The Tri-Cities Historical Society began as a simple council appointed by the city. There was a concern by some in the years after the Second World War that too many historic buildings were being lost to renovation, modern updates and tear-downs. The city answered these concerns with the appointment of the Grand Haven Historical Council.
The constitution of the council stated that it was a corporation organized for “educational and scientific purposes including for such purposes to own and operate an historical museum, to encourage historical study and research, to collect and preserve historical material connected with the communities of Grand Haven, Spring Lake and Ferrysburg, Michigan, and the vicinity thereof …”
Despite the council, there was still a noted shortage of historic information around town. By 1958, there was only one historical 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.
The Tri-Cities Historical Society held their first meeting on May 22, 1959, which coincided with Heritage Day of Michigan Week. The first major project of that year was to promote a community observance of the 125th birthday of the City of Grand Haven. Members of the Junior Historical Society of the Grand Haven Junior High School also celebrated the occasion by sponsoring a “Pioneer Pastimes” event. The anniversary was another success; the downtown businesses let their windows serve as exhibit space for a temporary strolling museum.
From 1969 to 1972, the Masonic Temple Association of Grand Haven granted the Historical Society the use of space in their building for the purpose of establishing a public museum. The Tri-Cities Historical Society, now with 106 charter members, began collecting items and photos of historic importance.
Unfortunately, space was quickly exhausted. As the collections continued to grow, 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 at 1 N. Harbor Ave. 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 and collection space. In 1980, the Michigan Historical Commission listed the Grand Trunk Railroad Depot on the State Register of Historic Sites. The museum occupied the depot until September 2017.
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 skilled staff. That kind of growth would not have been possible without the addition of millage funds. Starting in 1986, several communities made the commitment to support the museum: City of Grand Haven, Village of Spring Lake, City of Ferrysburg, Grand Haven Township and Spring Lake 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 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. In March 2018, the Community Archives and Research Center was dedicated and now serves as a library and research facility open to the public. The Research Center is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1-4 p.m. for self-research or by appointment for staff-assisted research.
As we look ahead to 2019, 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 museum will be offering a variety of expanded programming to celebrate our 60th year. Look for movie showings of classic films released in 1959 such as “Anatomy of a Murder” starring Jimmy Stewart, “North by Northwest” with Cary Grant and “Some Like it Hot” featuring Marilyn Monroe. We will also be hosting a Trivia Night Contest in March and signature fundraiser in October, where you can “party like it’s 1959.”
Stay tuned for more information about how you can join us in celebrating our 60th anniversary.
The Tri-Cities Historical Museum is located at 200 Washington Ave. in downtown Grand Haven and is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from 12-5 p.m. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for up-to-date information on exhibits and events.
About the writer: Julie Bunke is the director of the Tri-Cities Historical Museum.