In recent months the board of the Fallasburg Historical Society (FHS) has gone through some changes. In March Craig Fonger was unanimously nominated and voted to become the board’s President. In April Bruce Doll was named the Vice President of the board. The group is looking to bring members of the community and beyond to the village to learn about its history. They are also planning for the Fallasburg Village Celebration to take place on Saturday, July 30.
Taking on a Leadership Role
Fonger grew up in Lowell before spending 22 years in San Fransisco. He returned to Lowell two years ago. While living on the west coast, Fonger discovered that Tina Cadwallader, the then Vice President of the FHS board, had done an interview with his grandmother, Rosie Fonger, for the Oral History Project. He reached out to Cadwallader, who he has known for most of his life but lost touch with over the years. In reconnecting, he was told about FHS.
The bridge and schoolhouse had been a curiosity of Fonger’s since he was a child, however, he wasn’t knowledgeable about other buildings that are part of the village. It was mentioned that FHS needed some help and Fonger began working on their website. “I began to learn the history of this once curiosity to me,” comments Fonger. “I began to learn not only why the schoolhouse came to be, but why there was a covered wooden bridge there and that there was a whole flourishing community there during the pioneer era that was even more developed than Lowell in its early days.”
After returning to Lowell in June 2020, Fonger attended FHS board meetings and in March of this year was appointed President with Doll being named Vice President in April. Former President Ken Tamke has left the board while Cadwallader remains on the board without an officer role.
Fonger looks to make the Village relevant to the Lowell community and beyond. “I was enamored with Fallasburg Village and thought it was a gem that was totally under-utilized. Not only is there a history and legacy there, it is just simply beautiful,” he says. “My greatest fear is without more support Fallasburg will someday fall to modern development and this rare intact pioneer village will be less than a footnote. While there are some mechanisms in place to prevent that, I want to ensure that it never happens and this slice of the past is here for future generations to enjoy.”
In addition to being the FHS President, Fonger has volunteered with Flat River Outreach Ministries’ Main Street Housing project, has been appointed to the Property Tax Board of Review for the City of Lowell, and is a member of the Lowell Light & Power board.
The Village Footprint
The FHS came out of the creation of the West Central Historical Society (WCHS). FHS was formed on May 15, 1965, recently celebrating its 57th year.
Fallasburg Village was founded in the 1830s by John Wesley Fallass. The Village today consists of 42 acres. It was designated a Historic District by the National Register of Historical Places in 1999. Most are familiar with the covered bridge, but also included in the Village are a one-room schoolhouse, a Village cemetery, the Fallas House and Misner House museums, and the Orlin Douglass/Tower Farm. Last year renovations to the Tower Farmhouse were completed.
June through September on most Sundays from 2pm – 4pm the schoolhouse is open. There are also plans in the works to open a Farm Implements Gallery at the Tower House sometime in the future.
“I am standing on the shoulders of all that came before me and want to bring to fruition some of the big dreams of the past: rebuilding of a vintage mill down on the river where one once stood and making the village a relevant center of history and activities,” says Fonger.
In an effort to bring people to the Village and share its history, several special events are scheduled to take place. On Saturday, June 11 at 10am FHS will host Amigos for Monarchs. Liam Lopez-Wagner is a seven-year-old who is on a mission to save Monarch Butterflies. Meet at the schoolhouse to help plant milkweed seeds.
“Fallasburg has long been a nature study area, being studied by the renowned horticulturist, Emma Cole, who was close to the Fallas family and traveled the world with them making some of her significant discoveries,” comments Fonger. “Moreover, former student of the schoolhouse in the early 1950’s, Tom Vaughn, tells me of nature walks his teacher Ms. Dickerson used to take the students on beautiful spring and fall days and how much he learned and has never forgotten. I want to make sure Fallasburg continues to be an area where nature is preserved, thrives and is shared.”
The Fallasburg Village Celebration is scheduled for Saturday, July 30 from 12pm – 8pm. The day promises to be fun with the historic buildings open, music throughout the day, family activities, old-fashioned games, exhibitors set up, food available, and a square dance that will close out the evening.
While the Village Celebration will also be a continuation of the sesquicentennial (150th) celebration of the covered bridge, a proper celebration for the bridge will take place in the fall Fonger indicates. Due to COVID restrictions, last year’s actual anniversary was not marked with any fanfare.
On Saturday, October 15 the Paranormal Investigation event with the Michigan Paranormal Alliance will return. Tickets are $50 and are in limited supply. Hunt for ghosts throughout the Village during this spooky gathering. The year will conclude with a Christmas party at the schoolhouse.
Information about upcoming events throughout the Village can be found on the FHS event page of their website.
A Future Highlighting the Past
The past several decades have shown a somewhat slow movement in making the Fallasburg Village a destination for history buffs and those who are curious about the area. Spotty funding has been the main cause of the rate at which improvements and upgrades have been made. Fonger is hoping to bring the structures of the Village up to museum industry standards. This includes having proper climate control systems in all of the buildings.
“Artifacts hate heat and humidity and we’ve already had some close calls with some items. We’ve just had a climate control upgrade to the Misner House and next will be the treasured schoolhouse,” says Fonger of his goals. “I hope to build and mobilize a grant writing team which has never yet been seen before here to not only upgrade our facilities, but to also expand our programming.”
In the past, the Fallasburgh Flats was an old-time baseball team that played in the Village, however, they disbanded several years ago. The Covered Bridge Bike Tour was a major event that stopped due to COVID and hasn’t been revived. Fonger aims at having the Village be a “relevant and vibrant member” of the Lowell community. He would like the facilities to be a useful resource for those who are interested. He and the rest of the FHS board are open to anyone who would like to pitch ideas for activities, events, and programming.
When asked why it’s important for people to learn about and visit the Village he replied, “Not only can one get a sense of the development and history of the local area, but the driving forces of the pioneer era and how that informs the world of today. Learning any history anywhere helps create context of where we’ve come from and where we are today and, in our case, where we can go with the optimism of the pioneers.”
Those who are interested in learning more about the Fallasburg Village and what buildings are included in this historical location can visit the Fallasburg Historical Society’s webpage. The FHS Facebook page is also a great source for upcoming event information and historical tidbits.
Photos courtesy of Bruce Doll and used with permission.