HISTORY OF THE BAILEY FARMHOUSE
The Bailey farmhouse was constructed by Liberty Hyde Bailey, Sr., from 1853-1856. The home realized a promise Mr. Bailey made to his wife, Sarah, that if she was willing to move from their established farm in Arlington Township, he would build her a real home. The Bailey family took up residence in the home in 1856 and began the arduous task of clearing the 80 acres of land the home sat upon.
Liberty Bailey had good reason to move his family to South Haven. He was a respected pomologist and knew the value of being close to water. This “lake effect” or being close to a large body of water, safe guarded springtime buds that often froze on trees farther inland from its shores. Bailey had to clear the land for his orchards, barns and pastures that were necessary to the livelihood of a sustainable farm. His wife knew all too well of the hardships associated with the move, as they had previously done this in Arlington. She also understood her husband’s aspiration to become a renowned apple grower in Southwest Michigan, so she reluctantly “pulled up her stakes.”
As the years passed, the Bailey dream farm came to fruition. Typical to the time period, there were periods of great personal loss, the passing of Sarah Bailey and the oldest son, Dana, second son, Marcus leaving home, financial hardship and the Civil War. There were also joys, the birth of Liberty Hyde Bailey, Jr. in 1858, a second marriage of Bailey, Sr. to Maria Bridges and the orchards receiving acclaim for its marvelous apples. By the 1880’s their apple orchards were receiving prizes in the horticulture world as well as being a commodity item for market in Chicago, Illinois.
Sarah Bailey and Liberty Hyde Bailey, Sr.
Balley Farmhouse circa 1880's
During this time, Liberty Hyde Bailey, Jr. announced to his family he wished to pursue a higher education. He left his birth site home and enrolled at the Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University) to study botany. He would keep close ties with his family and as his fame grew, he came to visit as often as his busy schedule would allow.
Liberty Jr., and his brother, Marcus, shared their concerns about the aging of the “folks” and what to do with the farm in their correspondence. Neither of the sons wished to return to South Haven and after the death of their father in 1912, they began to help their stepmother sell off tracts of the farm. Maria Bailey lived until 1916 and the Bailey brothers put the farm up for sale. Another well-known farmer, Frank Warner, purchased the land and the home. Mr. Warner keep the farm producing until his death in 1928 and his wife sold off even more of the original farmstead. Eventually the farm would be placed on the market again.
FARMHOUSE IS DEDICATED TO THE CITY OF SOUTH HAVEN
Mrs. Clifton Charles bought the home in 1938 and gifted it to the City of South Haven. Her desire was to have the Bailey home become a lasting tribute to Liberty Hyde Bailey, Jr.’s works and his friendship from college days with her late husband. On September 4, 1938, a formal dedication ceremony was held on the front steps of the farmhouse.
Bailey was not able to attend the dedication ceremony, but telegrammed stating,” I trust the gift will freshen old memories, yield satisfaction to the people and stimulate youth.” However, due to global financial uncertainty and the winds of war at this time, the home was used as a rental property instead of a tribute. During the 1940’s the old Bailey orchard land became the new South Haven hospital and the farmhouse became the nurse’s dormitory.
Finally in the 1950’s a group of concerned citizens expressed their concerns to the Mayor of South Haven, Charles Tait, that the city would lose this property due to its lack of honoring the deed of gift. The mayor appointed these citizens as the first members of the Liberty Hyde Bailey Park Board of Trustees.
FARMHOUSE BECOMES A MUSEUM
The relationship between the City of South Haven and the Bailey Board of Trustees continued for the next sixty years. As needs arose, the city and the board would decide how much each could afford to take care of the variety of projects. During this time significant accomplishments occurred:
Museum placed on National Historic Registry
Museum received Michigan Historic Marker
Part-time docents replace live in caretaker
Addition of exhibit room built on east side of the museum
City sells some of the original Bailey land and dedicates acre of woodland behind the house as Bailey Park
Museum moves an historic blacksmith barn on site
Planning and incorporation of outside gardens
WMU Public History Program offers internships during the summer (early 2000’s)
The last intern became the museum’s first part-time director. Using his knowledge and expertise, John Stempien, aided the board in transitioning from a working board to understanding the roles each party respectively should provide for the museum’s growth. During this time, the relationship with the City of South Haven came under scrutiny. Given that the museum had acquired Incorporation in 1977, the Board of Trustees had become two boards- City and Non-Profit.
In 2014, the city and museum worked collaboratively to rewrite the by-laws and establish one board that represented the museum. A rental agreement was established between the city and this new board, The Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum and Memorial Fund. The LHBM became the agent for all Bailey collections and rents the museum property from the city. This agreement also provided a working agreement to address repairs, provide maintenance and fund part-time staffing.