Our mission has three main tenets. One, we educate the public about the rich and varied history of our area. Two, we create exhibits and events that help to showcase that history through artifacts and archives. And three, we collect and preserve physical manifestations of our past.
From family Bibles found in garage sales to leather children’s shoes discovered in walls during home renovations, these items that represent our history have been thoughtfully saved and gifted to the museum. Due to this thoughtfulness and the generosity of the Tri-Cities community, the museum’s collection now consists of more than 60,000 items — each artifact telling its own story about the people who lived here no matter how commonplace or grand.
The responsibility of caring for the collection and preserving the condition of each artifact to the best of our ability is not just important, but integral to our existence and purpose as your local history museum.
The community has come together many times in the past to help us with our mission. We were able to save the Depot building from demolition in the 1960s and create a museum in that space that became a center for the community for many years. We were able to pass communitywide millages that give the museum a secure financial platform to continue and expand our valuable work.
Ten years ago, the museum was able to successfully fundraise to purchase and renovate the beautiful Akeley Building in downtown. As well as serving to enhance the ambiance of our historic main street, the Akeley museum allows for the space to create compelling exhibits, host lectures and tour groups, and work with the schools to educate our children about the importance and relevance of the past to today. In addition, the Akeley building has gathering space for community and member events, creating and inviting hub of year-round activity in downtown Grand Haven. We also have excellent space for the museum administration which allows us to perform efficiently and effectively.
All of these things are wonderful, and show that we remain faithful to our mission and our community. As we celebrate the progress the museum has made toward becoming the best repository for our local history, we understand that the third tenet of our mission — collect and preserve — has not gotten the attention it needs and deserves. The time has come for us to turn the spotlight to this vital area.
Caring for and properly storing 60,000 of anything is difficult in and of itself, but when those items are particularly fragile, prone to damage and need to remain intact for several decades, many challenges and obstacles arise. The biggest challenge that the Collections Department has faced over these last years is the lack of quality storage space. Our archives are currently housed in the basement of the Akeley building, in a small room fitted with sprinklers and sitting directly beneath the water main. Though we have only had one small leak and little damage over the years, the risk remains high that if the sprinkler system was activated, it would quickly destroy the archives in minutes.
In addition to the risk of water damage, the room is too small to hold the fantastic donations that we continue to receive. With the shelving full and the walls already lined with artwork, we cannot in good conscience accept an incredible piece of art or history only to relegate it to a life of potential damage on the floor.
We have been planning and saving for years now, and as part of our long-term strategic planning, we were able to take advantage of an opportunity to purchase a building that will double our storage, suit our need for growth admirably, allow for public interaction to an unprecedented degree, and is ideally located adjacent to our current storage facility in Grand Haven Township.
We are in the middle of a campaign to create this central campus for the proper storage and conservation of the irreplaceable artifacts entrusted to our care. This new center will allow unprecedented public access to the collections while addressing the major issues of overcrowding, less than ideal physical environments, and scattered resources we face today. With the completion of the new Community Collections and Archives Research Center, we will be able to “Make Room for History,” and allow us to hit on all three priorities of our mission to the best of our ability.
As before, we cannot do it without the support of the membership and the community. We are excited to announce the receipt of a grant of $75,000, made possible by The Greatest Needs Fund, the Tri-Cities Chautauqua Field of Interest Fund, the GHACF Arts Fund, the Mary Ann Sherwood Families & Children Fund, and the Marion A. and Ruth K. Sherwood Family Fund. This is in addition to a $29,515 grant from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs in support of this project, and more than 90 donors who have contributed since the launch of the campaign in early November.
Please consider joining us in this exciting initiative, and donate generously to ensure that our history is preserved to learn from and enjoy for generations to come.
— By Steven Radtke, director of the Tri-Cities Historical Museum, and Meredith Slover, Grand Haven museum’s collections manager