Museum Round Up: Year of Museums, Part II

2014, my Year of Museums, is winding to a close. In one way, it was a success – I definitely went to more than 12 museums this year. On the other hand, going to more museums did not encourage me to write more blog posts. It was actually a pretty poor year for blogging. Only 10 posts all year! Perhaps 2015 should be the year of blogging.

Well, for all of those out there dying to know, my list of all the museums I visited is below. As you can see, most of the museums are from two big trips: my road trip around Michigan in July and my trip to Washington DC in November.

The first 5, which I wrote about in Museum Round Up Part I:

Mabry Mill (Virginia)
Arab American National Museum (Dearborn, Michigan)
Detroit Historical Museum
Detroit Institute of Arts
Thumb Octogon Barn Agricultural Museum

Then in June, I hit quite a few museums around Michigan while on vacation:

Our first stop on vacation was in Grand Rapids, where we visited friends and drank some beer. We also made a trip to the Grand Rapids Public Museum. I highly recommend a stop here for anybody living in or visiting GR. The museum focuses on the history of the city and region, but it is so much more than your typical local history museum. For starters, it’s huge! There are three floors of exhibits, including many permanent and temporary galleries. The large scale is especially noticeable in the Galleria, an open space using all three floors to display large artifacts including a (replica) whale sculpture, a locally made bi-plane, and a large steam engine. The museum is also very modern in its interpretation of the local history. Rather than a simple timeline that starts with the founding of the city and continues with important events (mostly done by rich white men), you can visit individual exhibits on many aspects of the GR history, including the original Native American inhabitants, the many immigrant groups that make up the current population, and participation in the Civil War. Much as I loved all that, I also loved the nod to the museum’s past with a natural history exhibit designed like an old-fashioned “cabinet of curiosities.” Seriously, I loved this museum. I can’t wait for an excuse to go back!

Exhibits at the Grand Rapids Public Museum: Mammoth skeleton, view of the Galleria, Civil War Camp

Exhibits at the Grand Rapids Public Museum:
Mammoth skeleton, view of the Galleria, Civil War Camp

After a day in Grand Rapids, we took the SS Badger to Wisconsin, camped there for a few days, and then headed north to the Porcupine Mountains. Most of our time in the Porkies was spend hiking (and jumping into the freezing Lake Superior), but we also made a stop at the visitor center to learn more about the area. The visitor center is small, but provides some great information about both the geologic history of the area as well as more recent history, with a few small displays on copper mining in the area. It’s a great complement to the amazing views you will see while spending time in the Porkies.

Our next stop was the Keweenaw peninsula, where we made Houghton our home base for few days while we explored the area. In Houghton, we went to the A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum on Michigan Tech’s campus to learn all about rocks, both locally mined and from all over the world. I’ll admit, rocks aren’t really my thing, but I was pleasantly surprised by this museum. There was quite a bit about local copper mining, including a gigantic piece of copper taller than me. I also was excited to find some items from other places in Michigan, including some salt from the Detroit salt mines. The salt mines are on my (long) list of things to write about, as most people don’t even know they are there.

Sheet copper and halite (rock salt) from the Detroit Salt Mines

Sheet copper and halite (rock salt) from the Detroit salt mines

A little farther north of Houghton is Calumet, where we stopped in at the Calumet Visitor Center, a part of the Keweenaw National Historical Park. The Keweenaw “park” isn’t one site – it is a partnership of multiple historical sites in the area along with the National Parks System. The Calumet Visitor Center is the new home base of the park, with a museum on the region’s history as well as information about the different sites. The center was very informative, including exhibits on not only the development of the region based on the rise and fall of the mining industry, but also on the social aspects of life in the Keweenaw.

First floor of the Calumet Visitor Center

First floor of the Calumet Visitor Center

And at the tip of the Keweenaw, we spent an afternoon at Fort Wilkins Historic State Park, a living history museum that tells the story of Fort Wilkins, which was built in the 1840s to bring order to the newly populated mining towns in the region. The fort was only occupied for a few years before being abandoned, so the museum is able to focus on one point in history, rather than a broad range. It was interesting, but I have to admit we were a bit tired of copper mining history at that point!

Barracks at Fort Wilkins Historic State Park

In September, I decided to make a random visit to the Michigan Holocaust Museum (at the Holocaust Memorial Center). This moving museum does an excellent job of portraying the vibrant culture of European Jews in the era before World War I, and horrific destruction of the culture and people by the Nazis. The architecture of the museum itself helps to tell the story – exhibits on pre-war culture are on the first floor, and then you descend into the basement as the exhibits tell the story of the rise of Nazism and the ensuing Holocaust. This is a hard museum to visit, but it is an important one. We all know the history, but seeing the artifacts, hearing the stories of survivors, and gaining a better understanding of what exactly was lost makes the story more real, and hopefully ensures that it will never happen again.

If you are keeping count, I’m now at 11 museums for the year. It would have been easy enough to hit one more museum, but it was made even easier by a week long trip to Washington D.C. for work in November. While in DC, I managed to visit 6 more museums: the National Museum of Natural HistoryLibrary of Congress, National Postal Museum, National Archives, National Gallery of Art, and the National Portrait Museum. I won’t write a paragraph about each of these, as this post is already too long and they aren’t focused on Michigan history. My week in DC was fun for many reasons, including the opportunity to finish off my Year of Museums with a bang.

So how about you, readers? What museums did you visit this year? Which ones should I try to visit in 2015?

Museum Round Up: Year of Museums, Part I.

Back in January, I wrote that my New Year’s Resolution was to visit one museum a month for 2014. We’re now almost halfway through the year, and a regular reader of my blog would think that I had completely failed at my year of museums! In fact, I have visited a number of museums (although not quite one a month) but I haven’t written about any of them here. So I thought I would do a quick round up of my Year of Museums so far, and mention some of my upcoming museum plans.

I really didn’t make it to many museums in the early part of the year, and none at all in Michigan. In January, I visited Mabry Mill along the Blue Ridge Parkway while visiting family in Virginia. Mabry Mill is an outdoor complex that features a number of historic structures, including a sawmill, gristmill and blacksmith’s shop. Unfortunately, the buildings are only open from May-October, so during our January visit we could only walk around the exteriors and read some of the interpretive signs. It was still very interesting, and the scenery along the Blue Ridge Parkway was stunning, even in winter. I’d love to go back in the summer sometime, but it’s a bit far away!

Mabry Mill in Virginia

Mabry Mill in Virginia

In April, I visited the Arab American National Museum for the first time in a few years. The building itself is an architectural beauty and the exhibits inside are equally impressive. There are three main exhibits on the top floor: Coming to America, Living in America and Making an Impact, as well as a rotating exhibit space on the first floor. When we were there it was an exhibit on art in the Orthodox church, which I thought was fascinating. I don’t want to give too much of a review of the museum here, as it turns out I’m going to be spending a lot more time at the AANM in the future – I was recently offered a position there in the collections department, so I will be starting a new job in a few weeks!

Gorgeous ceiling at the Arab American National Museum

Gorgeous ceiling at the Arab American National Museum

May was a museum bonanza – I visited 3 that month alone! The Detroit Historical Museum was first, and I brought my grandparents as a late Christmas gift (my parents came along as well). I thought it had been a while since I had visited that particular museum, but they said they hadn’t been there since the 1960s or 70s! The newly remodeled exhibits were amazing, and included lots of fun interactive activities. Because I visited with my grandparents and my parents, all of whom have spent most of their lives in Metro Detroit, I especially enjoyed the Allesee Gallery of Culture. The Gallery of Culture isn’t one of the big, maquee exhibits. It is just one circular room, set up as a timeline of Detroit in the 20th century. Each section covers a decade or two and contains stories about living in Detroit in that era and artifacts and images from the era as well. It was so fun to go through this room with my parents and grandparents, because we were all drawn to the different sections that resonated with us.  I really enjoyed hearing my family talk about the different items and events they remembered that were represented in the exhibit. I imagine this exhibit isn’t ideal for an out-of-towner, or a group of friends the same age, but if you are bringing family to the museum, it is a wonderful multi-generational conversation starter!

Allesee Gallery of Culture

Allesee Gallery of Culture

A few weeks after the DHS, I went to the Detroit Institute of Arts with some friends to check out their traveling exhibition “Samurai: Beyond the Sword.” It was an excellent exhibit, but obviously had nothing to do with Michigan history, so I won’t talk to much about it here. You can read more about the history of the DIA here. I do want to note that I love love love that the DIA is open late on Fridays, AND serves drinks and food downstairs in the Kresge Court. I love being able to go to an exhibition at 8pm and then hang out with a glass of wine in the middle of a museum (of course, the wine stays in the court). Maybe that sounds like a lame Friday night, but judging by the number of people that were there at the same time, I’m clearly not the only one who enjoys history and art in the evening! Oh, and of course I spent a few minutes in Rivera Court – I can’t visit the DIA with out spending time with the Diego Rivera murals. Rivera Court is mostly lit through skylights, so it becomes darker in the evening, giving it a more ominous look.

"Detroit Industry" by Diego Rivera

“Detroit Industry” by Diego Rivera

My last museum in May was the Thumb Octagon Barn Agricultural Museum. This was a surprise museum trip while I was visiting my sister in, where else, the thumb of Michigan. She wouldn’t tell me where we were going until we got there! It was a lot bigger than I expected. Besides the barn, which is huge (and of course, 8-sided), there’s also a one-room schoolhouse, a small schoolhouse museum, a carriage house, and the farmhouse itself. We received a tour of most of the buildings from one of the volunteer docents, who drove us all over the complex in a golf cart. While the other buildings are interesting, the barn is clearly the centerpiece of the museum. Built in 1923-1924, the owner modeled it after a similar barn he had seen in Indiana. At the time, round and octagon barns were hailed as the “barn of the future” because you could fit more square footage inside one. That idea definitely rings true with this barn – it’s huge, at 102 feet across and 70 feet high. The architects employed a unique ventilation system to regulate the temperature inside so it does not become stuffy, even on the higher levels. It was a fascinating piece of architecture, both when it was built and today. Currently, the main floor is used for events, and also has a display of buggies. The second floor is filled with a variety of agricultural instruments from the 19th and 20th centuries. There is also a small exhibit sponsored by one of the local electrical companies, which features a number of early electrical appliances. It is certainly a unique museum that is worth a stop if you ever find yourself out that way.

Thumb Octagon Barn Agricultural Museum

Thumb Octagon Barn Agricultural Museum

That completes my museum round up! As it stands right now, we’re 6 months into 2014 and I’ve visited 5 museums. 4 in Michigan, 3 about local history. Not bad! I should be adding a bit to that list in a few weeks, as I’m heading up the U.P. on vacation, and I’m looking to hit a few museums up there. I’ll be mostly in the Keweenaw peninsula, so I’m using the list of museums and historic sites on the Keweenaw National Historic Park website for ideas on what to visit. Feel free to leave me some suggestions in the comments, I’d love to hear what places I shouldn’t miss!

 

Beautiful Bay City

Tall ship on the Saginaw river outside my hotel room

Tall ship on the Saginaw river outside my hotel room

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Michigan Museums Association‘s annual conference. The conference this year was in Bay City, which meant it was an easy 1.5 hour drive from Metro Detroit. The conference itself was wonderful, and I also really enjoyed getting the chance to see the town. I’ve never stopped in Bay City before, just driven through, and I admit I never thought of it as much of a destination. Therefore I was pleasantly surprised by everything I got to see during the two day conference – receptions were held at the historic State Theater and the Historical Museum of Bay County and I also went on a brief tour of the Central Avenue Historic district.

Soon after I arrived the first night, I headed over to the State Theater for the opening reception. The theater was easy to spot – its brightly colored marquee and sign are visible a few blocks away. I was excited to visit the venue as I love old theaters (so very elegant!), but I soon realized this was no ordinary fancy old theater. The State Theater is decorated in a Art Deco Mayan Revival style – one of only four such theaters in the country.  The Mayan motif is prevalent both inside and outside the theater. The outside is designed to evoke a Mayan pyramid, and the inside only furthers that imagery. The interior walls are made to look like stone, peppered with Mayan images and geometric patterns. It is a very beautiful, and very unique, theater.

State Theater

State Theater

During the reception, we heard from the director of the theater, who gave a talk and showed a film about its history. Built in 1908 and originally called the Bijou, it started out showing live entertainment such as vaudeville. In the 1920s, with the rising popularity of film, the theater was converted to show movies and renamed the Orpheum. It wasn’t until the 1930s that the theater was renovated in the Mayan Revival style. The man behind the renovation was C. Howard Crane, who also designed the Fox Theater in downtown Detroit (and the Fox’s twin in St. Louis). The theater remained very popular for many years, but like many old movie houses, began to fall out of favor by the second half of the 20th century. In 1960 it was bought by the Butterfield Theater chain, who changed the name to the State Theater, removed the Mayan marquee outside and painted the interior brown, covering up the 1930s renovation. The theater continued to lose patrons and was threatened with destruction in 2000, when a group of local citizens formed a group to save and renovate the theater. The organization, originally known as the Friends of the State Theater, managed to raise enough money to save the theater and restore the 1930s design. The group, now known as the Historic State Theater Organization, still runs the building and is committed to bringing both live and film entertainment to the Bay City region. The story of the State Theater is a great example of how local historic preservation done well – the theater was saved, restored and then put back into use.

The next evening, another reception was held at the Historical Museum of Bay County, run by the Bay County Historical Society. The event really focused on the local community. Not only were we visiting a local historical museum, but we were served all locally made food and drinks. The food was great – and so were the drinks! Let me tell you, nothing quite beats walking around a museum with a locally brewed beer in hand. I really enjoyed the museum itself as well. I wasn’t able to be quite as thorough in my visit as I usually am at a museum, as I was busy talking to other museum folks from around the state, but I still managed to see some pretty great stuff.  Here are some pictures:

Main room of the museum

Main room of the museum

You can't have a northern (ish) Michigan museum without a display on logging!

You can’t have a northern(ish) Michigan museum without a display on logging!

Drinking beer while reading about beer!

Drinking beer while reading about beer!

Definitely pay a visit to the Bay County Historical Society if you are ever in Bay City!

One of the sessions I attended featured an employees of the Bay County Historical Society, who discussed a new virtual walking tour they had created through a collaboration with the company Map-N-Tour. The tour, which is available via an app on your smartphone or tablet, is overlaid on a Google Earth image of the area. It is a tour of the Central Avenue Historic District, which features a number of beautifully restored historic homes. Many of the homes date from the 19th century lumber boom in Michigan, while others are early 20th century “kit homes” designed by Bay City manufacturers Aladdin and Lewis & Liberty Co. If you are accessing the tour from out of town, you can just click on each marker and it will show you a picture and tell you about the home. If you are on Central Avenue, it integrates with Google Maps to shows you where you are so you can easily learn about the house directly in front of you. After the conference ended, a colleague and I decided to drive along Central Ave to see the homes and test out the app. The homes were amazing, especially the ones along the main road. It was really interesting to see the many different styles, from Victorian gingerbread houses to mid-century modern, all in one place. The app worked well, although it would have been better as a walking tour than a driving one. We were going too quickly for me to have time to pull up and read information on each house, so I finally just settled for looking at all of them, and trying to take pictures through the window. I’d love to go back at walk up and down the avenue when I have more time!

A few of the houses:

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All in all, the conference was very enjoyable. I loved meeting people from different museums around the state and gained a ton of new ideas for my own job. And it was wonderful to get a chance to explore a city I never knew much about! Here’s to Beautiful Bay City 🙂

Loving this swag from the conference!

Loving this swag from the conference!

My trip to the Dossin Great Lakes Museum

IMG_0324Last weekend was my birthday! So like any good history nerd, I used that as an excuse to visit a museum (not that I really need an excuse). I went to the Dossin Great Lakes Museum on Belle Isle (part of the Detroit Historical Society), because although I used to love that museum as a kid, I hadn’t been there since probably the 1990s. High time for a revisit. Plus, they recently did a huge overhaul of the museum, and I was excited to see the new exhibits!

The museum absolutely did not disappoint. It is a small museum, but it fits a lot in. The main entrance takes you into the Gothic Room, which is set up like the gentleman’s lounge of the City of Detroit III, a Great Lakes cruiser from the early 20th century. The room is gorgeous, with richly paneled wood, a huge chandelier and a magnificent set of stained glass windows. The City of Detroit III made trips between Detroit, Cleveland and Buffalo from 1911-1950. I really wish ships like this still existed – I would love to take an opulent cruise on the lakes!

Stained glass in the Gothic Room

Stained glass in the Gothic Room

The main exhibition in the museum, Built by the River, explores the relationship between Detroit and the river. The exhibit describes how the river influenced the founding of the city (after all, Detroit means “on the straits”), the growth of industry, and local recreational pursuits. I really enjoyed this exhibit. It had some great visual props (both artifacts and images), clear, concise labels, and some really fun interactives. Yes, I played with the toys. You are never too old to have fun at a museum!

Built By The River

Built by the River

One part of the museum that has not changed much since my childhood visits is the William Clay Ford pilot house. The pilot house is built into the museum, but situated on the shore so that when you look out the front windows, it really feels like you are on a ship in the middle of river. During our visit, a friendly docent explained what the various knobs and buttons did, and chatted with us about the maps on display in the back of the pilot house. One of the things I learned while looking at these maps is that the river is actually very shallow down by the south end, where it meets Lake Erie. With the exception of the shipping channels the boats use, you could practically walk across (but you probably shouldn’t).

The pilot house as seen from the outside

The pilot house as seen from the outside

The William Clay Ford was a freighter that spent years transporting iron ore and coal from northern Michigan to Ford’s River Rouge plant in Dearborn. On November 10, 1975, however, it took part in a different task – searching for the Edmund Fitzgerald, the famous freighter that went down in a storm in Lake Superior. The William Clay Ford was the second ship to take part in the fruitless search, after the Anderson. The pilot house isn’t the only artifact the museum owns related to the Edmund Fitzgerald disaster. They also have an anchor from the drowned ship, although that particular anchor actually came off the ship a few years before it sank. The picture at the top of this post is me sitting on the anchor.

The Edmund Fitzgerald anchor without a person on it

The Edmund Fitzgerald anchor without a person on it

The final exhibit at the Dossin is a rotating gallery that currently contains an exhibit on hydroplane racing on the river. I’ll be honest, I’ve never paid much attention to the hydroplane races, so I was very interested to read about the sport and its long history in Detroit. People have been racing hydroplane boats on the Detroit river for over 100 years, and the sport is still popular today.

Hydroplane!

Hydroplane!

That about sums up my visit. But did I mention that the Dossin is free? It is! It is only open on the weekends, however, so plan your visit accordingly. And do plan a visit – it is not something to be missed.

I’m going to leave you with this:

Any museum with a periscope is a good museum

Any museum with a periscope is a good museum

Frank Murphy

About a month ago, I spent the weekend with my sister in Harbor Beach, Michigan, a small town in on Lake Huron in the Thumb region of Michigan. Harbor Beach is a cute little beach town best known for having the largest man-made freshwater harbor. It is also famous for one other thing: being the birthplace of Frank Murphy, one of Michigan’s most accomplished politicians/lawyers. The Murphy family home was turned into a historic house museum after Frank Murphy’s death, and my sister suggested we go check it out, knowing that I can never turn down a trip to a local museum. So we stopped by on a Saturday afternoon and got a detailed tour from one of the docents. I have to say, I went in to the tour thinking I already knew all about Frank Murphy, but it turns out I had some gaps in my knowledge. It was a short but fascinating tour.

The Murphy Museum

The Murphy Museum

As an avid Michigan history nut, I already knew that Frank Murphy (1890-1949)  had been Mayor of Detroit, Governor of Michigan, and a Supreme Court Judge. Well, it turns out he also had one other important role in his life – from 1933 to 1936, he served as Governor-General and then High Commissioner of the Philippines. So while the house had all the typical historic house elements of family heirlooms, antique furniture and photographs, it also had a number of artifacts from the Philippines, which I had not expected at all!

Filipino artifacts

Like this awesome grass skirt

To explain how Murphy got to the Philippines, I’ll have to back up a bit. After all, it wouldn’t be much of a Famous Michigander Friday if I didn’t give the whole life story! After growing up in Harbor Beach, Murphy attended the University of Michigan for his undergraduate degree and then for law school. In the early years of his career, he practiced in Detroit, at different times running his own practice, teaching at the University of Detroit, and serving as a judge in the Detroit Recorder’s Court. His work as a judge earned him his first moment of national recognition when he presided over the Ossian Sweet murder trial, the famous Detroit case in which Sweet, a black man, defended his new home in a white neighborhood against an angry white mob.

In 1930, after 7 years as a judge, Murphy ran, and won, the race for Mayor of Detroit. He was faced with a difficult job, as this was the early years of the Great Depression. A Democrat, Murphy faced the crisis with welfare programs, including the formation of the Unemployment Committee, which sought to identify those in need of help who were not already receiving it and provide them with aid through fundraising and charity drives. He also provided housing to thousands through emergency shelters. Murphy was also a great supporter of Franklin Roosevelt and his proposed New Deal. Murphy’s support helped Roosevelt win Michigan, which then led to the Roosevelt administration paying him back with an appointment as Governor-General of the American-controlled Philippines.

As Governor-General of the Philippines, Murphy was committed to social justice and sympathetic to the plight of the poor. He also promoted independence for the Philippines, which was granted in 1935 (although WWII prevented the nation from becoming fully independent until 1946). Murphy stayed in the country for one more year as High Commissioner during the beginning of the transitional period. One of the interesting facts I learned on the museum tour was that because Murphy was unmarried, his sister (along with her husband) came along with him to his posting in the Philippines to serve as his hostess for formal gatherings.  Some of my favorite items on display at the museum were the dresses she wore while they were overseas.

I thought this was a wedding dress at first, but no, just a normal formal dress

I thought this was a wedding dress at first, but no, just a normal formal dress

More dresses

More dresses

In 1936, Roosevelt urged Murphy to return to Michigan and run for Governor, which he did. He only served as Governor for two years, but his impact was large, especially in terms of social services and labor relations. His administration saw the start of unemployment compensation and improved mental health programs. He is also well known for his reaction to the Flint Sit-Down Strike, in which he refused to order National Guard troops to suppress and expel the strikers and instead mediated an agreement that required General Motors recognize the UAW as a valid bargaining agent. Murphy’s liberal actions cost him the next election however, and he was defeated by his predecessor Frank Fitzgerald.

As if his resume was not already impressive enough, in 1940 Roosevelt nominated him to the Supreme Court, where he served until his death in 1949. Murphy played a liberal role on the court, receiving both praise as a champion of the common man and criticism for relying on his heart over his head. His most famous opinion was his dissent in the Korematsu vs. the US case, which upheld the legality of Japanese internment camps during WWII. Murphy called the decision “legalization of racism.” A plaque discussing his dissent stands outside the museum.

Plaque outside the museum

Plaque outside the museum

Murphy’s health declined rapidly in his 50s, and he passed away at the age of 59 at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. He has been remembered in many ways, the Murphy Museum in Harbor Beach being only one of the many memorials to his life. The Frank Murphy Hall of Justice houses part of Michigan’s Third Judicial Court (originally home to Detroit’s Recorder’s Court), and includes a plaque in his honor. The UAW commissioned the “Hand of God” statue by Carl Milles that currently stands outside the Hall of Justice in honor of Murphy. Featuring a nude figure emerging from the hand of God, the controversial statue was stored out of site for many years before being brought back out in 1970. There is also a Frank Murphy Seminar  Room at the University of Michigan, and the Bentley Historical Library at U of M houses his personal and official files. Frank Murphy’s legacy will not be forgotten.

I’m going to leave you with one last random picture from the museum – a picture the awesome fireplace in at the Murphy Museum, made from stones from Lake Huron:

I want this in my house

I want this in my house

Sources:

Bak, Richard, “(Frank) Murphey’s Law,” The Hour Detroit, September 2008
Maveal, Gary, “Michigan Lawyers in History-Justice Frank Murphy, Michigan’s Leading Citizen,” Michigan Bar Journal, March 2000
Murphy, Frank, 1890-1949,” Bentley Historical Library

Brighton District No. 8 (Lyon School)

Brighton District No. 8 School

Brighton District No. 8 School

I spent this past weekend visiting family in Brighton and came across this lovely old schoolhouse while out for a run Sunday afternoon (side note – I hate that it was warm enough for an outdoor run 3 days ago but today I woke up to snow). Fortunately, I had my phone on me so I stopped to take some pictures and then jumped on a computer to do some research when I got home. I was really excited to come across this building as it is a very out of the way site that I probably wouldn’t have known to visit. Random historical site run-ins are the best!

Here’s the text of the historical marker on the site, which provides some basic information about the school:

“In 1842 pioneer settler Richard Lyons donated land for the first school in Brighton Township’s District No. 8. Area Methodists worshipped in the log school until 1874. In 1885 the log building was replaced with this one-room clapboard structure. Classes were held here until area schools consolidated in 1956. The building then served as the Brighton Township Hall. In 1984 it was restored for use as a museum.”

Further research at the website of The Brighton Area Historical Society and an online version of an 1880 History of Livingston County book told more of the story:

Richard Lyons came to Michigan in 1835 from New York City to buy land for a number of members of his artist’s guild. New York was experiencing a terrible cholera outbreak at the time and people were looking to move west. Lyons traveled to Michigan to make purchases twice, eventually purchasing 20,000 acres of land in the area then known as Upper Green Oak before finally bringing his family out and settling on one parcel in 1837.

The Lyons family traveled in a group of 12 guild members to their new home. When they arrived, they all crowded into one small log cabin built by William Valentine, a guild member who had come west earlier but had given up on making a living in the wilderness and returned to the city. When another two families arrived soon after, the crowd in the cabin swelled to 22. The settlers quickly went to work building more homes and each family had their own house within a year. As they came from the city, these guild members had very little farming experience and struggled initially, but most eventually prospered. A log schoolhouse, built a few years later in 1842, was the first non-residential structure the settlers built. It served as both a schoolhouse and as a general community gathering point for the next 40 years.

As the marker states, in 1885 the current frame structure replaced the original cabin. The one room schoolhouse had a wood stove for heating the building, a well and outhouses outside and oil lamps for lighting the inside. The community was still small and only around 20 students attended the school.

The small schoolhouse continued to be used into the 20th century, finally adding electricity and indoor bathrooms in 1940. However, after WWII, Brighton experienced a rapid increase in population as the construction of freeways made travel to nearby Detroit and Ann Arbor easier. This growth caused the city to outgrow its one room schoolhouses. Additionally, educators around the country pushed for bigger schools, claiming they would provide a more standardized education. The rise of the automobile, which allowed the creation of the school bus to transport students longer distances, also contributed to the decline of one room schoolhouses (source). Nonetheless, this one room schoolhouse lasted longer than most. Although school consolidation in the United States began in the 1920s and 1930s, Brighton schools didn’t consolidated until 1956.

The building was used as the Brighton Township Hall for many years until it became too small for that function as well. According to the Brighton Area Historical Society, it now serves as their headquarters and has been fully restored for use as a museum. However, there is no information about when/if the public can visit the museum, which is a shame as I would love to see the inside. The BAHS does state that it can be used for school field trips and even has a third grade curriculum that can be used to show students what education was like in the early 20th century. So apparently I just need to impersonate a teacher and find a group of random kids to get inside…..bad idea?

What I really like about this schoolhouse is the setting. It is tucked away down a dirt road and largely surrounded by trees. Although there are a number of houses in the area, it still feels fairly rural and thus does a better job of replicating the feel of a 19th/early 20th century schoolhouse than buildings relocated to historic parks, such as in Greenfield Village or Troy Historic Village. The National Register of Historic Places call this relationship between a property and its surroundings “integrity of setting.” I love sites like these because they can really take you back in time mentally. As I stood there, I could imagine schoolchildren walking down the road to get to class, playing in the schoolyard, dipping their feet in the nearby creek after class.

Sadly, that image was quickly blown away by the site of a car driving past, and I was drawn back into the modern world. Nonetheless, it made for a fun historical break on my run. Now if only all my runs took me past unexpected historical sites, I might enjoy running more!

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Past Travels: Traverse City

I don’t know about you, but I’m just about done with winter. I’m very much so ready for warm weather and sunshine. So to combat these end-of-winter blues, I thought I’d write a post that made me think of summer. To me, summer in Michigan is weekend road trips up north, swimming in the Great Lakes, going camping and, of course, going to the local historical sites of whatever town I’m visiting. So I dug into my photographs of summers past and found a (digital) album of a camping trip to Traverse City from 2010. Besides tubing down a nearby river and visiting the local wineries, I also visited the Museum of the History Center of Traverse City and the Mission Point Lighthouse on Old Mission Point.

The Museum of the History Center of Traverse City has a complicated name due to its complicated history. According to the museum’s website, the idea behind the museum dates back to 1934, when Con Foster, the Traverse City Park’s commissioner, wanted to create a large park/tourist attraction at the southern tip of the West Grand Traverse Bay. He wanted a zoo, a beach house and a museum. A year later, the Works Progress Administration built a building for the museum, named the Con Foster Museum. Foster himself began to travel around the Midwest searching for Native American and pioneer artifacts for his collection. The collection and museum continued to grow, eventually being run by a group called the Friends of the Con Foster Museum.

This is where things start to get confusing. By the end of the century, the Con Foster collection had outgrown its original building and in 2002, it moved into a grand building originally occupied by the Traverse Area District Library. The building also housed other local historical organizations and was dubbed the Grand Traverse Heritage Center. In late 2010, apparently soon after I visited the museum, the Heritage Center merged with the Traverse Area Historical Society and was renamed the History Center of Traverse City. As the museum is only part of the entire history center, it is known as the Museum of the History Center of Traverse City. That’s a long name.

The museum contains a number of exhibits on local history topics such as Native Americans, logging, railroads and the cherry industry. It includes a replica of a Victorian parlor to represent Traverse City’s heyday during the logging boom of the late 19th century. The museum also provides a gallery for temporary exhibits. Although I remember enjoying the museum, I can’t speak much about the exhibits as my visit was over two years ago. I was very amused when I went back through my photographs from my visit, as I clearly had no intention of capturing the museum as a whole but rather only took pictures of single items or displays that jumped out at me as strange, shocking, or amusing. Here’s a  few examples:

Hair wreath from the Victorian parlor. While hair wreaths were a popular and often homemade decoration meant to serve a keepsakes of friends and loved ones, today we tend to see them as rather strange.

Hair wreath from the Victorian parlor. While hair wreaths were a popular and often homemade decoration meant to serve a keepsakes of friends and loved ones, today we tend to see them as rather strange.

Rules for Teachers

Rules for teachers: This is an interesting list that not only tells us how teachers were to act in 1872 but also prominently displays the strict gender roles and conventions of the era.

I’m not a huge fan of mannequins, but I find this guy (with a limb shaker used for cherry harvesting) to be particularly creepy.

I’m not a huge fan of mannequins normally, but I find this guy (with a limb shaker used for cherry harvesting) to be particularly creepy.

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The final photograph shows items swallowed by one patient over several years at a local state hospital. According to the label, she would swallow them when she was upset with her surroundings because it would cause her to go to surgery and then stay in the hospital’s infirmary for a time, providing a change of pace. Besides the obvious shock value of this display, I can’t help but wonder about its origins. Why were these items saved? Why and when were they given to a museum, and why did the museum decide to display them? I’m inclined to believe this is an old display, because it feels more like an old-fashioned “cabinet of curiosities” display than a part of a modern exhibit. A more modern take might use it as an example of the the poor treatment of the mentally ill in that period and the lengths they went to just to get their doctors to DO something. However, I can’t read the entire label from my picture (and it took a bit of zooming and squinting to read any of it) so I can’t be sure of how it is currently presented. Pondering the many different ways a museum might interpret these objects does make for an interesting exercise though!

Mission Point Lighthouse

Mission Point Lighthouse

My second historical stop near Traverse City was the Mission Point Lighthouse. The simple white wooden structure was built in 1870. It is actually a twin to the Mama Juda Lighthouse in the Detroit River, built in 1866 (an earlier lighthouse had been built on the same spot in 1849). These two lighthouses are the only two of that style. Interesting side note – the Mama Juda Lighthouse sat on Mama Juda island, a small island off the northern tip of Grosse Ile. It’s not clear when the lighthouse was abandoned, but the structure was destroyed by the encroaching river by 1950 and the entire island was underwater by 1960. Today, only a few large boulders can be seen above the water.

Back to Mission Point, that lighthouse’s biggest claim to fame is its position a few hundred yards south of the 45th Parallel, halfway between the equator and the north pole. A sign indicates this location at the lighthouse, although the sign itself isn’t on the line. Nonetheless it makes a great photo op!

Would you believe I was in graduate school, not high school when this photo was taken? Because wow do I look 17.

Would you believe I was in graduate school, not high school when this photo was taken? Because wow do I look 17.

The lighthouse was deactivated in 1933 and currently houses a small museum, but it was closed when I visited so I was unable to go inside. Nonetheless, the drive up Old Mission Point is lovely and the area around the lighthouse fun to explore, so it was definitely worth the trip.

The rest of that trip wasn’t very historical, but here’s a couple more shots keep you dreaming of warmer days:

TC Collage copy