by Tim Bennett
The Warner pioneer homestead, located in Brighton Township, Livingston County, Michigan, was occupied by five generations of the family for over 170 years. The property was first purchased by Timothy Warner, a settler from Livingston County, NY, in 1841 for $384. The farm progressed from an eighty-acre untouched “wilderness” to nearly five-hundred acres of cultivated land in six sections of the township. At its peak, around 1875, it was listed as the 11th largest farm by acreage in Livingston County. The original residence included a log cabin that provided the family with the comforts of home for roughly fifteen years until it was destroyed by fire. In its place, a Greek Revival frame house was built in 1855. The home still stands today and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a largely unmodified example of mid 19th century residential architecture. Historical, genealogical, and archaeological research has been featured in periodicals such as the Chronicle, the Michigan Archaeologist, and Michigan History magazine. Archaeological fieldwork has been ongoing for seven seasons yielding thousands of artifacts from dozens of categories. The Warner site (20LV334) is one of the few historic sites in the state excavated by a direct descendant.
Due to financial difficulties, the now 12 acre farm was sold on land contract that concluded in May 2014. However, just months later, in December, the farm was purchased by my wife and I, a sixth generation descendant of the original pioneers. The actual process of purchasing the property was anything but straightforward. One of the most surprising roadblocks involved the inability for most banks to finance a property with agricultural use. We were informed that any mortgages underwritten through Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac would not be approved for properties listed as agricultural. Fortunately, despite encountering a number of other hurdles to surmount, determination and perseverance ultimately prevailed.
Besides the obvious connection that a family pioneer homestead provides, the property offers much in the way of our research interests and activities centered around historic preservation, genealogy, archaeology, and history. Immediate plans for the house include rehabilitation of the exterior. The previous landowner provided a discount to the tenants to scrape and paint the siding. They did scrape much of the paint off this fall but it quickly became too cold to paint. So next spring we plan on removing the old paint and giving it a fresh coat of white with forest green accents on the trim as well as making repairs to some of the siding and trim. The interior has had work to repair the plaster in line with National Register standards and is actually a considerable improvement over its previous condition. My wife has already been selecting period wallpaper to cover the plaster walls. We are planning on furnishing the home with circa 1900 era items and a number of family members and friends have already generously offered to return or loan period heirlooms. We also plan to use the house to display excavated materials found at the site.
Continued archaeological work is also planned. Despite seven field seasons at the site, there is still much to investigate and a number of research questions to be answered. Of particular interest will be completing excavation of the dry-set stone-lined well that yielded thousands of artifacts dating from the 1850s to 1910. The contents of the well deposited in the 18” shaft appear to be a clean out of the house in April 1910 when my great grandparents were married and moved in. Over seven cubic feet of cultural material has been recovered from the well including a wide variety of ceramics, shoes, irons, wood barrel staves, glassware, cast iron stove parts, glass chimney globes, bottles, marbles, etc.
We intend to continue farming on the property. I’ve spoken with the farmer renting the hay field about possibly plowing it next spring. The plowed field will allow us to do a detailed surface survey to determine if there were any other outbuildings or artifact concentrations beyond the yard adjacent to the house.
In the coming months we hope to get a bronze National Register plaque for the house potentially with an image of the house on it. We’re also going to be looking into applying for a Michigan Historical marker.
I’ve been making wheel thrown pottery for nearly 20 years and we recently incorporated a company called Pleasant Valley Pottery, named after the Pleasant Valley area where the farm is located. The items offered by Pleasant Valley Pottery are actually inspired by 19th century artifacts recovered at the site as well as other historic sites around Michigan. We hope that pottery sales will help support at least in part some of the preservation endeavors as well as costs for property taxes, insurance, and upkeep. We have been encouraged by sales of PVP items around the state this year and look to expand into other historic preservation institutions.
As usual, we will continue our outreach efforts through presentations, published articles, and participation at various events. So far, I’m scheduled to present at Chippewa Nature Center, Midland, on March 11 and will participate in an event regarding historic ceramics on August 20 at Walker Tavern, Brooklyn. We also hope to participate in Archaeology Day at the Michigan Historical Center, Lansing, again in October this year. One article regarding an interesting find at the site is pending publication in the Michigan Archaeologist and several others are in the works.