Along the Leelanau Trail, tucked between Shady Lane and Whittaker Road, you’ll see the remains of this often talked about fieldstone potato barn.
During the lumber era in the late 1800s, the rail line (that is now the Leelanau Trail) delivered lumber to waiting ships in Traverse City and Suttons Bay to send on to Chicago. By the turn of the century, the lumber supply had declined significantly, but now farmers had developed connections in Chicago who had a high demand for potatoes from our rich soil of Northern Michigan.
Soon, potato farmers became a stronghold in the region and several storage warehouses were built along the rail line to expedite shipping out of the area. Farmers would either take their load of potatoes by horse and wagon directly to the Suttons Bay marina, or store them in the warehouses. Boxcars would stop and pick up the potatoes along the line on the way to Traverse City.
Farmers who owned the potato barns would maybe make an extra penny or 2 to store them for the neighboring farms. And as always, farming was a family affair and children spent 2 weeks each fall on a “Potato Digging Vacation” to help harvest the fields.
This historic barn is on property originally owned by the Behm Family.
Keep your eye out along the trail for other past remnants of potato barns.
As told by Rex Shugart and Orella Buck of Leelanau County
Photos by Ryan Wainwright