Traverse City Record-Eagle


April 13, 2014

'Homestead' celebrates its 150th birthday

OLD MISSION — Daisy Johnson beams a sepia-toned smile at the camera, her hat a fashionable feat of engineering. Tim Carroll, 75, still hears the music she pounded out of the piano with her large hands, remembers the smell of her oatmeal cookies as if it were yesterday.

The kids always knew when Daisy was baking, Carroll remembered. Tantalizing cookie smells drifted across the garden, bringing a clatter of child-sized footsteps to the porch, and a shouted warning, unheeded, at the first squeak of the hinges, “Don’t slam the ... !”

Yesterday, today — time is relative at Carroll’s home, Sunny Slope Farms, where his family has lived for 150 years. Here, the walls talk — as does the bed, the desk, even the wainscoting has something to say about being “battered by four generations of bad children,” Carroll said.

The wainscoting, like everything else, is lovingly restored, scuffs removed; stories intact. Restoring the homestead from “falling to shreds” cost mountains of money, but the effect is a beautiful, functional homage to his heritage.

“We save things,” is Carroll’s simple explanation. But saving goes far beyond plastic tubs and archival paper. “The homestead” is part of the family and will celebrate its 150th birthday this April 15. The original deed, preserved and treasured, was made out to Carroll’s great-father, Robert Johnson, and signed “given by my hand, April 15, 1864,” by then President Abraham Lincoln.

“The actual signature was most likely a clerk, but it’s still fun,” said Carroll.

Today’s homestead is but a “sliver” of the original 160 acres, but what remains — the dinner bell, the artifacts, the photographs and infinite stories — are held close and cherished.

Out comes Johnson’s small wooden chest that accompanied the young man on the long journey from Ireland to Grand Traverse County. Johnson, like many others, worked for timber baron Perry Hannah while establishing his fruit growing operation. He married Mary Rice Kaziah in the eighth nuptial recorded in the newly formed Grand Traverse County.

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