I always love visiting local history attractions when I’m on trips throughout Michigan, but I rarely remember to check out the museums and sites in the metro Detroit area where I live. Sure, I’ve been to the big sites – The Henry Ford, the Detroit Historical Museum, etc., but I’ve never been to most of the smaller local history museums that dot the area. I’m try to remedy that, so last weekend I went to the Royal Oak Historical Society to see their current exhibit, Woodward Memories: Then and Now.
The museum is housed in the old Northwood Fire Station building. I was greeted by a docent who asked me to sign the guest book and explained a little about the current exhibit. The exhibit focuses on Woodward Ave., the main thoroughfare through Royal Oak and one of the five main main roads in Detroit (Woodward, Michigan, Grand River, Gratiot and Jefferson make up the five spokes in the hub-and-spoke design of Detroit laid down by Augustus Woodward in 1805). It passes through the suburb of Royal Oak a few miles north of the city.
The main part of the exhibit is set up geographically, with dotted lines representing Woodward Ave. down the center of the space and display boards set up along side, separated by the cross streets of Ten, Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen and Fourteen Mile Roads – along with misfit Normandy Rd. Historical photographs of local business are on the display boards corresponding to where they were located in the town. The docent told me to just cruise down Woodward to check it out. It is a really fun way of organizing and exhibit as it lets visitors feel like they are in the middle of town – literally!
On the outside edges of the exhibit are display cases of artifacts donated by various Royal Oak families and institutions. These dispays are organized thematically, including a case for items from local schools, girl and boy scout displays and one on local churches. This last display includes what I (and many others, according to the article next to it) found to be one of the most fascinating objects in the museum: an unburned cross from a KKK rally in front of the local Catholic Church.
The museum also features a small library, which contains many old yearbooks as well as books about the history of the area.
I really enjoyed this exhibit. It was nice to see learn the history of a community I don’t know that well, even though I live nearby. I really liked the geographical set up because it does an excellent job of connecting the visitor with the physical city. The exhibit would be especially enjoyable for Royal Oak natives, who would be able to appreciate the nostalgia factor better than I was. I’m sure many visitors have looked at pictures of old businesses along Woodward and imagined themselves standing in that same place, 20, 40, or even 60 years ago.
The Woodward Memories exhibit is up until the end of September. The historical society changes the exhibits often, so I’m interested to see what will come next. I’m sure I’ll be visiting again!
Sorry about the poor quality of the photographs – I recently discovered all three of the cameras my family owns are broken, so I am stuck with cell phone pictures until I can get one fixed!