Staebler Farm: Documenting the Past - Today!

Donald Staebler and his wife, Lena at Staebler Farm with milk cart and cansA symbol of agricultural heritage in Superior Township, Staebler Farm is home to more than just the half dozen sheep or small herd of cattle occasionally visible from busy Plymouth Road. Within the walls of the newly restored red barns, 140 year old farmhouse and jam-packed garage, lays a collection of artifacts that spans a century or more of rural Washtenaw County history.

Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission purchased Staebler Farm for development of a County park in 2001. Former owner Donald Staebler, who still resides in the farmhouse under a life-lease, agreed to donate farming implements and other historically significant artifacts for future public programming. While the County is still in the beginning stages of developing a master plan for the property, we anticipate dedicating a portion of the site to the interpretation of 20th century farming.

Milk Cart TodayAfter finishing my first year as a graduate student in the Historic Preservation program at Eastern Michigan University, I began an internship with WCPARC this past May. Using PastPerfect, a well-known museum software program, I have begun the extensive process of cataloging the individual artifacts within the collection. This involves assigning each item a unique number and collecting data regarding its name, description, function and history. By photographing the artifacts and tagging them with the appropriate name and number, the collection will soon be ready for future use in County exhibits.

Throughout this project, Donald Staebler has remained the most important resource in accurately documenting the collection. I have spent the past few months conducting oral history interviews in which Mr. Staebler has recounted memories from his last 97 years on the farm. He has also been videotaped demonstrating various turn-of-the-century farming implements that may be used in future exhibits. Mr. Staebler's expansive knowledge has made identification and explanation of many of the artifacts possible.

Working with WCPARC has taught me a great deal about collections care and management at historic sites. Being part of a developing museum is a unique experience that has afforded me the opportunity to meet with donors, make decisions regarding objects proposed for acquisition and explore different interpretive themes. Above all, however, I have enjoyed the time spent learning from Donald Staebler. By recording and documenting Mr. Staebler's stories today, the County is ensuring that future generations will have the opportunity to explore the agricultural history of Washtenaw County.

Sara Ericson, Park Planning Intern
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