Editor’s Note: Today’s Op-Ed is written by George Boursaw (my husband Tim’s uncle), who grew up on the land now being developed as “The 81 on East Bay” project. Read on for his thoughts on the development currently in progress … jb
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I recently had the opportunity to return to my childhood home on the Old Mission Peninsula, the land now being developed as “The 81 on East Bay” project, approved by the Peninsula Township Board on Dec. 12, 2017.
As my mom used to say, “You can take the boy off the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the boy.” I’m always anxious to return to my roots. But while the house I grew up in is still on the corner of Boursaw Road and Bluff Road, the surrounding land that my ancestors farmed is now a barren landscape.
Let’s take a look at the history of Michigan’s landscape. While a few former fur trading posts – Detroit, Sault Ste. Marie, and Mackinac Island – date back more than 300 years, most of Michigan was not settled until much later. Until the discovery of copper in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, there was not much reason to settle there. The winters were much too cold, and much of the land was swampy. Copper and iron created a mining boom, and cities sprouted up near the mines. But as both the copper and iron ore were depleted, the cities shrank to the size of small towns.
Similarily, Michigan’s Lower Peninsula was bypassed by early European settlers. Ohio and Illinois were settled much earlier. Most of the Lower Peninsula was one giant swamp or low fields covered with dense pine forest. So, except for some Native American camps near the coastline, it was very sparsely populated.
I grew up on the narrow Old Mission Peninsula, whose roots date back even further than Traverse City. The village of Old Mission, at the north end of the Peninsula, celebrated its centennial in 1947, while Traverse City, on the south end, celebrated its centennial in 1949.
The deed to the farm I grew up on, and many of the neighboring Old Mission Peninsula farms, was signed by Abraham Lincoln. My great grandfather, who had been living in the village of Old Mission, moved his family onto the 80-acre plot of land on the bay three miles south of Old Mission. His eldest son had an adjoining much smaller farm. The dream of having a deed to his own farm had been fulfilled.
My great grandfather and grandfather loved their land. My father, Garrett Boursaw, the youngest of three brothers, took over the farm, and he loved the land, as well. He taught his six sons and one daughter to love and care for God’s green earth, and we also loved the land. Bryce, my only surviving sibling, and I are the only ones of our generation to witness the destruction of the land that was once our family farm.
As Garrett aged, he had no offspring to take over the farm. In fact, he wanted his children to achieve a better life than scratching in the dirt for nickels when they could be earning dollars. He and my mom, Clarissa Boursaw, succeeded on that score.
Among their offspring was a registered nurse, a truck driver, an agricultural chemical salesman, an engineer, a forest ranger, a career sailor who served on nuclear submarines, and a math teacher. So in the early 1970s, shortly before Garrett’s death, the farm was sold. My mom also loved the farm and, thankfully, did not need to witness the destruction of the land.
For several years after Garrett’s death, the new owner kept the orchards. The young man who cared for the farm, Phil Weatherholt, was a local farm boy who had taken over his dad’s farm. Phil was a friend of my brothers, Jerry and Bryce.
It was a great comfort to my mom, who still lived in the farmhouse on the corner, to hear a tractor working in the orchard and know it was one of her “boys.” The Boursaw family kept the house and the land on which it was located.
Eventually, however, the orchards were pushed out. While no longer farmed, the land that we loved remained much the same. Until the summer of 2018, that is, when “The 81 on East Bay” began to be developed.
Bought by a developer, the land is being divided into lots and established as a ritzy subdivision. It always amazes me how men think they can improve the beauty that God created. As of this summer, great swaths of woods have been cut down, roads pushed through everywhere, and wonderfully wooded hills rearranged by earth movers.
My Judeo-Christian heritage tells me to forgive my enemies. In this case, however, that is difficult. I wonder how the spirits of my Native American forefathers have reacted to the destruction of their land.