Keeping it 'old school'
The Fife Lake Historical Society’s mission is preserving and teaching people about
the past. So, it seems only fitting that the organization’s three buildings have deep roots in education.
The society is located in the southeastern Grant Traverse County community of Fife Lake, a village of about 500 residents near the lake of the same name. The community was founded shortly after the railroad came to the area. The buildings now known as society’s fire barn and schoolhouse were built in 1876 and 1878 respectively. Both served as schools in the community until 1885 when a new, larger school was built.
The northern schoolhouse became the township hall. In the early 1940s, the village library also moved into the building. When the township, and later the library moved into new buildings, the township sold the schoolhouse to the historical society.
In 2021 Great Lakes Energy members, through their contributions to the People Fund, provided a $5,000 grant to help pay for a new roof on the schoolhouse. The new roof will help ensure the schoolhouse and the artifacts inside will stay well-preserved for many years to come, society board president Joyce Freiwald said.
The original southern school building was moved to its current location where it served as home to the local fire department for many years. Today the building houses an emergency services museum. Displays include uniforms from 120 years ago, large wheeled firefighting equipment, a 1937 fire truck, and a display illustrating medical care and emergency services from the past.
The society’s museum building was erected in 1896, first as a church, then as a community center and then as the gym for the Fife Lake school district. The Fife Lake Historical Society formed in 1967 and the school district deeded the building to the historical society in 1972. In addition to the many artifacts, documents and photographs the society has on display, it also has a collection of local newspapers from the late 1800s through the 1940s and a collection of genealogical information.
In the winter of 1977, the heavy snow from a severe storm caused the roof of the museum to collapse. Thankfully, Joyce said, many of the artifacts in the museum escaped damage, thanks to the sturdy cases that had been obtained from the University of Michigan museum.
Following a year of fundraising, about 25 men constructed a building shell over the original foundation and floor during a two-day barn raising-style effort. During the next two years, the organization raised additional $5,000 for windows, doors, wiring, insulation, drywall, and other necessities. It’s about the people
It’s about the people
But Joyce said the society is about more than just buildings and the things inside them: It’s about bringing history to life for people.
Every spring for about the past 20 years, the society has invited students from nearby Fife Lake Elementary School to spend the day experiencing what school was like more than 100 years ago. During the day students learn the rules of the time, participate in a spelling bee, do recitations, and vie for the dunce chair. The students then tour the historical museum and go on a walking tour of the community to complete their day.
The organization also offers a scholarship program to high school students who are willing to volunteer 40 hours to the organization for two summers.
The society’s buildings are open to the public from 1-4 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Joyce said the society is happy to accommodate special requests from groups that might be visiting the area at other times. The society typically hosts an annual barbecue as one of its main fundraisers and three informational programs each summer on topics of local and historical interest. Joyce said this coming summer the society plans to host some events focusing on the 150th anniversary of the village’s founding.
Joyce noted, “Fife Lake people are very generous with their time and money. We really appreciate their support.”
For more information about the Fife Lake Historical Society, or to learn about getting involved with the organization, visit fifelakehistoricalsociety.org/.
Great Lakes Energy’s People Fund allows members of the electric cooperative to choose to have their bills rounded up to the next full dollar each month. Those rounded-up amounts are pooled with other program participants to fund two rounds of grant each year for non-profit organizations throughout the cooperative’s 26-county service area. The People Fund has awarded more than $4 million in grants since its inception in 1999. To learn more about the People Fund, and how to enroll, visit gtlakes.com/people-fund/.