Homesteading in Michigan on the Upper Peninsula

We left the garbage, the crime, and the "boom boxes" of the inner city and set out for the Upper Peninsula to try homesteading in Michigan.

| January/February 1983

homesteading in Michigan - map with Upper Peninsula marked in red

The upper peninsula sits amidst three of the Great Lakes, with Lake Superior to the north, Lake Michigan to the south, and Lake Huron to the east.


During the last year that Francie and I lived in Grand Rapids, a mother was murdered in front of her children, a house was torched with someone still inside (who, fortunately, escaped from the fire), and a large rock came crashing out of nowhere through our picture window: all ominous signs that reinforced our determination not to spend another year in the ghetto!

Escape from the City

Our initial plan in the fall of 1981was to leave Grand Rapids with our urban housemates. We’d decided homesteading in Michigan was the thing to do, and we were going to combine savings so we could afford to buy land together. But at the last minute our friends had to back out, and we were left without enough money of our own to swing a farm purchase. I'll tell you, the thought of spending another dreary slum winter was almost more than we could stand.

Francie and I probably would have stayed on, though (and hated every minute of it), if it hadn't been for a young farmer we met at a nearby outdoor market. "As far as I can see," he said, "the only way to get to the country is to go there." And come December, when we couldn't bear our city existence any longer, that's exactly what we did! We loaded everything we owned into the back of our old pickup, put our two-year-old son Aaron and our faithful Alaskan malamutes between us on the seat, propped the road atlas on the dash, and headed north to the Upper Peninsula.

We hoped to settle in the U.P. because we'd camped there many times and had become quite enamored of its unspoiled countryside. Furthermore, land in the rugged region is still inexpensive. For example, real estate listings I noticed in 1982 included a three-bedroom home on 39 acres — with drilled well, barn, and sauna — for $9,250, a 120-acre spread at $160 an acre, and property as low as $100 an acre in some places! Prime farmland or plots with lake frontage can command higher prices of course, but compared with most parts of the U.S., land in the U.P. is a real bargain.

Travels and Troubles

We were only about half a day out of Grand Rapids when it started to snow ... which was enough to slow us down a bit, but not to dampen our adventurous spirits. Luckily, we reached Houghton/Hancock (twin "cities" with a combined population of about 14,000 on the Keweenaw Peninsula) without mishap, and located a little farm, just a quarter-mile from the Lake Superior shore, that was available for rent at only $140 a month. We snapped it up, of course, and had barely unloaded the truck when the snow began to fall in earnest. (It piled up more than a foot overnight!)

As you can imagine, although at least we had a roof over our heads, adjusting to our new home wasn't all that easy. We were in the north country for the first real snows of winter, it was almost Christmastime, and we hadn't the slightest idea what we were going to do next or how we'd make a living. Believe me, that first holiday season was pretty tough: gathering wet wood (which was all we could find) every day to put in our woodstove; driving the 15 miles into town through a blizzard to call our folks from a phone booth on Christmas morning; and, in general, struggling to get to know our new home in the face of downright harsh winter conditions.

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