Saturday, November 14, 2009

There's a Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum?

Well, yes. Since 1938 there has been a museum dedicated to America's Father of Modern Horticulture. It is also Bailey's birth site, a 1850s Greek Revival rural farm house in South Haven, Michigan that is on the national register for historic places. The region is known as Michigan's southwest fruit belt. Soil and location make this place the largest non-citrus producing regions in North America. It is in this auspicious setting that Bailey grew-up amongst pioneer pomologists on a 80-acre fruit farm.

Despite the museum's early origins (even Bailey found it odd to have a museum dedicated to him before his passing), it has remained unknown to most of the country and even the natives of the region but for some legitimate and legally shaky reasons.

The Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum, despite being dedicated in 1938 to the city of South Haven remained void of being a working museum. Instead, up until 1954, it served as a nurse's dormitory for the adjacent city hospital in violation of the home's deed that stipulated it be a memorial to Liberty Hyde Bailey, South Haven's most famous son. Apparently fame can only take one so far.

Flash forward in the 1980s, and the museum flourished as a typical house museum for its time, being celebrated as a place with antiques and "old stuff" a view that doesn't pass public muster today. The question becomes what is the purpose of a museum, specifically one with this caliper of historical importance? That is what the museum board and staff will be addressing in 2009-2010. Preservation is the key word as we assess the place inside and out. Stay posted to this blog as we share the process of uncovering and rediscovering history in our largest artifact, the Bailey farm house and grounds. Stay tuned. In the meantime, check-out this quick PowerPoint tour.

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