HARBERT – Saturday, Aug. 15 will be a big day in Harbert and Chikaming Township.
Not only will the annual Taste of Chikaming Township (noon to 4 p.m. at the Chikaming Township Center) and Umbrellas of Harbert Auction (beginning at 5 p.m. at At Center of the World Wood Shop) events be taking place, but at 3 p.m. a Michigan Historical Commission marker to honor the many happy and productive years acclaimed poet and author Carl Sandburg and his family spent at their “Chikaming Goat Farm” in Harbert’s Birchwood subdivision will be unveiled and dedicated at Harbert Community Park.
The two-year project to make the large Sandburg marker a reality began when Christine Byron of East Grand Rapids attended a Chikaming Township Park Board meeting to inform members that she was thrilled when she learned one of her favorite writers had spent nearly two decades (1928-1945) as a Michigan resident; a time period when he wrote prolifically and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his iconic biography of Abraham Lincoln.
Like many Harbor Country residents, Carl, his wife Paula, and daughters Helga, Janet and Margaret began enjoying this area as summertime second-homeowners. And, like many before and after them, they figured out a way to move from the Chicago area and live here full-time.
The spacious lakefront home provided Sandburg with a peaceful and private setting in which to practice his craft, and enough room to store his vast collection of thousands of books related to Lincoln that he used as source material.
The writer loved to take walks here, and the beach was one of his favorite places to roam. My great aunts Hettie and Maud Gooch would sometimes see him walking along the shoreline where he’d sometimes stop to look out at the lake and try his hand at skipping stones.
When his animal-loving daughter, Helga, asked if she could have a cow, her parents suggested instead a smaller and more manageable goat, and that acquisition was the starting point for their famous and award-winning herd of goats.
Paula specialized in breeding goats that produced vast amounts of milk, and in 1940 she won both the “Grand Champion Nubian Golden Cup,” and the Grand Champion Toggenburg Silver Cup.” The three Sandburg girls would help out with the goats after going to school in Three Oaks, and there are still many local residents who have happy memories of playing with the gregarious goats who were so beloved they were sometimes even granted access to the Sandburg’s kitchen.
As an active member of the community, Sandburg was known to roam at sometimes odd hours between writing sessions, and would often drop-in on neighbors. Sometimes he would bring along his guitar and sing some numbers that were included in his “American Songbag.”
The quiet dirt road in Birchwood that leads to the former Sandburg home is still known as “Poet’s Path.”
The Sandburg historic marker becoming a reality was truly a collaborative community effort, and the members of the Park Board have worked diligently to get this done and do it right.
Former Chikaming Township supervisor Jeanne Dudeck volunteered her time and talents to write the successful Pokagon Fund grant that garnered the bulk of funding for the project, and then the Harbert Business Association stepped-up to provide additional needed monetary support. The members of the River Valley Garden Club have volunteered to do special plantings and landscaping around the marker, and they have also pledged to maintain that area in perpetuity.
All are invited to attend the historical marker dedication ceremony and enjoy reflections on Carl Sandburg and the Chikaming Goat Farm presented by local writer and longtime Harbert resident Charley McKelvy; and Jack Dempsey, the president of the Michigan Historical Commission.
There will also be some live musical entertainment, and light refreshments will be served. At this time goats and a sampling of goat’s milk are still being sought for the event.
Sandburg said that since it was his decision to move to Harbert, he acquiesced to his wife Paula’s decision to relocate the family and the goat herd to the more temperate climate of North Carolina.
But while his body moved south, his soul remained in the Midwest. For the rest of his life he had very happy memories of time spent in Harbert and Harbor Country.