What was first established more than 150 years ago on the shores of Susan Lake, now has the ability to benefit citizens for another century thanks to a generous grant from the Grand Traverse Bay Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.
Greensky Hill Indian Methodist Church is located off of Old US 31 in Hayes Township along the shores of Susan Lake. Greensky Hill has served as a significant Native American heritage and cultural site for almost two centuries, earning it one of Charlevoix Counties few landmarks on the National Register of Historic Places.
The main building stands almost exactly as it did when first built in the 1840’s. The structure was built from local timber harvested from Grand Traverse Bay and Pine Lake (now called Lake Charlevoix). The building was constructed using hand hewn timbers and notched corners. The church is still used every week for services and a multitude of different cultural and educational events.
“Since Pastor Peter Greensky and other Native Americans built our hewn-log church, Greensky Hill Indian has been a sanctuary of love in a setting of natural beauty; a sacred place where we celebrate our current ethnic diversity, while preserving our unique Native American heritage. From the ancient time, when chiefs held council meetings around crooked trees on Greensky Hill, to the time when our local tribes regained their sovereignty, we remain a safe place for tribe members, lineage Indians, and others to gather, to worship, to bury their loved ones, and to create community,” said Pastor Jonathan Mays.
Several years ago church officials started noticing some rather significant structural issues affecting the integrity of the historic building. Areas of concern included the rotting of original pine logs, damage to the exterior by invasive bugs and birds, less than ideal roof conditions and so on to name a few.
Since the problems were identified, church trustees wanted to be sure that they did what was necessary to keep the building safe and stable; however, they also wanted to ensure the historical and cultural integrity of the facility for future generations.
“We could have hired someone to come in and just start removing and replacing things for a much lower cost; but, we want to be sure to do it right, and not jeopardize our listing on the National Register,” said church trustee Ray Bice.
So the church hired a State Historic Preservation Office approved architect to come and do an assessment of the facilities and provide input regarding what could be saved, what needed to be replaced, and how much it would cost. Once faced with a $73,000 estimate, the church began the daunting task of figuring out how to raise the funds within their small congregation.
On February 11, 2016 the Grand Traverse Bay Band granted the organization $53,000 to assist the building preservation effort. The grant funding comes from the tribe’s 2% gaming revenue allocation they are required to grant twice a year to local governmental units, in this case Hayes Township, who will serve as the fiduciary to the church on this project.
“This building truly is a historic landmark in our township and is worth preserving,” said Hayes Township Clerk Marlene Golovich. “We were so happy for the Church and glad we could assist them in this effort.”
In addition to Hayes Township supporting the church with the granting process; the Northern Lakes Economic Alliance, a non-profit servicing all of Charlevoix, Antrim, Emmet and Cheboygan Counties worked hand in hand with Greensky Hill to prepare the grant documents and technically advise the church trustees. This relationship will help ensure the continued recognition as a National Historic Place.
Church officials now begin the task of raising the remanding $25,000 so that they can begin the project this spring. Volunteers are planning some fundraisers and accepting donations from the public. The church is also preparing an application to the Charlevoix County Community Foundation.
“175 years have taken a toll on our historic log church, so we are honored that the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa & Chippewa Indians have given us such a generous grant and we are faithfully seeking the additional $25,000 in matching funds to complete this important restoration project,” said Mays.
Anyone interested in learning more about the church or attending a service are welcome. The church serves an interracial congregation; however, the services place an emphasis on Native American culture with traditional hand drum music, prayers and songs sung in the native language.