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Firefighters burn Centennial farmhouse

Becky Vargo • Nov 11, 2017 at 10:00 AM

CROCKERY TWP. — A handful of park employees and firefighters stood by this past Sunday as a dilapidated old farmhouse burned to the ground.

The 123-year-old building at the southwest end of Wren Drive in Crockery Township had never been opened to the public at Ottawa County’s Crockery Creek Natural Area. It was becoming a safety hazard, so Crockery Township firefighters used it as a training facility before taking it down in the final burn. The barn and the large trees in the yard were saved.

“We’ve been debating what to do with it for quite a while,” said Curtis TerHaar, coordinator of park planning and development for the county.

“The initial effort was hopefully to save it and restore it,” agreed Anne Engvall, north area parks supervisor.

But the house was flooded and part of the foundation caved in earlier this year.

“The house was full of mold because of the chronically wet basement,” Engvall said. “I wouldn’t even go in it anymore.”

County Parks Director John Scholtz walked through the building with local historians earlier this year, TerHaar said.

“They advised there was not really anything significant historically to save,” he said.

The one exception was a portion of foundation blocks thought to be manufactured with slag from the Nunica or Fruitport areas, Engvall said. According to one of the historians, it’s the only known example of something like this in the area, she said.

The salvaged foundation blocks will be repurposed into a display in the area, Engvall said. That’s all part of continuing improvements at the park.

During the past year, a lighted parking area was constructed with a portable restroom at the county park. A new path with a stairway was constructed to link two other trails on the property. Picnic tables have been placed under the huge old trees.

Engvall said an accessible pathway and accessible picnic table are next to be constructed.

The Crockery Creek Natural Area is located at the end of Wren Drive, about a half-mile south of Leonard Road. Wren is located between 104th and 112th avenues.

The 331-acre natural area has about 2 miles of hiking and cross-country ski trails. It includes frontage on the Grand River and Crockery Creek.

History

The earliest record of activity on this property is that of a brickyard that operated in the 1870s. A large pit still remains today where clay and other materials were dug and formed into bricks. A small barge then transported the bricks to Grand Haven to build roads and for other uses.

In 1882, the Kirkby family came from England, purchased this land and built their homestead. Several generations of the Kirkbys lived on the farm for 123 years. Mrs. Frankie A. Kirkby was the last of the family to reside there until her death in 2005. She was 94.

Frankie and her husband, George, moved into the house to live with George’s mother in 1940. At that time, George’s mother was raising turkeys and peddling them along with butter and eggs in Grand Haven.

George was an electrician and a school bus driver. Frankie was a nurse in Muskegon. In addition to their jobs, they kept a working farm with 13 dairy cows, a couple of horses and some chickens. They also grew a variety of crops including wheat, oats, corn, potatoes and vegetables. They used most of the animal and plant products; however, they did sell chickens and eggs to neighbors. In the 1950s, they logged some virgin oaks and maples from the property to supplement their income.

During a conversation in 2002, Frankie recalled fighting hoards of mosquitoes as she rounded up the cows from the “flats.” She also stated what a thrill it was to see the first whitetail deer on their property in 1940. She remembered seeing a beaver on the property, as well as many muskrats that George would trap.

The Michigan Historical Commission certified the farm as a Centennial Farm in 1982.

Source: Ottawa County Parks

 

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