Working as an intern gives lots of behind-the-scenes experience of what it takes to run a non-profit organization. In late June I learned first-hand that no place like Fishtown can survive, let alone thrive, without its ardent supporters. On Wednesday June 28th, Fishtown Preservation Society threw a celebration to honor the major contributors to the $5.2 million Campaign for Fishtown, those who have made possible all the rescue and restoration work that has taken place in Fishtown the past several years. Attending, as well, were the Fishtown Anchors, supporters of the annual sustainer program that began in 2009.
The celebration took place on a perfect early summer evening in Fishtown on the south side of the Leland River. A team of volunteers had been planning the event for several months and everyone felt lucky to have good weather that day and during the days of preparation leading to the event. There had been lots of logistics handled in advance, but that day was filled with the final touches, from arranging flowers and filling the gift bags to be handed out at the end of the evening, to staging all the decorations, readying the name tags and greeting the vendors whose food and beverages were to be featured at the party. My internship with Fishtown Preservation Society began in May, and it was very impactful to be able to learn and help with the celebration right from the start. Decision making and planning—which just may have included some cake and wine tasting—was even more satisfying when I saw the outcome of the celebration.
The celebration took place on the south side of the Leland River in Fishtown because it was near one of the major Campaign for Fishtown funded project sites, The Otherside Shanty. The Otherside, as it’s fondly called, was one of the many shanties damaged by the rising waters of Lake Michigan in 2019 and 2020.
The Otherside’s renovation and construction had just been completed not long before the event. Fishtown Preservation had decided what better way to honor those that have supported this work in a big way than to show them a part of what their donations have helped accomplish. Fishtown Preservation acquired The Otherside from Bill Carlson and Mark Carlson in 2016. In 2019 when the high waters started to impact Fishtown, the shanty flooded several times, causing damage to the interior and exterior of the building.
Carlson’s had owned the old shanty for many years before converting it into a vacation rental in the early 2000s. Its use prior to that was to store fishing nets and gear for Carlson’s Fishery and Carlson’s commercial fishing operations. Its name, The Otherside, came from folks at Carlson’s Fishery asking coworkers to get things from the other side, the south side, of the Leland River in Fishown. “The Otherside” name stuck.
During the celebration I was stationed inside the Otherside Shanty with Gabby Grobbel, who had been an intern with Fishtown Preservation in 2021 and had returned to help with the event. Gabby and I showed guests around the shanty and answered questions about the shanty’s history, reconstruction, and rental information. Several guests, now in their 30s, told Gabby and I about how they stayed in the Otherside Shanty as children. They loved seeing the renovations and changes. It was heartwarming to see those familiar and unfamiliar with the shanty explore and meander about. Very few of them had ever been on the south side of the river before, so even that simple view that has become familiar to me was a novelty to them. I also ran into some familiar faces of those who work in Fishtown today such as Cassie Burda of Calrson’s Fishery, and Bill and Barbie Stephenson of FishBilly Charters.
High water damage to The Otherside included the wood floors buckling, water wicking up the insulation in the first-floor walls, and damage to all of the utilities. Fishtown Preservation board member and architect Ken Richmond oversaw the building modifications and Biggs Construction completed the work. The goal was to keep the shanty as authentic as possible, and to keep the “Fishtown” feel to the building. Designer Donna Popke guided the interior design of the building by blending the shanty’s commercial fishing history with her unique design sensibility. This team of creative people found a way to do big things like add much-needed storage space, and add many small details, such as port holes as windows. The flooding had damaged the wood paneling, so they decided to let the design tell the story of the flooding that took place by wainscoting the lower third of the first-floor walls with tin.
The Otherside was an important feature of the event, but the whole south side was set up and decorated so guests could enjoy the setting near Lake Michigan and the evening. Those who attended the party were able to socialize while enjoying local wine from Dune Bird Winery and Bel Lago Winery. Island Thyme catered the event and featured whole smoked whitefish and lake trout from Carlson’s Fishery. Musician Chris Smith set the tone for the evening with his amazing singing and musical talents. To end the evening, we indulged in a big delicious celebratory cake made by Chelsea Barnes owner of The Flour Shop.
The event was a celebration of Fishtown Preservation Society’s accomplishments and to thank those that have made all this possible, but as those who attended learned, it was also a celebration of how far Fishtown has come. On June 28th, 1973, exactly 50 years ago, the Leland Historic District was established. Including Fishtown, the Leland Historic District came to be because of a proposed Leland Harbor expansion that would have put much of Leland and Fishtown at risk. After that date the hard work of preserving Fishtown continued with the Carlson family acquiring additional property as it became available and making certain that the Fishtown people had already long known and loved would survive, including establishing the first iteration of the Fishtown Preservation Society in early 2001.
Fifty years later we celebrate a different kind of success, the continuation of the goal to care for Fishtown forever. It was a special feeling to share this experience with an organization that has so many people that embrace its goals and accomplishments. For me, the celebration was a lovely way to be able to see and meet the smiling faces of those that have made saving Fishtown possible. Summers in Leland are filled with events and celebrations, but there was something about this one that not only honored the long history of Fishtown and those who have ensured its continuance today—it seemed the perfect launch to the summer ahead, including those wonderful times exploring the Fishtown docks.