Thursday, October 19, 2017

Congratulations to Le Roy Barnett

by Frank Boles

At its 2017 annual meeting the Historical Society of Michigan honored Le Roy Barnett with its Lifetime Achievement Award. Lee Barnett has regularly enhanced the documentary record of our state. Today Lee is retired after serving for 23 years as a reference archivist at the Archives of the State of Michigan. But during his career and archivist and continuing into the present, Lee has published hundreds of books and articles documenting literally all aspects of Michigan history.

The Clarke Library’s connection with Lee is a deep one. Lee has donated over thirty feet of his documents and background files to the Clarke. As Clarke archivist Marian Matyn notes in her Collection Scope and Content Note, topics found in the papers include: “Michigan ash; railroads; highways; the Mackinac Bridge; music and people who sang or wrote songs about Michigan and/or cars; the longstanding oleo versus margarine debates, issues, advertisements, laws, and illegal sales; Agricultural Demonstration Trains of Michigan State University, 1906-1937; buying Michigan, 1795-1796; counties, name changes/considered creation of new counties; the history of county names; dandelions [as an emergency source of post-World War II rubber]; highway lighthouses [precursors to traffic lights]; lynchings; prisoners building Michigan roads during the 1920s; reflectors (roadside); roadside parks [Michigan had the first]; and stagecoaches. An addition in 2006 included the topics of: Broadcasting, Homestead Lands, Michiganders who went to Hollywood, Port Huron and Milwaukee Railroad, Sabbath Blue Laws, particularly in Ludington, and Swamp Lands, among others. Later additions include the topics of centroids, Iron Range and Huron Bay Railroad, Michigan ferries, Michigan’s population centers since statehood, and Oldsmar, Florida, harvesting deadheads (logs in rivers), LaChoy, and Michigan as a Commonwealth, David Ward, Deward (Mich.), and the Detroit and Charlevoix Railroad Company.” The complete finding aid describing his collection can be found at;cginame=findaid-idx;focusrgn=summaryinfo;id=navbarbrowselink;subview=standard;view=reslist.

The Michigan Historical Review has published ten works written by Lee. The most recent contribution to the MHR by Lee was “Publications of the Saint Mary’s Falls Ship Canal Company and Its Immediate Offspring.” Lee’s sly sense of humor sometimes shines forth in unexpected titles, such as, “Michigan's War with Mammals: Bounties, Hunters, and Trappers against Unwanted Species,” which can only be topped by “Soil Surveys: A Down-to-Earth Source of Cultural Information.”

When not publishing new works or shuttling donations from his home to the Clarke Library, Lee also regularly looks at dealer catalogs and other sources of historically related material and regularly sends along helpful notes about what he has found. A number of acquisitions found their way into the Clarke stacks because of a helpful note from Lee, making me aware of their availability.

Lee Barnett has been a friend of the Clarke, and more importantly an outstanding contributor to the body of knowledge about our state. I am delighted that the Historical Society of Michigan has recognized his work.