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Growing Up Bailey

In 2018, we updated our permanent exhibit, to showcase the years that Liberty Hyde Bailey, Jr. lived in South Haven. He was born on March 15, 1858 in the farmhouse that his father built, one of the oldest, still standing in town. We were so fortunate to have April Bryan and Brittany Williams, both enthusiastic museum professionals help.

This is from Brittany about their experience:

Liberty Hyde Bailey – South Haven’s Favorite Son

What was it like to be a boy growing up in the 1860s in rural West Michigan? How did young Bailey grow up to become the influential man we are all here because of today? Who were the people that helped him become the Father of Modern Horticulture?

It was these questions and more that April and I asked ourselves just four short months ago. We were introduced to the dedicated, passionate volunteers here at the Bailey Museum through mutual museum colleagues. We spend most of our time at our “home” museums near Kalamazoo – April as the Collections and Exhibits Manager at the Air Zoo in Portage while I am the Collections Manager at the Gilmore Car Museum in rural Hickory Corners.

When we were presented with the opportunity to spend s

ome quality time learning about Bailey’s beginnings, it was an offer that we could not refuse and a project we were beyond delighted to pursue.

The idea of “growing up Bailey” was intriguing ------ how did this young boy grow up to become a profound and inspirational man? It is a feat that only a select few ever achieve. The motivation that young Bailey had for learning inspired our creativity.

When Bailey walked this very yard and the orchard that used to populate the land, he saw color. Green in the leaves, blue in the creek that ran through the family’s homestead and in the big lake nearby, the rough brown bark of the trees all around him, and the pink of his favorite flowers that reminded him of his mother.

He heard sounds. The chirping of the birds swooping through the sky, the buzzing of the insects in the fields, and the sharp clish of his father working the land around them. It is these sights and sounds that influenced the aesthetic that we wanted to bring inside the Bailey home.

The story was already written. Bailey’s life had been wonderfully documented through the family’s hardships and successes – and there were many of each. Births, deaths, marriages. The family felt both tragic loss and celebrated happy times in this home. It is these stories --- and the people that were present in these times --- that influenced the man Bailey would become.

And as he became that man, he influenced many others in return. Through his teachings, books, poems, and passion, he did what no man had done before him. He brought a higher level of understanding to nature and the world around him, and he will forever remain a remarkable man because of it.

April and I spent four short months with Bailey, but really, we’ve gotten to walk with him through each of his 96 years. When people make the pilgrimage to see the birthplace of Liberty Hyde Bailey, Jr --- it is our wish that they will leave seeing the world as Bailey did. Full of the color, sounds, and beauty that the Earth offers each one of us.

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