In 1865, fresh from service in the Union Army during the Civil War, William Core obtained a land grant for property in southern Leelanau County upon which to build a homestead. William and his wife Margaret (McFarland) went on to raise four children on what would grow to be a 400-acre farm stretching from Lake Leelanau on the west to Center Highway on the east and just about 2 miles north of what are now the Bingham Township offices. Upon retirement, William divided the farm into four parcels, one for each son and a fourth for his daughter. Julius Core and his wife Maude received the original farmstead and proceeded to raise their two daughters, Helen and Lois, on the farm.
The ‘farm depression’ of the 1920’s proved difficult, forcing Julius and Maude to forfeit the farm to the land bank and move into Traverse City where Julius found work at the Traverse State Hospital. The farm remained vacant for several years until William Core’s granddaughter, Ruby Ellen Dobson and her husband Harvey Dobson, along with their young son Rex, decided to return to Traverse City from Muskegon where Harvey, originally of Suttons Bay, had secured work in the foundry. It was not long before Ruby convinced Harvey that they should make a go of it on her family’s original homestead. The two did just that, successfully purchasing the farm back from the land bank in 1927 on a 20-year mortgage.
Harvey Dobson passed in November of 1969, leaving Rex in sole charge of all farming activity at Ruby Ellen. Ruby Dobson passed in 1997 at the age of 93. A bachelor, Rex continued farming operations that included feeder cattle, cherries, hay, oats, corn as well as several vegetable and flower gardens.
In 1999, four years after his initial application was made, Rex sold the development rights on 90 acres to the State of Michigan Farmland Preservation Program. The conservation easement keeps the acreage available to Rex and future farmers for agricultural use while at the same time preventing unwanted development – forever. While the sale of development rights protected much of the land of Ruby Ellen Farm, it did not protect the buildings or the agricultural and domestic material culture of the Farm.
With support and assistance from friends, family, and professional advisers, Rex set lofty goals. He intended to protect his family’s heritage, not just for himself but for the community as a whole. With this in mind, Rex gathered a Board of Directors to assist him, created a non-profit corporation called The Rex Dobson Ruby Ellen Farm Foundation (RDREFF), which received official 501(c) (3) designation in July 2002.
In October of 2000, the RDREF Board of Directors committed to undertaking a multi-year preservation project at Ruby Ellen Farm that had three areas of concentration: ethnographic documentation; artifact conservation; and interpretive planning. This project assured that the farm’s tangible and intangible cultural heritage is preserved and professionally interpreted. The resulting documentation forms the basis for future educational programming at Ruby Ellen and comprises some of the most complete resources in one location on the subject of subsistence farming in the upper Midwest. In 2005, Ruby Ellen Farm was successfully nominated and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Rex continued to reside at Ruby Ellen Farm until his peaceful passing in 2011. At that time, responsibility for the Ruby Ellen Farm was assumed by the Foundation and it’s Board of Directors. The farm became permanently preserved for charitable purposes, just as Rex intended in all his extraordinary vision as a conservationist, preservationist and dedicated steward of his family’s legacy for the benefit of us all.