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Michigan farmstead rescued from ruin

Barn Spotlight: Step back in time at a barn Airbnb north of Menominee.

Lars and Hanna Johansson were immigrants from Karly, Sweden, when they chose to settle in Michigan’s Menominee County in the 1880s. It was an area bustling with lumber camps and sawmills, while nearby shimmering Green Bay provided shipping routes and rich fishing. 

Where lumbering had ceased, stumps left in cut-over country were being blasted and burned to carve out farms.

The Johanssons purchased 40 acres, 5 miles north of Menominee near Green Bay, and set about creating their homestead. A log cabin, a small barn and other outbuildings came to dot the grounds. Crops were planted. 

They and their cows, horses and chickens were at home beside bubbling Birch Creek, says the Johanssons’ great-granddaughter Beverly Johnson, who with her husband, Bruce, lives within a few miles of the homestead.

Eventually, the farm would be sold and then, as happens far too often — when its seemingly useful life drew to a close — it was abandoned. Owner Eugene Salfai had lived there from the 1920s to the late 1950s, farming while holding a job in town. The buildings stood empty, except for critters who enjoyed the place rent-free.

Then, in the early 1960s, two enterprising men, Vic Lundgren and Vic Mars, toured the tangle of disheveled history, interested in the 240 acres of field and forest the farm had grown to include. Their first peek was as winter was settling in. 

According to Lundgren’s son, David, the men and their wives “reluctantly” purchased the property. Then, when spring came, hesitation turned to fascination. In an article Lundgren wrote in 1979 for the local newspaper, he recalled, “There were 14 seedy buildings and a 52-year-old romantic. I needed either a bulldozer or help.” 

Lundgren later traded land to Mars for his share of the property and became the sole owner — a man with a mission — to bring the farm back to life in a whole new way. 

A lawyer and a prosecuting attorney, Lundgren initially intended the farmstead to be a place to get away from the demands of his career in Menominee. Serious thought was given to destroying the log cabin until, as old tar paper and plaster were pulled away, hand-hewn logs were revealed.  

The 1889 two-bedroom log home was restored with the help of Jim Dama. George Jansen Jr. oversaw the barn’s renovation. By the 1970s, in love with the farmstead, Vic and Doris Lundgren made it their full-time home. 

The couple’s adult children — David, Steve, Peter and Vicki — who were pursuing careers in other cities, returned to delight in their parents’ labor of love to bring new life to the old Johansson place. 

The farm was named Lundgren Tree Farm, honoring Vic’s work to plant thousands of trees. The barn took on a whole new persona, a reflection of his love for art, literature and music. 

The 44.6-foot-by-24.6-foot, hand-hewn-framed barn features 10-inch square posts and beams averaging about 12 feet in length. Neighbors Jim and Sharon Kass, who are caretakers of the property, say the rafters include 46 tamarack poles beneath an original roof of cedar and pine.

Tamarack is a frequently used wood in cut-over country, where loggers found it undesirable and bypassed or burned it.

One room became Vic’s workshop and another his office. A third room was an art studio where over the years he would paint dozens of watercolors and oils, depicting the beauty of the surroundings. 

Yet another part of the barn, brightened with the addition of a large picture window, became a music/meditation room. The remaining area was divided into two bedrooms for guests.

Outside upgrade

Lundgren was not content just to remodel the inside of the barn. He wanted it to be special on the outside too, writing, “The barn lacked pizzaz. The pitch of the roof was so steep that no snowflake could hang for long.” 

A cupola on another barn caught his eye. He wrote, “I measured the barn and sketched the cupola, and for two years, I dreamed and read about them,” even confessing to “coveting” his neighbor’s cupola. His friend Jim built a cupola to Vic’s specs, and raised by a crane, it was affixed to the barn.

“The crossed flags of Sweden and America gleamed on the north quarter,” Vic would later write.  He was also proud of a weather vane of a running horse, given to him by a friend, and happily mounted it on the barn’s roof. 

But the look wasn’t complete until Vic found a wood-stave silo elsewhere in the area and had it moved and erected beside the barn.

In a separate shed, Vic created his own “Silver Dollar Pool Hall,” completing the certainty that the Lundgren Tree Farm was as creative, engaging and richly eccentric as its owner.

The farm’s chicken coop became a guesthouse near the farmhouse. In the yard, abundant with charm, a gazebo and fire pit were added to provide gathering places for conversation or settings for solitude, overlooking a pond. 

Birch Creek flows through the pond, keeping its water fresh and fish-friendly. A choir of soprano birds and baritone frogs can often be heard. A footbridge crosses the creek leading to wooded trails.

Vic and Doris were committed to family, and as the grandchildren came along, they hosted big family reunions, making the farmstead a place of celebration. Family members easily credit the couple and farmstead for helping them form strong, lasting bonds with it and with one another.  

“Dad envisioned the place as a homestead for our family for generations to come,” Dave says. That vision has become reality. Vic and Doris remained at the farm until her passing and his ill health required that he be closer to family. 

Today, Lundgren Tree Farm, back to its original 40 acres, is co-owned by nine grandchildren who have given it yet another purpose as an Airbnb. Guests come from all over the world to enjoy the use of all the buildings and to roam the land and woods. 

“Mom and Dad would be thrilled,” Dave says of the decision. 

When Vic Lundgren first laid eyes on the old Johansson homestead in the early 1960s, he certainly didn’t look about him and say, “This would make a great Airbnb!” The term would not even exist for another 40 years. But given his creative spirit, it is something he might well have chosen to do with great gusto.

And who knows, among visitors from around the world, a descendant of Lars and Hanna Johansson just might be among Swedish travelers booking a stay.

Arnett is the author of American Barns and co-founder of the Barn Believers Community Project Fund. She writes from Battle Creek, Mich., and grew up near Menominee, where this story is set. She can be reached at [email protected].  

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