The five-phase plan was developed through an exhaustive series of stakeholder interviews and listening sessions to gather stories of the barns’ past, evaluate its present state and envision its future.
The farm’s history is well chronicled. In 1916, Frank Murphy built it as a state-of-the-art dairy farm that became one of the most innovative dairy farms in the world, famed for pioneering breeding concepts and industrializing farm practices. Later, an expansive orchard was built, and for years, the farm was the largest seasonal employer in Door County. For many young boys, a stint at the farm’s Cherry Camp was a first summer job.
Drew Richmond, who was recently hired as the first executive director of Horseshoe Bay Farms Inc., the nonprofit organization that has taken on the challenge of revitalizing the property, said he’s collecting more stories every week.
“Every day we get people who tell us, ‘Hey, my father worked here’ or ‘My dad was at Cherry Camp here,’” Richmond said. “This farm has touched a lot of lives.”
It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012, but it has been largely inaccessible for decades. Richmond’s top priority is to draw visitors back to the farm.
“People want to get onto this property and learn about it,” he said. “That will come through weekly tours, continual growth of the gardens and expansion into some indoor growing.”
Horseshoe Bay Farms board member Lori Nicholas said it’s important to the board to encourage people to visit the property.
“This has always been in private hands,” she said. “Now it really is Door County’s property, and we want to get people here to experience what we all experienced.”
In 2011, when the Egg Harbor Historical Society hosted a 150th birthday celebration for the town on the site, more than 700 people turned out for a look at the iconic barns. That demonstrates just how much interest there is in the property.
It’s also just the start. When a group of families came together to purchase the farm and establish the nonprofit in 2018, the group set lofty goals for the farm’s future. Those include activating the site into a community center of learning and culture, with community gardens, events, educational programming and recreational activities.
The organization immediately shored up the barns with new roofs and paint. It then saved and moved two historical cottages from the bay side of County G across the road to the farm campus, and they may serve as housing, offices or rentals in the future.
“We want to capture these stories from the people who have worked here or been a part of this place,” said Richmond, who has previously worked for the Door County YMCA and The Ridges Sanctuary. “Then we rehabilitate it in the right way.”
But for Nicholas and the board, preservation goes beyond buildings.
“We hope to reflect the innovation that this farm was known for,” she said. “We want that to be part of what this is going forward, whether that is in farm techniques, or if down the road we can get funding for the barns. We can do amazing things here.”
“The most realistic short-term project is the garden and greenhouse programs, which brings us right to our roots,” Richmond said. “When you start looking at the barns, the price tag gets pretty steep right away.”
But eventually those century-old barns may become classrooms, event spaces and welcome centers.
At the YMCA and The Ridges, Richmond was working with long-established donor bases – something the farm doesn’t have. The master plan calls for some heavy lifting by volunteers and plenty of engagement activities during the first couple of years to cultivate relationships with donors who will make the long-term plan a reality. Richmond said people can expect to see opportunities for tours around Memorial Day, but volunteers are welcome any time.