The Architecture of Old Mission Peninsula and the Michigan Rural Property Inventory

By Lau, Wanda W. | Michigan Academician, April 2000 | Go to article overview

The Architecture of Old Mission Peninsula and the Michigan Rural Property Inventory


Lau, Wanda W., Michigan Academician


ABSTRACT

Assessing the degree of landscape change over time is a challenging undertaking even for experienced field historians, cultural geographers, planners, and landscape architects. Often asked to determine the impact of urbanization on rural landscapes--especially as it affects place identity--these professional groups have had to rely heavily on secondary resources, lengthy fieldwork, or first-hand accounts to recreate a base from which to measure change on the landscape. In this study, the researchers introduce the use of an archival resource titled the "Michigan Rural Property Inventory" (MRPI) to develop a picture of Michigan's rural architectural landscape in the late 1930s. Peninsula Township, located in Grand Traverse County, Michigan, served as the study site. Because the township is experiencing significant pressures from secondary and retirement home development, much of its historic housing stock is being threatened. To assess the amount of change that has occurred over the past sixty years, the MRPI was used to establish a foundation for determining vernacular architecture. The five variables found to be most useful in the characterization of housing styles on the MRPI cards include: house axis in relation to main service road, general footprint, year of construction, structure height, and roof characteristics. From this data, the housing style that represented each homestead could be predicted. Generally, the housing styles fell into one of two main categories: National Folk Style and Craftsman Style. Footprint information and roof characteristics further allowed the prediction of specific sub-categories within each of these main housing styles. Since the MRPI survey of Peninsula Township was conducted in 1939, field verification of the accuracy of the data interpretation was necessary. The field study affirmed that the aforementioned five variables were excellent approximates of the types of housing style that prevailed in rural areas of Michigan. Ultimately, the researchers hope that this study could be used to encourage future development

that enhances, rather than deviates from, the cultural history and identity of Old Mission Peninsula.

NOTE: This paper, presented in a session on Historical Preservation in the Geography Section of the Michigan Academy in 1999, was co-winner of the Ronald O. Kapp Undergraduate Award to the most outstanding paper presented at the annual meetings of the Michigan Academy that year. Ms. Lau is an undergraduate student at Michigan State University, majoring in civil engineering with a specialty in construction and architectural design.

INTRODUCTION

As population growth soars and land resources become sparse, more builders, families, and individuals are feasting their eyes upon the higher latitudes of Michigan for untouched acres. Old Mission Peninsula, located in the northwestern region of Lower Michigan, is one such area rapidly gaining recognition as embodying this desired land.

Located just north of Traverse City, this 20-mile-long peninsula is divided into three regions--Upper, Middle, and Lower--by township and range lines ("Grand Traverse County, Michigan" 1999). Within its 28 square miles lies a history so precious that, once lost, can never be retrieved (Potter 1954). From the remaining traces of the missionaries who first set foot in Michigan in the 1830s to the telltale signs of the Arts and Crafts Movement, the history is woven into every aspect of the Peninsula, from the farms to the people, and, to the main focus of this study, the architecture.

Old Mission Peninsula was selected as the site of study for many reasons. Previous studies have been performed on the place identity and architectural resources of the landscape, thereby serving as precedents off which to build this research. A near-complete set of Michigan Rural Property Inventory cards was available for the Peninsula, in addition to current data and statistics. …

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