A New Beginning
On October 10, 1991 the State of Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) purchased the 80 acres from the bank for $49,500. The DNR was interested in the land because it connected two large parcels that were already a part of the Gagetown State Game Area. However, the DNR was not interested in the buildings. By this time they were in total disrepair and they looked at them as a liability and stated that they be sold and removed or simply demolished.
Upon learning of this, a group of local citizens organized. They knew that by having it on the historic registry it could not be demolished. Through contacts at the state level, they found former owner Zsigmond Egey-Samu had placed the barn on the Michigan State Registry of Historic Sites on August 12, 1977 called the “Round Barn”. At the same time a Tuscola County organization known as Tuscola 2001, was taking an active interest in the barn. On January 31, 1994 the “Tuscola 2001” committee hosted a meeting and this was the beginning of a formal effort to “Save the Barn.
With negotiations still going on with the DNR, the committee forged ahead and on August 20, 1994, they hosted the first Octagon Barn Festival in Gagetown. Their purpose was to draw attention to the project and raise money to further their cause.
On October 11, 1994, the committee changed its name to “The Friends of the Thumb Octagon Barn” and planned more fundraisers.
The “Friends”, working with the DNR officials to obtain rights to use the land and restore the buildings, ultimately received a three year Memorandum of Understanding from the DNR on January 18, 1996. Under this agreement the DNR allowed the Friends to commence restoration of the buildings, gave them control of approximately 8.2 acres of land and permission to hold events on the site. In return the “Friends’ had to provide liability insurance for the property and put together a twenty-five year plan outlining their goals and objectives for the site.
The paperwork to acquire corporate non-profit status was completed and on August 19, 1997 they became a 501(c)3 tax-exempt non-profit corporation.