do not possess colorful leaves, and they lack flowers altogether. Still, they have their strong points: for one thing, reputedly they can make the collector invisible. So far, I have been unable to demonstrate their potency in this regard, but given the antiquity of the claim, I will check it out one more time—the herbalists of old can’t have been totally wrong on this one—or can they?

The Botrychiums (Greek for “grape”) stand no more than a few inches high. Named for the cluster of spore-producing bodies (sporangia), they remind us of bunches of tiny grapes held above a single green leaf. I have always found the most common species, Botrychium matricariodes, among young maple saplings on bare ground swept clear of last year’s leaves. As with morel hunting, you go along without seeing them for a time—and then, suddenly, you see the first and then another and another. They occupy a large area: dozens can be found at one place.

Botrychiums mostly spend their lives underground. First, spores must land at in an appropriate habitat. Upon arriving there, they grow underground, feeding upon nutrients produced by other plants by taking advantage of soil fungi that interconnect with their roots. After several years of growth–providing the above ground vegetation has progressed from weeds to young trees–grape ferns first appear above ground, finally shedding their spores to the wind. Thereafter, they sporadically appear every year—usually in late May and June—with some years better than others. After as long as 50 years, the habitat becomes unsuitable for them as trees age and the leaf litter becomes too thick for them to emerge above ground. They are not found in mature hardwoods.

Besides “grape ferns”, Botrychiums are called “moonworts”, after a species that produced leaflets reminiscent of half moons. This species alone confers invisibility to its bearer. In order for the spell to work, “fern seeds” must be gathered at midnight on June 23rd, St. John’s Eve, the shortest night of the year. Here we must pause: What are “fern seeds”? Hundreds of years ago people thought all green plants produced seed and were puzzled by the apparent absence of seeds in ferns. According to the ancient “doctrine of signatures,” characters demonstrated by plants pointed to their use in medicine. If the seeds were invisible, then invisibility might be transferred to humans by the presence of the plant. (Of course, everything is wrong with this idea: the doctrine of signatures has no validity and ferns reproduce by nearly invisible spores, not seeds.)

In order to catch invisible fern seed a seeker needed to stack twelve pewter plates, placing the fern frond on the top one. The invisible seeds would drop through the stack, finally resting at the bottom-most plate. Of course, there were other necessary behaviors: he must go bare-footed, wear a shirt, and be in a religious state of mind. Even observing all of these conditions, he might suffer failure if wandering fairies steal the fern seed.

It is clear why my efforts to attain invisibility will likely fail: no pewter plates, no desire to walk barefoot through the woods, and the ever-present possibility of thievish fairies. In fact, no fern seed at all. Most likely moonworts will not unshoe horses that step on them, loosen iron nails, or break chains by their touch. Nor will they empower woodpeckers to peck holes through iron if rubbed upon their beaks (a feat rather difficult to accomplish!). No, grape ferns only bring joy to their discoverers in the month of June. They bestow no particular virtues—no invisibility, no uncanny ability to penetrate iron. Still, they please us by their mere presence—much as the returning songbirds do. Look for them in June on bare hillsides wherever young trees grow.

History Center Visitors show Local History Makes a Difference

The History Center of Traverse City is a collaborator of the Grand Traverse Journal. Located in the former Carnegie Library on Sixth Street in Traverse City, the HCTC has a wealth of resources available for research on the history of people and communities around the Grand Traverse Region. Visit their website and digital archives: http://traversehistory.org/

Harts Camp in 1910, a logging site in southern Grand Traverse County.
Harts Camp in 1910, a logging site in southern Grand Traverse County.

Recently something happened at the HCTC Archives that should remind us all as to why what local historians do is important.  I was privileged to witness a wonderful transformation.  A young woman came into the History Center Archives with her grandfather.  They wanted to see anything we had on their home town, which is situated a few miles outside of Traverse City.  I was able to show them 20 – 30 historic photographs, a file of clippings and articles, and a small book on the town’s history,  written by a high school class in the 1950s.

When he first came in, the grandfather had seemed disinterested, disengaged, and frankly, not very focussed.  But not for long! As he and his granddaughter spent time in the Research Room, a wonderful transformation occurred.  As he pointed out things in the photos he began to smile.  As he read parts of the town’s history out loud, and added his own memories to the story, they both began to laugh. By the end of their visit the grandfather was excited, happy and they were both obviously having a very good time.

Farm in southern Grand Traverse County, turn of the previous century. Image donated to HCTC.
Farm in southern Grand Traverse County, turn of the previous century. Image donated to HCTC.

And the story doesn’t end there.  A couple of weeks later they came back, this time with three more family members. The grandfather asked me to pull the same materials as the last time, and the family spent nearly two hours sharing and reminiscing.  Not only that, but they brought in over 20 photos, scans of which are now part of the HCTC archives.

At its best, this is what local history does.  It ties our families to their past., and together.  It creates community bonds and shows us how we must work together to move successfully into the future.

Peg Siciliano is the archivist at the History Center of Traverse City; she has worked as an archivist through various incarnations of the HCTC since the 1980s. To see more of Peg’s work, visit her at the HCTC archives, or view the digital archives online: http://traversehistory.org/

Kingsley Branch Library Celebrates 100 Years

A wonderful library is the crowning jewel of any town. Just ask the residents of Kingsley, the bustling village located in Paradise Township in southern Grand Traverse County. The Kingsley Branch Library (KBL) is celebrating 100 years of service to the community in 2014, and they will be doing it in style!

Join the Kingsley librarians for period costumes and candy at the Kingsley Heritage Days Parade on Saturday, July 19th. Then, visit the KBL on July 31st at 3:00pm for the Local History and Genealogy Room Grand Opening! In addition to viewing an exhibit on the history of the KBL, a talk on the development of the local history room will be given and refreshments served. If you have items, photographs or papers that you think add to the history of Kingsley and need to be preserved, please come to this event and hear more about donating to the local history room!

The First State Bank of Kingsley, the short building in the middle of the block of downtown pictured here, became the Kingsley Library in 1939.
The First State Bank of Kingsley, the short building in the middle of the block of downtown pictured here, became the Kingsley Library in 1939.

How do you start a library with no room, budget or experience? It helps to have a group of civic-minded women around, if you look at the history of the KBL.

In the summer of 1913, a lyceum was invited to speak to the residents of Kingsley by a group of prominent men from the community. Lyceums were very popular in this region in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; these were organizations that sponsored public programs and entertainments. If you had been in Kalkaska in 1920, the Chautauqua Lyceum would have treated you to a rendition of the famous comic opera, “Chimes of the Normandie,” as well as a lecture by Roland A. Nichols on “A Man Worth While”.

As lyceums were scheduled well in advance, the men who invited the lyceum plum forgot it, and nothing was prepared when the cast arrived. Fortunately for those men, their wives took up the challenge, and before the train pulled in with the cast in residence, those women had whipped the meeting space into shape, and the residents into a frenzy of anticipation.

The women so enjoyed the camaraderie and opportunity to perform a civic duty that they began meeting regularly, and in 1914 the Kingsley Woman’s Civic Club (KWCC) was founded. Their first order of duty: to develop and make a library available to the public.

Eunice Stinson (standing left) acted as the Kingsley Librarian from 1914 to 1939. Pictured here with her husband, Postmaster Ambrose Burnside Stinson (standing right), children Harold, Rhea and Bernice Stinson, with friend Floyd McDonald on bottom.
Eunice Stinson (standing left) acted as the Kingsley Librarian from 1914 to 1939. Pictured here with her husband, Postmaster Ambrose Burnside Stinson (standing right), children Harold, Rhea and Bernice Stinson, with friend Floyd McDonald on bottom.

Headed by Mrs. Eunice Stinson , “this group of women, 15 strong,” as they were later described in an article celebrating the KWCC’s fortieth anniversary, took to the project immediately. The “unnamed” men who failed to organize for the lyceum likely found their home libraries ransacked, as funds in the club were limited to yearly dues.

Using an all-volunteer staff, the library of fifty books was open for four hours on both Friday and Saturday, and although the collection and open hours would fluctuate over the years, the librarian stayed the same. Eunice Stinson remained librarian from 1914 to 1939; her daughter-in-law Nell Stinson took up the post and remained librarian until the mid-1960s. The switch from Stinson to Stinson came at the same time the KWCC purchased the former First State Bank of Kingsley building, which they used as both club rooms and library.

Want to know more? See you at the Grand Opening July 31st at 3:00pm!

All sources for this article are available at many branches in the Traverse Area District Library for your reading pleasure:
Kalkaska Genealogical Society. “Big Trout Black Gold”. ed. Dawn Triplett, 2002.
Kingsley Woman’s Civic Club Records, 1910s-1987 (only at KBL).
Images courtesy of Traverse Area District Library: http://localhistory.tadl.org/

The Kingsley Branch Library, yesterday and today.
The Kingsley Branch Library, yesterday and today.


When Lumber and the Railroad Built Kingsley

The property next to the railroad tracks in Kingsley, in 1910 and 2014.
The property next to the railroad tracks in Kingsley, in 1910 and 2014.

When the Brownson’s gifted the parkland near downtown Kingsley to the village in the 1960s, now Brownson Memorial Park, Jay J. and Effie Brownson had been holders of one of the oldest land deeds in the township. The property was originally purchased by Myron S. Brownson in the late 1800s. He wisely leased the property to various lumber-production companies; since the property lay on both sides of the railroad tracks, it was certainly an attractive option for those trying to maximize their use of capital. Lumber dealer Wesley Dunn and his son Howard were leasing the property in 1914, around the same time the Kingsley Library was created by the Kingsley Woman’s Civic Club.

Despite the detritus industry left on the property, the Brownsons were able to reform it at the end of the lumber era. A brick firehouse was erected at some point in the 1910s; devastating fires in 1894 and 1900 ensured that all future building in the downtown area was done in brick, not lumber. The firehouse remained standing until the mid-2000s; after many years of vacancy, the structure was removed to make way for new village offices and the Kingsley Branch Library.

After a vigorous and highly successful fundraising campaign by the Friends of the Kingsley Branch Library, the new library building, pictured above left, opened its doors to the public in February 2009.