History of Tara's Meadow
The timeline below illustrates the dynamic history of the Meadow: where we've been, where we are, and where we're going.
Odawa, Mormon, & Irish Traditions
1850s - 1900s
THE ODAWA | The archipelago of Beaver, High and Garden Islands in Lake Michigan has a long, deep history with the Waganakising Odawa, or Odawa of the Land of the Crooked Tree. The Odawa are part of the Three Fires Confederacy of the Anishinaabe People and, while the federally recognized tribe of Little Traverse Bay Bands is now based in Emmet County, their home also included the surrounding areas within the Great Lakes. Renowned for their skills at navigating these waters, trading, and fishing, the Odawa counted thousands of islands in the Great Lakes as critical to their cultural, historical, and economic identity. Beaver, High, and Garden Islands were home to multiple Odawa villages well into the 20th century. There is a small but important, actively engaged community of Odawa residents living on the larger Beaver Island today. They are involved with the fisheries and current stewardship efforts for healthy ecosystems, Island sustainability, and the preservation of important cultural sites.
THE MORMONS | The island's culture and development expanded with Irish immigrants and Strangite Mormons. The influence of the Mormon settlers under the leadership of King James Strang was brief (1848 -1856) but very impactful. The industrious Strangite Mormon residents cleared enough of the Island’s forests to farm and establish the only “kingdom” in the United States. However their years on the Island were turbulent, and unpopularity with Strang’s leadership led to his assassination and the eviction of his followers in 1856. Irish immigrants began to settle on Beaver Island in greater numbers in the years following the Mormon eviction.
THE IRISH | The new Irish arrivals to the Island were refugees who had been burned out of their homes on Arranmore Island in Ireland by the British in 1851. They made a perilous journey across the Atlantic to Canada, and most found their way to Beaver Island after the Mormons were evicted in 1856. The Irish were skilled fisherfolk, and found the Island’s rich fisheries, green forests, and seclusion much to their liking. The original Odawa inhabitants of Beaver Island taught the Irish how to fish in these new waters, and together these 2 Island cultures collaborated to make the Beaver Island Archipelago the largest supplier of freshwater fish in the US by the 1880s. New immigrant groups arrived on the Island in the 1900s, and overfishing caused the decline of this industry, to be replaced by tourism and new housing construction as major economic factors.
Logging greatly increased with the formation of the Beaver Island Logging Company in 1901. Docks, housing, railroads and a sawmill impacted the local scenery. The land we now call "Tara's Meadow" was carved out of the forest by horse loggers, harvesting white pines for homebuilding and for rebuilding Chicago after the great fire. Later, wood was slow-burned to produce charcoal for the Antrim Iron works.
As late as the 1950s, maple was milled in the Meadow known then as "Carpenter's Mill" for croquet balls, mallet heads and handles. "Carpenter's Mill" became a little sawmill community where folks worked hard all summer, trapped and ate beaver, and laughed and danced with their families through the year. It was a magnet for young lads like Cloyd "Butch" Ramsey, who as a boy rode his pony down to the Mill to water the horses and watch the men work. There were huge mounds of sawdust to play in while the giant saw blade below whined and worked away. Blocks of ice were cut from the lake and stored in this sawdust for the summer icebox. Grandpa Carpenter hired Odawa and Irish families to work there, and he built a boat every year to get to and from the Island (which he sold every Spring.)
1970s - 1980s
Overfishing caused the exodus of most of the residents, and the Sawmill Community also faded. Starting in the 70s, tourism renewed interest on the Island. One warm day in the 80s an Island girl named Tara wandered through the Meadow, picking up bits of debris from the past. She had a powerful vision on the land, seeing folks dancing and singing in happiness and community. In many ways Tara Palmer's vision was a prophecy, anticipating the hundreds of folks to come who would camp there, laugh, dance, heal & sing in "Tara's Meadow."
The First Retreats
Our first annual Labor Day Weekend Retreats commenced as primitive campouts in the Meadow, exploring various themes of community-building, peace, natural healing, and environmental awareness. We had no buildings on site, only temporary canopies and camping gear to support our annual retreats. Every participant brought a "stone of intention" to mark the beginning and close of their retreat experience. Many were touched deeply by their guest sojourns as they sorted out their personal lives, careers, or spiritual directions. Others simply came out for the fun of exploring the Island using Tara's Meadow as their home base, or to "dance in" the season's change during our Summer Solstice Celebration (the longest day of the year.)
New Home on the Map
Tara's Meadow added a beautiful, architecturally unique home and retreat center with a large living room, guest room, and a six-sided "tree top" meditation and classroom space upstairs. The building is composed of cedar, pine, and stone, and is naturally "air conditioned" snuggled in the forest. Tara's Meadow made it on the official map of Beaver Island that year and was given a prominent place in the Island's seminal book "The Beaver Island Archipelago."
Gaining Community Status
Tara's Meadow hosted our first college classes on site, welcoming students from both North Central Michigan College and Michigan State University. To support this expanded service, we built a 20' geodesic dome to serve as a classroom, and an outdoor shower facility, both funded by the North Central Michigan College Foundation.
Tara's Meadow secured its status as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization.
Expanding Sustainability on the Island
2016 - Present
Tara's Meadow partnered with the Beaver Island Music Festival and the Beaver Island Historical Society to organize the island's first Sustainability Fair, focusing on promoting solutions in ecology, renewable energy, and local food systems. The Beaver Island Sustainability Fair is now an annual event, bringing in speakers from across Michigan to share best practices on environmental issues and featuring local green vendors, sustainable technology, arts, music, environmental action, & education organizations. Tara’s Meadow is currently taking a leadership role through our Beaver Island Sustainability Initiative (BISI), a collaboration toward making Beaver Island a global model of sustainability.