But the loss of the secondary museum in the former train depot resulted in the Tri-Cities Historical Museum purchasing a building on the same Grand Haven Township property as its warehouse.
Now the museum’s entire collection — that is not on display in other places such as the downtown museum, the courthouse and some of the libraries — is housed in one location, said Meredith Slover, curator of collections for the local museum. Before, it was spread between the Depot Building (about 2,500 square feet), offices in the museum’s Akeley Building in downtown Grand Haven, and in people’s garages and barns, Slover said.
The new archive warehouse at 14110 172nd Ave. in Grand Haven Township will be open to the public on Friday, March 9. The event begins with the ribbon-cutting ceremony at 4:45 p.m. Tours will be conducted every 15 minutes, beginning at 5:15 p.m.
The warehouse was purchased for about $200,000 and funded through a capital campaign conducted specifically for that purpose. All of the donations came from community groups, local individuals and grants, according to Museum Director Julie Bunke.
The 5,000-square-foot building is located on former Harbor Industries property. It houses a public lobby and research room, a re-homing room for donations, an archive room, an art room, and a lean-to for some of the larger items from the old depot.
Slover will work from an office in that building full time. So will Alice Seaver, who works in collection services for the museum.
That opens up office space in the museum’s downtown location, allowing the museum director to relocate to the lower level with the rest of the staff.
The large lobby in the new building allows space for people to come in with donations.
A research room will be open to the public after March 9. Items in the room — such as yearbooks, maritime materials and Coast Guard materials — will be available for public inspection. If researchers need something specific, they can request it from one of the collections staff.
Slover said that all of the museum’s photos have been digitized and can be emailed in low resolution, or printed for a fee from the higher-resolution image.
Most of the research requests come by mail or email, Slover said.
The archive room contains paper items, contracts, books, oversize map files and photographs.
Slover said the new building was designed with special floors to keep out moisture, as well as a heating and cooling system designed to keep the temperature and humidity at the right levels for the collections.
Seaver was busy in the re-homing room, opening boxes and unwrapping artwork brought over from the transportation museum.
“It’s like Christmas,” Seaver smiled as she pulled the paper off a Philadelphia print donated by Dr. Mary Kitchel. “You open up a package and you wonder what you are going to get.”
Off the re-homing area is a room full of artwork, the stacks of shelving with the photos and paperwork, and a lean-to that houses items from the transportation museum.
The old Apex truck had to be partially dismantled to get it out of the depot, Slover said.
Pieces from the Nativity scene that used to be on display on Dewey Hill are also stored on a rolling cart in the lean-to. Slover said the museum does not have the entire collection — they have the main pieces and one of each animal. The city has the rest of it in storage, she said.
“We hope in the future to display it again,” Slover said.
Also in the lean-to are a couple of sleighs, some fire apparatus and the old Braak’s Bakery sign from Spring Lake.
Slover said the museum has more than 60,000 artifacts in its permanent collection. That includes numerous items in their original warehouse building, also located on the same property. That warehouse will also be part of the tour.
Inside the warehouse are bells from the Raritan and old Rosy Mound School, 12 Story & Clark pianos and organs, furniture, industrial equipment, old surfboards and an old paddleboard, and the actual Robbins Savidge wedding cake from 1891.
“It’s great to show people what we are collecting and why we’re collecting it,” Slover said.
The warehouse was heavily damaged in July 2017 when a large white pine tree fell and ripped through several sections of the roof, in the area where the museum’s archival materials were being stored. The museum staff had just moved the archive items into the space two weeks prior to the storm.
Water began pouring in through the damaged roof, soaking the archival boxes and their contents.
“As far as museums and any kind of catastrophe, that’s the second worst thing that could happen (aside from fire),” Bunke said for a July 2017 story in the Tribune. “If that were to be lost, our history would be lost and we would never get those things back.”
The museum staff’s quick response and disaster plan allowed about 70 percent of the boxes to be removed with little or no damage. Thirty percent of the boxes, however, were soaked with rain water, and more than 3 inches of standing water filled the building, which remained without power for three days after the storm. The museum contracted with a professional environmental disaster cleaner and document drying service from Charlotte, North Carolina, which dried out the building and its contents.
Many items in the collection are discussed in the newsletter distributed to museum members. Individual memberships are $25 a year, or $20 for people over age 62. For more information on supporting the museum, go to www.tri-citiesmuseum.org.
Tribune reporter Alex Doty contributed to this report.