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.

More About Rex Dobson

1924- 2011

Rex was born in Muskegon, Michigan, on March 7, 1924, to Suttons Bay Township born father Harvey Dobson, and Bingham Township born mother Ruby Ellen (Core) Dobson. Just short of his third birthday, he moved to Bingham when Harvey and Ruby returned to purchase and operate the farmland originally homesteaded in 1865 by Ruby’s grandfather William Core following his discharge from the Union Army.

After attending the Bingham Schoolhouse through the 8th grade, Rex attended, and graduated from, Central High School in Traverse City. Among the many skills he learned while growing up and assisting his dad on the farm was carpentry. He worked as a carpenter with a local builder for several years during the non-growing season. In 1969, upon the death of his father, Rex assumed responsibility for all management decisions at Ruby Ellen Farm. He continued the farming operations until the the spring of 2011– thus terminating 146 years of one family lineage continuously farming the same piece of land.

Rex was a modest, unassuming, gracious man whose patience and devotion to his profession brought out the best not only in the land, but also in the people whose lives he touched. Over the years he mentored over four dozen teenagers who worked summers at the farm, many grumbling about the long hours and hard work. In their maturity however, they all returned to thank Rex for the valuable lessons learned under his tutelage. With Rex’s careful supervision, the farm prospered and became a mecca for not only family and friends, but also university students and professors, journalists and film makers, musicians and artists, all in search of the magic that is Ruby Ellen Farm. Much of that magic was manifested in and through the artist that was Rex, from the painted wood cutout images on the buildings, to the autumn ‘pumpkin tree’ and the sunflower stalk ‘candy cane’ that sprouted near the granary each Christmas season.

Rex’s artistic talents extended to photography as well. Rarely did visitors escape his camera lens, and more often than not, greeting cards included a photo or two. After his love for the land, Rex loved to read, which he enjoyed while waiting for the sunset in his peaceful cottage overlooking Lake Leelanau. This humble, honest, hardworking, Farm Bureau member farmer of many talents eventually received well-deserved recognition for his quietly executed lifetime achievements. Although he was very reluctant to be in the limelight, he was twice bestowed the title of Conservationist of the Year by the Leelanau County Conservation District. He was honored with the Cherry Industry Life Time Achievement Award, and just recently, on October 6th, was presented with a Historic Place Preservation Award by the History Center of Traverse City for his efforts to preserve his property and farm artifacts, which he loved to collect and display in his personal museums. To that end, Rex worked with the Leelanau Conservancy to be the first in the county to preserve his property as farmland through the State of Michigan’s Purchase Development Rights Program. Further, in the spring of 2000, Rex gathered family members and friends to create The Rex Dobson Ruby Ellen Farm Foundation, a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization designed to preserve the land and its structures, serving both as an example of the past and an educational facility for the future.

Listen to Rex speak some favorites…

The Ruby behind the Ruby Ellen Farm… article 



Ruby Ellen (1903-1997)