Nan Helm – Leelanau Historian

Nan Helm
(b. 1877 – d. 1968)

Nan Helm, a woman who cared deeply about this county and its history, was born in Burdickville, Leelanau County, MI on April 22, 1877 to John Helm and Nancy Campbell Helm. Her parents owned and ran the general store and post office in Burdickville, opening them shortly after the Civil War. Because of this, Nan grew up around different types of people that would frequent her parent’s store and learned all sorts of things about her community from them. When she was a little older, Nan lived for a short time in Chicago and then Seattle where she would work as a stenographer, but she always considered Leelanau County and specifically the Glen Lake area to be her home. Eventually, Nan returned to Burdickville and involved herself once again with her community and its history.

Nan Helm in front of her home in Burdickville.

She would often write for the Leelanau Enterprise and would later publish two of her own books: “‘Village Days & Ways’ of Burdickville” and “Footprints Where Once They Walked.” Nan cared deeply about the history of the area and worked hard to preserve it. She not only collected artifacts herself but was also part of the founding of the Leelanau Historical Society and Museum, this very organization. Nan served as the Vice President from the Historical Society’s formation in 1957 to 1964 and even mentions the Society frequently in her book “Footprints Where Once They Walked.” Her feelings were strong about the preservation of history and in particular the history of this county.

Nan Helm’s books. Out of Print. Make an appointment at LHS’ Research Center to visit and view archived copies.

“No one can get away from the fact that any kind of history is important. It is considered one of the most necessary studies in all our great universities. The present is absolutely without meaning if one does not know what preceded it. There isn’t a county in the United States with a more living or vital history than this beautiful county of ours. It has been sorely neglected in the past but the Historical Society has been formed to remedy this.”

-Footprints Where Once They Walked, Page 28

On October 21, 1968, Nan passed away at the age of 91, leaving behind a legacy of love for her home and its community. She was one of the earliest historians of the area and was instrumental in the push to have the history of Leelanau County preserved for future generations.

Nov. 2nd, 1957. Meeting for the organization of the Leelanau Historical Society- Photo in front of Community Hall of Burdickville. Nan Helm pictured third from the left.
As part of an ongoing series called "Women of Leelanau", the Leelanau Historical Society is dedicated to researching, preserving, and sharing the untold stories of women who's actions, advocacies, words, imagination, and every day lives contributed to the history and culture of the Leelanau Peninsula, MI. Discover more "Women of Leelanau" stories on our blog page.