no avatar

Your local museum: Still collecting history in the Tri-Cities

• Jul 27, 2018 at 3:00 PM

The Tri-Cities Historical Museum began as a simple council appointed by the city in 1949. There was a concern by some in the boom years after the Second World War that too many historic buildings were being lost to renovation and modern updates. The city answered these concerns with the appointment of the Grand Haven Historical Council. Their mission was “to receive, preserve, and display all things of a historic value and nature pertaining to the City of Grand Haven.”

Despite the council, there was still a noted shortage of historic information around town. By 1958, there was only one historic marker on display, a fact that new residents Dr. Dave and Dottie Seibold found disappointing. Together, they worked in their home to create 10 wooden historic markers celebrating the town’s history. Those markers were very well received and stirred further interest in the town’s history.

Dr. Seibold was able to capitalize on that interest to form a historical society and use that team to celebrate Grand Haven’s imminent 125th anniversary. The anniversary was another success; the downtown businesses let their windows serve as exhibit space for a temporary strolling museum.

The Tri-Cities Historical Society, now with 106 charter members, began collecting items and photos of historic importance. Unfortunately, space was quickly exhausted. Two rooms of the Cutler block building were donated by the owners of the building, the local Masonic Chapter. As collections continued, other spaces in the community were utilized — within the Ferrysburg Fire Department; within City Hall; and in the closets, basements, attics and garages of society members.

In 1971, a deal was finalized between the City of Grand Haven and the Tri-Cities Historical Society to lease the former Grand Trunk Depot as museum space. A very generous rent of $1 per year was levied, and work began immediately to update the Depot so it could function as a museum, office spaces and archive/collection space. Additional goals were met, including a tour book of downtown and the organization of the town’s upcoming 150th anniversary in 1984.

Over the years, the museum grew — both the collection and in terms of professionalism. What started as a volunteer-run institution became a professional museum run by a full-time, qualified staff. That kind of growth would not have been possible without the addition of millage funds. Starting in 1986, six communities made the commitment to support the museum: Grand Haven, Spring Lake, Ferrysburg, Grand Haven Township, Spring Lake Township and Robinson Township.

The growing collection needed to be safely housed in a single location. Local Rotarians and businesspeople helped by donating land as well as raising $27,000 in 1995. The warehouse was constructed and ready for use by the end of 1996.

The museum continued to grow, and exhibit space was very limited in the Depot Museum. When the former Steketee’s Department Store building became available in downtown Grand Haven, it was purchased by the society. The building was a historic landmark and was in need of restoration to its Victorian-era grandeur. The $2.1 million project began in 2003 and was formally opened to the public July 1, 2004.

As the museum expanded, the collections of artifacts and documents grew, as well. This past March, the Community Archives and Research Center was dedicated and now serves as a library and research facility open to the public for staff-assisted or independent research.

As we look ahead to 2019, the Tri-Cities Historical Museum will be celebrating our 60th year of collecting, preserving and presenting the history of Grand Haven, Spring Lake and Ferrysburg. We want to thank the residents of these communities for their continued support through artifact donations, volunteering and attending the many events we hold annually.

The Tri-Cities Historical Museum is located at 200 Washington Ave. in downtown Grand Haven and is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. You can follow us on Facebook for up-to-date information on exhibits and events. Current exhibits include “Courage Without Fear: The Red Arrow Division in World War I” and “Coast Guard City, USA.”

— Cate Reed is the education program coordinator and Julie Bunke is the executive director of the Tri-Cities Historical Museum in Grand Haven.

Recommended for You

    Grand Haven Tribune Videos