A Sense of Place: The Beginning of Historic Site Management
When Superintendent Martinek first arrived at Sleeping Bear Dunes, the only resource he had to manage were the United States Coast Guard Station buildings at Glen Haven. The buildings had gone surplus after World War II. During the long legislative wrangle over the lakeshore, Martinek would often visit the site while on summer vacation. The picturesque buildings, the glorious swimming beach, and the broad sweep of Sleeping Bear Bay were the images he held of the lakeshore while working at Yellowstone and in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, by the time the park was created in 1970 the station buildings were in serious disrepair. With no caretaker the grounds had become overgrown and the structures were ravaged by vandals, scroungers, and beer-blasting teenagers. In the fall of 1971, when the lakeshore received its first park ranger, thirty-one year old Dean C. Einwalter, Martinek settled him and his family into a house adjacent to the station, and the ranger began the demanding task of restoring the run-down complex. The station became the lakeshore’s interim contact station for visitors to the new area in part because it was picturesque, in part because it was situated in a highly visible location, but also because it was one of the few buildings owned by the park service at Sleeping Bear.
At an early date historical resources took on a significant role at Sleeping Bear Dunes for the same blend of reasons, timing and circumstance, that had led to the Coast Guard station being selected as the first visitor contact station. Like all of the seashores and lakeshores created in 1960s and 1970s Sleeping Bear fell heir to the lighthouses, life-saving stations, and coast guard facilities that had constituted the first federal presence on the nation’s coastal waterways. Unlike other more remote national lakeshores such as Pictured Rocks and Apostle Islands, Sleeping Bear was located astride what was historically one of the busiest marine passage ways in the United States. During the nineteenth century the majority of vessels bound out of, or into, Lake Michigan had to make their way through the channel between Sleeping Bear Dune and the Manitou Islands. It was not unusual to have more than 100 schooners or steam propellers pass through the Manitou Passage in the course of a day. This legacy, with its tangible remnants of shipwreck sites and lighthouses, was barely alluded to in the early 1960s studies that recommend the creation of the lakeshore. The interim master plan for the lakeshore, however, did at least call for a maritime museum. By the time the lakeshore had been created by Congress in 1970, however, both the public and the National Park Service were more attuned to cultural resources. The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, which evolved out of the same national desire to save what was best of the American landscape as the lakeshore parks, gave the National Park Service an important new leadership role in the preservation of historic sites. Superintendent Martinek’s personality also played a role. He was a hands-on manager with little to manage in the first years of land acquisition. He was a doer, sensitive to criticism that the park service was moving too slow in developing the lakeshore. Martinek was familiar with the outstanding job of preservation and interpretation that had been done with lighthouses and life-saving stations at the first national seashore, Cape Hatteras. He grasped the opportunities for historical interpretation offered by the park’s setting and the National Historic Preservation Act and made a long-term commitment to historical resources.
Martinek’s inclination to make an early commitment to historical resources in part emanated from the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Advisory Commission. Preservation, historic and otherwise, was on the minds of the men appointed to represent Leelanau and Benzie counties on the commission. The greatest fear of local residents was that a national park would leave their roads clogged with out-of-state cars and the landscape transformed into tourist honky-tonk strips. One of the first substantive motions passed by the new advisory commission reflected their desire for the park service to use historic preservation to maintain the character of the landscape. At a June 1971 meeting commission members pressed Superintendent Martinek concerning the fate of the buildings on lands purchased for inclusion in the lakeshore. “There are some of the loveliest old barns up in this part of the world that you’ve ever seen in your life,” advised Charles A. Boyer of Manistee. “To me it would be a catastrophe to bulldoze those things down or burn them down.” Boyer advocated at least saving the boards from some of the old structures as they were made with planks cut from the hearts of old growth trees, the size of which no longer existed in Michigan. He also encouraged the superintendent to solicit local citizens for artifacts that might be used to interpret the history of the area. Others commented on the value of saving the old Coast Guard and lighthouse structures. At the urging of Leelanau County’s Noble Travis the Commission fashioned a motion “that all areas of historic value be preserved such as a farm.” The Commission Chair, Carl T. Johnson of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, clarified the motion for the members: “It means to protect all or as much as is possible of the historical value of the Sleeping Bear.” When the motion carried on a voice vote Johnson commented: “That’s one of the first motions this commission has passed.”
Superintendent Martinek wasted little time in acting upon the motion. He enlisted Gordon Charles a writer for the Traverse City Record-Eagle to help encourage the donation of artifacts and funds for historical exhibits. Funds and materials came in slowly, but it was not the amount or volume which mattered most. In undertaking the effort the lakeshore was carrying out the suggestions of the Advisory Commission and it was for the first time developing a positive relationship with the communities which had so bitterly opposed the park, yet with whom the National Park Service was inextricably bound. The effort struck gold when Martinek identified the Frederickson collection. This was a very large assemblage of photographs, documents, and artifacts largely collected in the Manitou Passage area by Arthur Frederickson, a Frankfort resident. For several years he and his wife exhibited the materials locally in a converted barn. After Arthur Frederickson died the upkeep of the collection became too much for his widow who sold the entire inventory to the Great Lakes Research Center at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. Many people committed to the local history regretted the loss of the collection to an out of state institution. Martinek discovered that Professor Richard C. Wright, Director of the Center, was more interested in the photographs and printed materials than he was in the artifacts, which soon became a storage problem for the university. Wright offered to sell the artifact collection to the lakeshore for $12,000. The Frederickson artifacts were outstanding, including the nameplates of ships renowned in Lake Michigan history, navigation equipment, and life-saving technology indispensable in interpreting the history of the lakeshore’s historic maritime buildings. Although the National Park Service had four new national lakeshores in the region, each of which had to interpret the Great Lake’s maritime history, they would not come up with the acquisition funds. Public donations, although encouraging, were not enough to make an offer for the collection. Fortunately, in September of 1972 the Spencer family of Traverse City, in memory of their father who had grown up near Point Betsie, presented Martinek with a check for the full amount. Within a matter of months a portion of the collection was on display within the renovated Glen Haven Coast Guard station visitor’s center.
Nor did Martinek stop there. He successfully solicited the donation of a reconstruction of a nineteenth century U.S. Life Saving Service surf boat. Then, while perusing a list of surplus federal equipment, he discovered a thirty-two foot, self-bailing, motorized Coast Guard lifeboat. At first the regional office was cool to the idea allowing Martinek to put a claim on the boat. “We got two Coast Guard stations, one on the island and one on the mainland,” Martinek reasoned. “There is nothing but old ladders and boxes in there. Wouldn’t it be great if someone peeked on the window and saw a boat?” That logic secured permission to claim the boat but the lakeshore had no budget to transport it from the surplus depot in Toledo to Grand Haven. Again fortune favored the lakeshore. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources also tried to put a claim on the boat, but all they wanted was its motor. Martinek promised to give them the motor if they would deliver the boat to the lakeshore. In this manner with donations from the public and artifacts salvaged from the scrap heap the lakeshore, at a very early date in its development, built an outstanding maritime history collection.
Although only open a portion of the season, the Glen Haven Visitor Center recorded over 7,000 visitors in 1972. The early efforts to preserve and restore for use the Coast Guard stations at Glen Haven and South Manitou Island gave the park service a positive presence in the area. The aggressive collection of maritime history artifacts in a small but significant way helped to bond the intruding federal agency to the isolated communities of northwest Michigan. At the October 27, 1972 meeting of the advisory commission members endorsed Martinek’s actions and called for an even more extensive history program. Citing the legislative mandate for the lakeshore to protect “scenic, scientific, and historic features contributing to public enjoyment,” two Leelanau County commission members proposed a motion that “money be made available to acquire tools, equipment, buildings and such other facilities as may be needed to set up within the confines of the Lakeshore, an old time farm, a sugar bush, an old saw mill, a lumber camp, and fishing boats and gear for public display and education. The motion carried and the lakeshore collected, as donations were made, items that related to those eras. Among the most significant of these were a personal collection of farm equipment and personal items documenting the early history of South Manitou Island. William Herd, a seasonal interpreter, provided what momentum remained after 1973 in the historical collection effort with a background in environmental education and a passion for history. Herd devoted considerable attention to maintaining and expanding the small boat collection begun by Martinek.
During the first two years of the lakeshore’s existence historic preservation and interpretation played a large role in management activities. Superintendent Martinek’s commitment to the lakeshore’s maritime history resources laid the foundation for a major outlay of financial resources to maintain a collection of buildings suffering from a generation of neglect and deferred maintenance. The acquisition of the Frederickson collection determined the emphasis of the interpretation program for years to come. Yet while there was a desire among local residents for an even more expansive history program within the lakeshore, the fact was that during the remainder of the decade of the 1970s the National Park Service was strained to meet its most basic land management responsibilities. Dreams of historical and environmental education centers remained just that, and awaited another day.