Transom stories: Folklorist connects people to Fishtown through oral history

Jun 23, 2016

When most people walk through Fishtown in Leland, Michigan, they see bustling shops selling fish, sandwiches, jewelry and tee shirts within the cluster of fish shanties along the Leland River. But Amanda Holmes sees the history behind the place that isn’t visible to the average tourist. 


Amanda is the Executive Director of Fishtown Preservation, the organization dedicated to preserving and maintaining Fishtown — the collection of shanties near the mouth of the harbor. 

A view of Fishtown
Credit Amanda Holmes

Before Amanda came to Fishtown, she didn’t know anything about the buildings, the boats, the industry or the water. But she says that her doctorate in folklore and a degree in Historic Preservation helped her to sit down with Leland’s residents and be nosy.   

“You can go read environmental histories, you can go learn all these things,” explains Amanda. “But I needed a lot more on the job, who is who, why does it matter, and I needed to make myself care, and think of how I was going to be inspired to do this work, and to broaden all of its possibilities.” 

Amanda Holmes records Brian Price, then Executive Director of the Leelanau Conservancy, who discussed his time as a commercial fisherman.
Credit Tara Novak

Despite large renovations underway, Amanda still makes it a priority to sit down with at least one person a month to gather stories. In the future, she hopes to incorporate live storytelling events in the new museum space that Fishtown Preservation is opening in one of the shanties. She thinks that you can do the work of historic preservation without them, but for a place like Fishtown, too much would be lost.

Amanda’s story is told by Emily Barton Altman, who came to Interlochen for the Transom workshop in early June. Emily is a writer, editor, and radio producer based in Chicago. She produces the poetry podcast Make No Bones