Rentscher Farm, Depot Museum Keep Saline's History Alive

 07/05/2014 - 04:13

Julien and Sebastian Polidano, climb up the steps of the caboose at Saline's Depot Musuem.

Founded in 1825 by surveyor Orange Risdon, the city of Saline has a long history. Many members of our community volunteer their time to help recall and celebrate that history. They are the members of the Saline Area Historical Society.

The primary vehicles to keep Saline history alive are two museums: the Rentschler Farm Museum at 1265 E. Michigan Ave. and the Depot Museum at 402 N. Ann Arbor St. The Saline Area Historical Society maintains these museums and provides docents to show them to visitors. Both are open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays or by appointment.

Emanuel Rentschler bought 216 acres of farmland along Chicago Road, now Michigan Avenue, in 1904. There was already a farm there and he used the existing buildings as they were or used their parts to build new ones. After Emanuel moved the large barn further back on the property his brother Mathew Rentschler built the farmhouse that is there today.

Four generations of the Rentschlers lived in the house. Emanuel, then Herman and finally Warren Rentschler worked the farm. Warren only had daughters who were not interested in maintaining the farm, so when he grew older he sold off pieces of it. In 1998, when there were only four acres remaining, he sold it to the city of Saline.

The city leased the property to the historical society who set it up as a museum. The 19th century out buildings and early 20th century farmhouse provide a good sampling of early farm life in Michigan.

“It was decided to stage this as a 1930s farm,” said docent Evelyn Burns, “because it was a transition from horses to tractors.”

Items in the house are mostly1930s or earlier. Of course, the house contains artifacts from more than one era, because farm families acquired new technology gradually and they seldom threw things out.

The house features a large bell atop the roof, like an old church bell.

“The dinner bell was used to call the men in from the field,” Burns said. “Dinner was in the middle of the day. The farm day started quite early so they would have been out in the field for quite a few hours.”

The dining room table would also have also been used to conduct farm business and for children to do their homework. It would have been a major center of activity along with the kitchen. On the other hand, the finest room in the house, the parlor, was only used to entertain guests.

The Rentschler farm was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places. The Saline Depot Museum was previously listed.

The Saline Depot was built in 1870, the same year that the railroad known as the Detroit, Hillsdale, and Indiana began to carry freight and passengers. Although the line only ran from Ypsilanti to Bankers (a small town west of Hillsdale), it connected to other rail systems giving Salinians and their products access to a wider world.

The line carried passengers until 1931 and closed entirely in 1961. The original depot building was restored and now houses the museum. In addition to the depot, the site includes the old Risdon livery barn moved to the site from 101 N. Lewis Street. There is also an old working windmill and a caboose outfitted as it would have been when in service on the line.

Last Saturday George Moser was there to answer questions. Like the docents at the farm museum he is a member of the Saline Area Historical Society. Different members are present at other times.

The Depot Museum is not only about trains. There are a variety of artifacts on display including a collection from the American Civil War, which ended just before the railroad was built.

The people of Saline are fortunate to have these facilities to remind us of how things once were in our rapidly changing world.

Robert Conradi
Bob Conradi Is a retired pharmaceutical scientist who has redefined himself as a photographer and journalist. He has lived in Michigan for 36 years and in the Saline area for 10. He enjoys researching and learning about new ideas. Follow him on Twitter at @RobertConradi.