Like Megan Turner, many visitors to Schumacher Farm County Park can envision Wisconsin farm life in the early 20th century while spending time there. With a mission to preserve farm life from that time, the park features that era’s heirloom garden, farm machinery and buildings.
Now, thanks to a project Turner has undertaken, the park is documented in the Library of Congress with the National Park Service’s Historic American Landscapes Surveys.
A resident of Beaver Dam with a master’s degree in landscape architecture, Turner became acquainted with Schumacher Farm when she was working in Vermont and then volunteered at the park when she returned to Wisconsin.
Turner also volunteers as the HALS liaison for the Wisconsin Chapter of the American Society of Landscapes Architects. Her mission, along with the other volunteers’, is to identify and document historic landscapes while raising awareness of them and advocating for policies to protect them. Each year, the National Park Service issues a HALS challenge. Turner completed the challenge last year and was notified in December that her project had been accepted.
Last year’s theme for the HALS Challenge was “Vanishing or Lost Landscapes.” Turner’s Schumacher Farm submission received a third-place award.
“I thought Schumacher Farm met the theme as a rare example of an early agricultural and settlement site that related to the development of Waunakee,” Turner said. “So many early Dane County farms are consumed and destroyed by the towns they helped establish.”
While the HALS survey does not protect the site or designate it on the National Registry of Historic Places, it shows that the National Parks Service has acknowledged it as historic, Turner noted. A different documentation process is required for the site to be placed on the National Registry, she said.
Submissions for the HALS contest must have three components, Turner said. They must address why the landscape is significant, the history of its evolution, and a description of the landscape as it exists and how that differs from the historic period.
“One of the biggest hurdles I have found to completing a HALS Challenge is finding a site that corresponds to the theme and that also has enough readily accessible research materials,” Turner said.
With many museums and other repositories closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, Turner found a wealth of information at the Waunakee Public Library and resources in the Friends of Schumacher Farm Park, including curator Barb Johanning, she said. Waunakee photographer Rona Neri, who volunteers at Schumacher Farm, supplied current pictures of the park.
“The Waunakee library has a wonderful collection of digitized village histories and historic photos that I studied to determine what existed during the Schumacher period, and where it was on the landscape,” Turner said. “This type of detective work is my favorite part of the process.”
Turner also interviewed the park’s activities director, Amy Dusick, and drew from Marcella Schumacher Pendall’s book, “Papa, Mama and Me.” Now deceased, Pendall was a Waunakee teacher; she donated her family’s farm to Dane County for the park use in 1978.
In an email to the Friends of Schumacher Farm, Turner described how the park’s landscape helps transport visitors back in time.
“I take the perspective that the inherent logic of the original layout and elements of the farm are the most important to teaching visitors what the Schumachers’ experience really was. Buildings and features such as the entry drive and windmill were all located purposefully for efficiency, function and to enhance their lives,” Turner wrote.
She added that the aesthetic of land helps tell the story of settler life.
Turner also volunteered with the Heritage garden in 2018 when she lived in Madison and said she appreciated the time spent in a rural setting nearby.
“The farm provided this unique experience of the drumlin topography and exposure to the sky, and views to the prairie and surrounding fields backed by tree lines that are increasingly rare,” she said.
She could imagine what life was like for the Schumachers, she added, describing it as “a unique sense of scale of your little self in a big prairie landscape.”