“Selling Nahma” exhibit tells story of a town for sale

‘Town For Sale’. As unusual as that phrase may sound, the town of Nahma was on the market in the 1950s. ABC 10’s Danielle Davis visited Nahma recently and now tells us about an upcoming exhibit showcasing the town’s undying spirit in the face of extinction.

The tiny timber town, once frozen in time with empty streets and stocked store shelves, still remains standing today to tell its story. The Bonifas Arts Center in Escanaba is bringing “Selling Nahma” and it’s struggle to life.

“It’s the story of a tenacious community who had to remake themselves and everybody works together and it’s like one extended family,” Bonifas Fine Arts Center gallery director Pasqua Warstler said.

For 70 years, Nahma existed as a lumber town, providing jobs and stabilizing the community. However, back then, the term ‘preservation’ was somewhat of an afterthought. What happened in Nahma happened in small towns across the country; the industry that brought it to life was now gone.

With all of the town’s forest and timber no more, the town was left in an unsettling situation. Determined not to leave the town of 750 people in the dust, the Bay De Noquet Lumber Company put the town up for sale in 1951. Dozens of ads were placed across the county with one stipulation: whoever took over had to create jobs.

The American Playground Company purchased Nahma but, for various reasons, was only able to employ about a third of the residents.

“What struck me was the compassion in the original sale that the company seemed to have for the citizens of Nahma and really wanting this community to survive and not let it turn into a ghost town,” project advisor June Klees said.

To tell this story, it really did take a community. Within the past few years, town residents unearthed an old scrapbook, gathered numerous oral accounts from residents and collected forgotten photos, as well as a rare home movie or two. While the focus of the mission is to recount the history of the town, ensuring Nahma’s future is still a top priority.

“It’s interesting that it is trying to gather both the oldest part of the history of Nahma and also the current activities that are going on there today,” researcher Chris Holmes said.

Nahma is currently home to about 500 people, with the town hotel and general store still open. Due to its unique story, the Michigan Humanities Council gave a grant to assist in telling the story of “Selling Nahma”.

The exhibit is scheduled to open Thursday, June 26th at the Bonifas Fine Arts Center in Escanaba, followed by a music festival that weekend in Nahma. The town derived its name from the Ojibway (Chippewa) language in which Nami means Sturgeon.