Catching Up: Fishtown a Year Later
You last saw Amanda Holmes in our August 2011 issue of Michigan Stories – fresh from accepting a Michigan Humanities Council major grant award. The grant project, “Telling Stories – Site Interpretation of Fishtown,” incorporates a number of projects with the purpose of educating the public on the history of Fishtown and the importance in keeping it preserved for future generations.
“The first time I had gone down there, I had the feeling it was supposed to be really important and didn’t know why,” said Holmes, the executive director of the Fishtown Preservation Society (FPS), in the 2011 interview. “People need to know this present place has an important past.”
Over the past year, the FPS has implemented and continued working on their grant projects to make the public aware of the site’s vast fishing history. In the summer of 2011, a lecture series was held where a number of speakers with ties to Fishtown, whether professional or personal, came to speak on the importance of the site.
The most recent portion of the project to hit the public has been the book Fishtown: Leland, Michigan’s History Fishery. Written by Laurie Kay Sommers, Fishtown tells the story of Fishtown’s past and present through remembrances of commercial fishermen and ferry captains who have worked out of the historic fishery for the past century.
“It’s primarily about the fishermen and Fishtown as a fishery,” Holmes said of the book. “People don’t understand the fishermen. Hopefully they come away with a better understanding of the people who used to populate the place and particularly those still involved and why it’s important to keep it going. If you don’t have the fishermen and these people involved, it loses some of its meaning.”
The book will be available in Greater Traverse City area libraries, local book stores, and the FPS offices in Leland.
Even with the excitement surrounding the book’s release, the FPS staff and board continue to work diligently on additional projects linked to the grant. Those projects are story boards, an interpretive picnic table and walking tours. The story boards will be placed on Fishtown’s shanties with the historic name of the building etched on it and a story pertaining to that building.
With help from Michigan Sea Grant, an interpretive picnic table is being developed that would share information on the different species of Great Lakes fish and the people who catch them.
“Part of the research that was done is that we developed a fisheries map,” Holmes said. “We took maps of the waterways and talked to the fishermen and where they had fished, and where families had fished. So the map shows the fishing grounds and it’s information straight from the fishermen.
“When you’re in Fishtown, that’s just a piece of the fishing story,” Holmes continued. “You don’t think about where these guys go when they’re out on the water.”
Walking tours are next on the project agenda, which will include two different versions – Fishtown 101 and the history of Fishtown over the years. Fishtown 101 will include basic information, such as knowledge of the nets, shanties and people who used to frequent the area for livelihood. The other tour provides a detailed history on Fishtown’s harbor and dam, and discusses how the environment has changed due to human activity over the past 150 years. Tourists will see tangible landmarks and understand the comparison of sights between history and today.
Fishtown offers a view and history unique to the area of northwest Michigan. Visit the shanties and hear how important the area was for economic developement - and before you leave, stop in to the Fishtown Preservation Society offices, where Holmes will further spark your curiosity about Fishtown.
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