By Karen Rieser – Artwork of The Barn painted by Clara Moon.
We all have or will reach the point in our lives when we feel a need to reflect on our journey. For most of us, our thoughts and memories go back several generations. It becomes essential to be able to pin these thoughts and memories to something permanent. Many of us pass objects and or stories onto our children and grandchildren. We create genealogical charts and research family documents. The fortunate have books written about their family lines. A short while ago, Richard Mead Gielow contacted us. Having reached the age of eighty-four, he felt it was time to share his family’s story and the history of The Barn.
Richard’s story begins with his grandparents, Lemuel Carlisle (L.C.) and Lena Mae Mead. Richard’s grandmother was raised in Gaylord, MI, the daughter of a well to do banker. His grandfather grew up in Topinabee, MI, near the Mackinac bridge. In 1911, Lemuel and Lena Mead, now married, purchased fifty-two acres of land near the east arm of the Grand Traverse Bay. The property also extended across the street through a wooded area that bordered the Underwood’s cherry orchards. Although the property had changed hands many times, it had remained, for the most part, an ample open space.
Wanting to reside on the property, L. C. Mead built a modest home for his family and next to it a barn for livestock. He planted the rest of the property in cherry trees. Unfortunately, the trees were not financially productive as the land was low; eventually, they removed the orchard. In time L.C. had to leave home to earn money for his family. He worked for Ford Motor Car Company in Highland Park. It was here he learned the plumbing trade and soon became a master plumber. In the meantime, the Meads had three children, Richard’s mother, Elizabeth, and two boys Sanford and Louis. Returning home, L. C. found employment with Arms & Cole in Traverse City, ultimately becoming the plumbing inspector for Traverse City.
As young adults, Richard’s mother and two brothers all had cottages on their father’s property. Richard remembers spending his summers at his grandparent’s house known as The Farm from the time he was running on the beach in his birthday suit to a young suit-wearing adult. Upon his grandparents’ deaths, the property was divided between their three children.
Richard was born in 1935 at the Redford Receiving Hospital. His family lived in Redford, MI, until Richard was in third grade. For a brief time during his third-grade year, Richard attended the McKinley School. Today he is pleased to be the proud owner of the school’s bell and displays it in what he calls The Memorial House. A move lasting two years was made to North Rosedale Park, then onto Adel, Georgia, where Richard finished the fourth through seventh grades. The family returned to Detroit, and Richard attended the Howe Military School in Indiana, completing eighth grade. Richard’s high school experience found him attending Redford High for two years and then spending his last two years at Cranbrook.
After high school, Richard returned to Traverse City and stayed in his parent’s cottage onThe Farm and worked for the Traverse City Chrysler/Plymouth Dealership. In February of 1954, Richard left Michigan to attend the Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, California.
Returning to Traverse City, Richard secured a job with the Cadillac Motor Car Division in Detroit, where he worked for thirty-one years as a metallurgist. During this time, Richard and Barbara, his wife, spent any spare time they had in Northern Michigan on The Farm. Over the years, the couple watched a great many changes occur on the family property.
As Richard was growing up, the family business, Aunt Janes Pickle Packing Company, supported them well. Richard’s mother, described as a beauty with lavish taste, had several homes but always pampered her farm property. Over time she converted the barn into a guest house and built several more structures on the property. She named all of the buildings, The Barn, The Hillside House, The Annex, The Memorial, and The Honeymoon House, each structure with its own story.
When Richard’s father passed away, Richard’s mother tore down the cottage and built her dream house. She lived as if her husband’s pension had not expired and later began to realize financial concerns. She sold much of her properties but hung onto the family farm homestead.
Running out of funds, Elizabeth eventually sold the house on the farm property but kept The Barn, which by now was a guest house. She salvaged the stone and concrete pillars from her father’s front porch, presently part of the screened building, The Memorial, across the street.
In 1980 it became apparent that The Barn would need to be sold. Elizabeth called Richard and offered to sell it to him. Wanting to hang onto the family legacy, Richard purchased The Barn. Richard and his wife Barbara remodeled the guest house and rented it for ten years. Retiring in 1990 from G.M., the couple moved into The Barn full time.
Upon Elizabeth’s death, her property was again divided, this time between Richard and his siblings…once a large parcel, it was becoming small. Wanting to respect the family, Richard purchased both his brother and sister’s parcels, which included the sum of his mother’s property and Hillside House across the street. Richard now oversees much of the land his ancestors cherished, but that is not the end of the story. The fact is, it is The Barn that is the most fascinatingly unique portion of this story.
The barn took some time to officially become The Barn. As we drove into Richard’s driveway, I was curious as to where the barn he had spoken of was. It was not too long into the interview that I was told I was sitting in the barn, the same barn Richard’s grandfather built, that his mother turned into a guest house, and to which he added the second story.
A visit to the basement revealed the secrets of the present-day house. The original barn took form when Richard’s grandfather slid an existing structure across the road and placed it on the walls and over the concrete floor he had prepared. We stood on a poured concrete floor that, in the 1950s, was extended beyond the walls of the original barn. Eventually, the barn was enlarged, extending it to the edge of the concrete. The outline of the original structure is still visible and surrounded by its original two-foot-thick, eight-foot-high stone walls, now painted white, that are pure Michigan. An outside shower (removed when the barn was enlarged) cleaned man and beast. The low ceiling sheltered several cows, a horse, chickens, and all supplies necessary to keep them alive. Drainage grates are still visible on the floor. The first window installed in the barn was an old car window that even opened. Richard and his friends used the window to play “shoot em up.” Later his grandfather installed a tank under the window to hold well water.
The upper level of the barn was used as most barns are for storing equipment and tools for farm labor. As times changed and motor vehicles were more affordable, the upper level was used as a garage. Notes of oil changes and other car or tractor repairs were recorded on a beam and remain behind the wallboard today. Richard still displays the most beautiful oil rendering of the barn created by a local artist, Clara Moon.
Eventually, the barn became part of Richard’s mother’s estate, and she decided to reconfigure it into a guest cottage. The concrete base was extended beyond the original barn walls to begin the project. She then removed a portion of the upper level, joined it with a structure from across the street, and added additional living space. A lower bedroom ceiling still follows the roofline of the barn giving it a country flavor. The barn officially became “The Barn” and was rented until 1980 when Richard purchased it. It was again remodeled and rented for ten more years.
At the time of retirement, in 1990, Richard and Barbara decided to add a second floor that required a great many variances from the Township. The variances were granted since the structure already existed. However, the structure would never be allowed to extend passed the concrete slab, which accounts for its unusual footprint of 35 feet wide at the front and 45 feet in the back. The remaining water frontage is fifty feet.
Today Richard watches over his family’s remaining property with great care. As his mind wanders, all the major players are still with him, for which he is grateful. He listens to the wind and waves first heard by his grandparents, reminisces about his mother’s exquisite taste and active imagination. Richard rejoices in the fact that he and his new wife (both their spouses passed away due to Alzheimer’s) are still able to bask in the sun shining on the farm property.