It’s always a thrill when the Altenburg lilacs start blooming every year. Located just past the Old Mission General Store in the village of Old Mission, this spectacular wall of lilacs – and the home where they’re located – is iconic in Old Mission history.
When I was a kid growing up in Old Mission (about a quarter-mile south of the Altenburgs), George and Helen Altenburg lived in the stately house. George passed away in 1976, and Helen in 1994. Helen was a Pratt, and her parents were William and Mary Pratt.
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Entire books could be written – and I believe have been written – about the Pratt’s long history on the Old Mission Peninsula. Suffice to say it’s extensive, and the family dates back into the 1800s. Helen’s grandson, Steve Sobkowski, and his wife Nikki live there now.
I perused through some Traverse City Record-Eagle archives and pulled out a few stories where the Altenburgs are mentioned. In this first one, dated March 31, 1969, Helen is one of the models for a fashion show hosted by the Bowers Harbor Junior Woman’s Club.
And as per usual for just about every event back then, my mom, Mrs. Walter Johnson, provided the background music – on an organ loaned for the event by the Lowrey Organ Studios. The proceeds were given to Camp Roy-El. Remember that? My sister, Carol, spent a summer volunteering there.
And here’s a story dated April 30, 1964, about the time the Northwestern Chapter of the Michigan Botanical Club placed a placard on a huge American chestnut tree on the Altenburg farm.
The story notes that the family took over the farm in 1849, and the tree was there at that time. I wonder if the tree and/or placard is still there. Maybe the Sobkowskis can jump in and answer that question in the comments section below.
Here’s one more story, dated Dec. 24, 1954, and I might run this separately around Christmas if I remember. It talks about how the residents of Old Mission had decorated their homes and village for the holiday season. The Altenburgs placed the Star of Bethlehem on their rooftop, and a large blue-lighted tree was at the doorway.
Check out all the other names, though. An entire chapter of my childhood resides in those names. Also note the author. Molly Sobkowski, George and Helen’s daughter, was the Record-Eagle’s roving reporter for Old Mission at that time. (It’s in two parts because I couldn’t get the whole story in one screenshot.)
A NOTE FROM JANE: I started Old Mission Gazette in 2015 because I felt a calling to provide the Old Mission Peninsula community with local news. After decades of writing for newspapers and magazines like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Family Circle and Ladies' Home Journal, I really just wanted to write about my own community where I grew up on a cherry farm and raised my own family. So I started my own newspaper. Because the Gazette is mainly reader-supported, I hope you'll consider tossing a few bucks my way if I mention your event, your business, your organization or your news item, or if you simply love reading about what's happening on the OMP. Check out the donation page here. Thank you so much for your support. -jb