A Community in Search of an Identity
Publication Year: 2012
Chippewa Lake is an idyllic waterfront community in north-central Michigan, popular with retirees and weekenders. The lake is surrounded by a rural farming community, but the area is facing a difficult transition as local demographics shift, and as it transforms from an agriculture-based economy to one that relies on wage labor. As farms have disappeared, local residents have employed a variety of strategies to adapt to a new economic structure. The community, meanwhile, has been indelibly affected by the advent of newcomers and retirees challenging the rural cultural values. An anthropologist with a background in sociology, Cindy L. Hull deftly weaves together oral accounts, historic documents, and participant surveys compiled from her nearly thirty years of living in the area to create a textured portrait of a community in flux.
Published by: Michigan State University Press
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This ethnographic study has been twenty-eight years in the making. It started when we moved to Chippewa Lake in 1982. I was arriving to live here for the first time; my husband was returning to his roots. I have been planning this ethnography for many years, but did not have the opportunity to do so until my sabbatical from...
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I was first introduced to Chippewa Lake by my future husband, LaVail. I often accompanied him on the trek north from Grand Rapids to visit his grandparents, who lived on a small farm about two miles from the village of Chippewa Lake. I remember reveling in the lush greenness of the scenery, the endless fields of corn, and the...
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In the broad regional view, this current research is a “tale of two cities and a village.” Although I propose an ethnography—that is, a study of one community—this cannot be successful without locating the research community within a larger economic and social matrix. First, the most direct impact on current trends in the village...
1. The Geography and Indigenous People of Mecosta County
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West-central Michigan is blessed with an abundance of rivers, streams, and lakes that have provided a pristine environment for early Native American communities, European settlers, and modern-day sports enthusiasts. Three river systems, comprising 293 miles of rivers and streams, drain the county. The Muskegon River flows...
2. Locating Chippewa Township in Time and Place
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Chippewa Township is located in northwest Mecosta County. It is one of the northernmost townships, bordering on Osceola County. Chippewa Township contains ten lakes, with Chippewa Lake being the largest and most significant economically in the history of the township. Because Chippewa Lake is located in the...
3. Farm Families in Transition
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We start our story of modern change and stability in the rural areas of Chippewa Township, as this is where the majority of residents reside. This is also the area that best identifies the history of the community since the 1800s, when the railroad tracks were ripped up, leaving the isolated farms behind. Descendants of these early...
4. Chippewa Township as Rural Community in Transition
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In applying the concept of community effect and examining how shared goals of rural communities are shifting, we can draw upon the factors that have defined the community personality of Chippewa Township in the past, and the changes that have occurred in the past twenty years. These factors include population growth and...
5. Township in Transition
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I first met Harry Dodge when he was recommended to us for a major home renovation. Everyone in Chippewa Lake calls Harry “Junior,” but my husband and I could not bring ourselves to use that nickname for a man who was, at that time, in his mid-sixties. I still remember the perplexed look on Harry’s face, and the soon-to-be-familiar...
6. Chippewa Lake as Resort Community
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Eleanor Erlenborn’s family has been coming to Chippewa Lake since the early 1920s, when she was just a baby. She told me a wonderful story of how her grandmother, Louise Rosander, borrowed a boat from someone and rowed around the lake, looking for the best location to build a cottage. At that time, there were only a few...
7. Contested Identities
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Chippewa Township is like a microcosm of a city, with intriguing dramas playing out in an area of 36 square miles. Critical points of contention that crosscut the occupational and geographical axes of Chippewa Township can be dramatized by examining two local debates. These debates exemplify the complexity of issues...
8. Social Networks
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When longtime residents remember the past, they describe the community in terms of cooperation, struggle, and shared leisure activities. In many cases, memories are secondhand, based on stories they have heard from their parents and grandparents. Various types of events dominate these shared or revisionist memories: the local...
9. Social Networks beyond the Community
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Increasingly, residents of Chippewa Township reach beyond their immediate community. In many cases, the extension of local boundaries is forced upon them because of the consolidated schools and the need to seek jobs beyond the township and county. However, in some cases, residents seek social interactions...
10. Transformation and Contested Identities
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At least two transformations are occurring in Chippewa Township. The first is the transformation from farm community to commuter community, a process that has been occurring for many years, but which is culminating in the loss of family farms and the subsequent out-migration of many young families seeking...
Epilogue: Marijuana Mama
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Edwin and Marilyn Taylor’s ancestors settled in Chippewa Township in the early 1900s. The extended family owns several hundred acres of land, including a farmhouse and several sections where they produce corn and hay for their dairy operation. Edwin and Marilyn raised four children on the farm, two daughters and...
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Publication Year: 2012