CMJ Heritage Museum in Skinner Park

I often wonder how much longer the camp Martin Johnson museum will be around? Most of the campers are in their 60s and 70s by now. Still it has a rich history on Big Bass Lake. How many people have taken the time to explore the museum? Do a lot of people visit it. When the current campers pass away The museum will be the only link to its history. Tom Curtin Is the curator Of the museum. The museum is open every July and August with special hours and is found in Skinner Park in Irons, Michigan.

Stivale Report on Camp Martin Johnson

This is a report compiled in 2001 about Camp Martin Johnson that you might find interesting. It connects it to today’s Heritage Bay Association.

. This is the report. I hope you find it interesting. Heritage Bay now owns the property that once belonged to Camp Martin Johnson.

CMJ Fitting Room

One of the rooms in the Martin Johnson Heritage Museum in Irons, Michigan, is devoted to some of the wearing material that both campers and staff wore such as sweatshirts and jackets that bore the camp’s name. I would suppose that some of these articles of clothing are from various decades of camp?

Perhaps some silk screening could be added to the museum so that sweatshirts and jackets could bear the museum’s name as another source of revenue for the museum.  It would also keep the camp and museum’s name alive as a great source of advertising. 

I know that when I marketed my Joplin Boys Club in this manner my staff and kids became walking billboards in the community and the same could be accomplished at the museum to keep its name alive in the area and perhaps increase tourism there.  On our Museum Page I suggested a chili contest held annually on the grounds of the museum as another revenue generator. 

Perhaps our readers have other ways and means of keeping the camp and museum name alive.  Leave us a comment in that regard.

Irons Cowboy Days

This is the way to Cowboy days in irons Michigan at Skinner Park. Lots of fun things to do and feast upon plus music. Did you know that horses are measured by hands?

Oh yes, there’s some horsing around as well. Plus a ride behind a tractor. You can even walk around the Martin Johnson Heritage Museum if you have the time.

This is the former home of Martin Johnson who donated a summer camp to the Hyde Park YMCA in Chicago. They sold the camp in 1980. Many of Martin Johnson’s painting still hang here.

For those that like a sit-down environment to eat or drink there is the Oak Grove in Irons. Have a great time each year at cowboy days in irons Michigan.

Martin Johnson Gravesite

Tom Curtin has an unusual story about this final resting place of Martin Johnson. There used to be a plaque on this rock commemorating Martin Johnson being the founder of the camp. It was stolen. Years later it was found in of all places the Martin Johnson Historic Museum located at Skinner Park in Irons Michigan. How it got there is the $25,000 question. It is more secure there than on his gravestone. Providence calls!

Camp Martin Johnson Museum

Whenever you’re in Irons Michigan take some time to stop by Skinner Park and check-out the Martin Johnson Historical Museum. Next Saturday I will have a two-part special on this house that was transported from its original site on Big Bass Lake to its present location. Look for that in the afternoon next Saturday as it will be a two-part series. Inside this Museum are artifacts from the original camp along with many of Martin Johnson’s paintings. Unfortunately the Museum only has regular hours in July and August. Tom Curtin is the curator of the museum. It was he and his wife Who provided me with pictures for next week’s two-part special. You can also see the one-room schoolhouse at this location.

Relocating the Martin Johnson Home to Irons, Michigan

The home of Martin Johnson himself was moved to the site in Irons from Martin Johnson Point back in the early 1980s to preserve something from the camp. Inside the structure, in the main living space, is a glass case with various objects, and different artifacts, including the original sign from the Camp Store. There is also a table on which certain documents are for sale: a history of the area (no doubt by Anne Louise Chase), postcards dating back to the early part of the century, a local area cookbook; and the green covered Martin Johnson autobiography.

Off to the right was Johnson’s room, containing a bed covered by an army blanket and also two plaques: one seems to be the plaque from the CMJ Dining Hall, the other is the plaque removed from the grave stone, kept in the house. The grave stone is still where it was, now behind a private home. Without a plaque, though, it just looks like a big boulder.

In the kitchen, there are all sorts of artifacts that have been donated. In the kitchen cupboard, under the stairs, they have retained the original grouting of the walls to show the construction as it had been done by Johnson himself. Upstairs, in the studio, there are several of his paintings. The wonderful roof window had to be replaced with a modern window structure. Yet, the floor in the studio is the original flooring, and the light from the new skylight, although not the same as on the point, makes this a very luminous room.

There is a green camp jacket hanging on a hook upstairs, and there is a camp Canoe Paddle. When the camp was closed, the property itself was wide open to the public, i.e. to anyone who wanted to go traipsing through the villages and cabins, buildings.

As I have detailed in another post, the four cabins on Four Winds Island have been preserved by the current owner who wants everything left as it once had been. Along the side of one cabin was a sign that indicated that the Ward Hills Ski Area was twenty miles in some direction. The camp had earlier purchased that property to be used fo winter activities.

Next time you are in Irons, Michigan, you might want to stop by and view the original house of Martin Johnson. It is a unique piece of history from the Big Bass Lake area.

It is disturbing learning that Martin Johnson’s house has been dislodged from the property on Big Bass Lake that he loved so much but also comforting to know that Irons, Michigan, thought enough of his legacy to allow his house to come to their town. Now it has become a tourist attraction and rightly so. I cannot imagine how former campers can even stand to look at their former camp site as it has been altered beyond belief.

Yet now all his paintings are on display for the public to see. And CMJ campers still have a place to call home that may have a new location but the same old feel that it always had. Johnson’s gravesite still exists at the old camp which can be found elsewhere on BBL and Beyond. Check the Camp Martin Johnson category for more.

What Did YOU Think of Camp Martin Johnson?

Let us know your memories of Camp Martin Johnson so those memories can live on forever here at Big Bass Lake and Beyond. What were your favorite activities and foods? What was the worst thing about camp if any? Who is your favorite counselor? Who was your favorite friend at Camp and why? How many years were you at camp? Did you take trips away from the camp? Did you go to Winter Camp at Ward Hill ski area? Do you have photographs you would like to share with us? My email address is Keep the memories of Camp alive. I noticed a Facebook page has seemingly closed down. If you want to check out our category Camp Martin Johnson, Four Winds Island, or Martin Johnson Heritage Museum search for your favorite things. Thank you!

Camp Martin Johnson Heritage Museum Needs Your Help

I received this letter from Ed Hawks today and am posting it on BBL and Beyond so please give it your full attention.

June 1, 2018


To:                   All Camp Martin Johnson Alumni

From:              Tom Curtin, Jr.
                        Martin Johnson Heritage Museum

             My involvement with Camp Martin Johnson (CMJ) began in 1951 when my father (Tom Curtin Sr.) became camp director.  That fortunate turn of events allowed me to spend the first six years of my life at Bi gBas sLake, giving me a somewhat unique perspective on CMJ.  Dad was eventually transferred and in the 1960’s I returned and spent the next few years as a camper, Counselor In Training (CIT), and Assistant Trip Director, completing my CMJ experience.   

            The developers who purchased Camp from the Hyde Park YMCA felt that Martin Johnson’s house was a liability to their plans and needed to be torn down.  A group of seven women who lived on or around Big Bass Lake stepped up and raised the money necessary to have the house moved to Skinner Park in Irons,Michigan in 1989.  It was placed on a forest plot planted in the 1930’s by the Civil Conservation Corp (CCC). The house was donated to the Irons Area Tourist Association (IATA) and opened to the public as a museum.  The Museum was operated by a separate Board of Directors known then as the Heritage Park Council who completed the initial renovation. 

            I joined the Board of Directors when I retired and moved back full time toLake County,Michigan, and was elected President a year later.  Since then we have worked to improve the Museum exhibits and most importantly to incorporate as a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization.  The name of the now separate organization is the Martin Johnson Heritage Museum (MJHM).  Over the last 2 years I have worked to negotiate the transfer of the deed for the house to our organization.  During the summer of 2010, MJHM took ownership of the Martin Johnson house along with the 2 ½ acres of property where it stands.

            Although CMJ as a place no longer exists, the home of the man who made CMJ possible still stands as a touchstone to our own personal version of Camelot.  It is open for all to wander through and remember what Camp meant to us then and still means to us today.  A number of artifacts from Camp and Martin Johnson’s life have been acquired and are on display. 

            We have accomplished much since the house was saved from the wrecking ball, but there is still much more to be done.  We are actively tracking down more paintings and photographs by Martin Johnson to add to the collection that is currently housed in the Museum.  We are also working to obtain the original stockades that formed the entrance to Camp and are trying to locate one of the CMJ cabins that we could move to the site.  A number of photographs, including some from the “old CMJ website” are on display in the Museum, but additional pictures depicting camp life and other CMJ memorabilia would be appreciated.  The attached mini photographic summary of the Museum will give you an idea of what has been accomplished and is on display to date.  

Currently there are no utilities run to either of the structures.  Electrical service and heat in the buildings would allow us to better serve the public.  Several of Johnson’s paintings need conservation.  And, there is always continuing maintenance to be done, insurance to pay, etc.  We have many items identified on our short and long term plans.

            The Museum needs your help to continue to grow and expand.  One of our long term goals is to raise funds for an endowment to ensure that the Museum continues in perpetuity.  I feel it is important that our grandchildren and great grandchildren are given the opportunity to visit the Museum, not only to get a sense of how we became who we are, but to also gain a historical perspective of a man who was a true pioneer in Northern Michigan. 

            TheMartin Johnson Heritage Museum is funded solely by membership dues, donations and grants.  I would hope that you would consider becoming a member and possibly send along an additional donation.  It is only with your help that can we continue to preserve this last tangible piece of Camp Martin Johnson.


“CAMPER” One Year Membership Single – $30.00
“COUNSELOR” One Year Membership Family – $50.00
“PROGRAM DIRECTOR” One Year Membership Sponsor – $100.00
“CAMP DIRECTOR” Life Membership – $500.00

And, most important – come and visit us!   Museum hours currently are Saturday afternoons from Noon to 3:00 p.m. in July and August, or by appointment by calling me at (231) 745-8505.

|            Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions you may have, either by phone at (231) 745-8505, E-mail at, or US Mail atP.O. Box 363,Baldwin,MI 49304.  


        Tom Curtin

Tom Curtin, Jr.
Martin Johnson Heritage Museum

Status: What Has Happened to the Camp Martin Johnson Heritage Museum in Irons?

Last November, the Camp Martin Johnson Heritage Museum in Irons, Michigan, earned their tax-exempt status but when I recently tried to locate its previous Internet location it seemingly has disappeared.  The museum now resides in Heritage Park in Irons and I would like to know its present status?

Ever since the camp ceased operations in the late 1970’s it has been besieged with various problems.  Just after it was sold looters descended on the camp property on Big Bass Lake stealing what they could.  That the camp was sold in the first place was the true beginning of its downward plunge.  The visions of Martin Johnson for his beloved land was now in ruins.  He wanted children to enjoy his land and now only rich home owners do from the Heritage Bay Development Company.

Once Martin Johnson’s house was moved to Irons it established some hours for touring the facility.  Another downside is that the gravesite remains at Big Bass Lake unmarked.  It should be moved to the site of the house in Irons where it can be properly maintained. 

Yet, now, with the Internet site gone, what has become of the Museum idea?  Last year I spoke with Tom Curtin Sr., who had developed that website, but this morning I learned that he passed away last June.  Now with the driving force behind that museum no longer with us, what will become of its fate?  I also found a website asking for donations to maintain the museum but none was forthcoming.

However, where the vision of Martin Johnson really lives is in the hearts and minds of the campers and staff that went there as children.  Yet even that will one day run its course.  But, here, at Big Bass Lake and Beyond, the vision of Martin Johnson will remain both in the category (on sidebar) of Camp Martin Johnson but also on the man himself found in a page at the top of our website. 

As for the status of the museum itself, if you know anything about what is happening there, leave us a comment.

School Room

this is a picture of an old-school room from the Martin Johnson Heritage Museum located in Skinner Park, Irons. These rooms used to serve grades one through eight in a single classroom. I wonder if the older kids assisted the teacher in helping the younger children? The Martin Johnson Heritage Museum also consists of paintings from Martin Johnson himself and memorabilia from the camp that once served kids on Big Bass Lake. Take some time to visit the museum when you’re in the area.

What is the status of the camp Martin Johnson Museum?

What is the current status of the camp Martin Johnson Heritage Museum located in Skinner Park Irons Michigan ? The last I heard  Tom Curtin  was the museum director . Then they were in need of funds to keep the museum operational . Perhaps Mr. Curtin could provide us with an update ? The floor is open for comments . image2