Category Archives: Local History

Registration for Science Night at Grand Rapids Public Museum now open

The Grand Rapids Public Museum. (Supplied)

WKTV Staff

 

The Grand Rapids Public Museum (GRPM), recently announced that registration is open to host a science booth at this year’s Science Night at the Museum, taking place on Tuesday, April 18.

 

GRPM is inviting local and regional researchers, students and faculty to host a hands-on table display related to their research or field of study, according to supplied material  the event will be  from 5 to 8 p.m. The vision is to have lab groups or individuals putting together innovative ways to engage the public and communicate their research to the community.

 

A cash award will be given for the most innovative and hands-on interpretation of their research. One winner will be chosen by public vote and a second chosen by the Museum’s education staff.

 

Applications are open through Feb. 10 and can be found at grpm.org/ScienceNight

 

Cruising through DreamWheels!

2016 DreamWheels for newsWith Metro Cruise upon us and WKTV’s DreamWheels! set to film on Saturday, we take a look back on the stories of the people and cars who make the cruise such a large attraction. From the history surrounding the inception of Metro Cruise to the shops and talents it takes to rejuvenate the beauty of a classic car, and everything in between, our full coverage is below:

 

DreamWheels! comes to the red carpet

History of Metro Cruise

Art Cruise

Engine House No. 9

Steve’s Antique Auto Repair

Pal’s Diner

The ‘artwork’ of Dom Federico

Lowriders come to DreamWheels!

Metro Cruise Pin-Up Girls

SoCal Speed Shop comes to Metro Cruise

MOPAR enthusiasts… rev your engines July 30

 

orange at gilmore car museum

The resounding answer will be “YEAH, it’s got a Hemi!” during the 28th annual MOPARS at the Red Barns Show and Swap Meet that takes place at the Gilmore Car Museum, 6865 W Hickory Rd, Hickory Corners, Mich. on Saturday, July 30 from 9 am to 3 pm.

 

Presented by the West Michigan Mopar Club, this family-friendly car show and swap meet is the region’s largest all-Chrysler products event of its type. More than 350 Mopars—Chrysler Corporation’s name for its product lines that include Chrysler, Dodge, Plymouth, DeSoto and Imperial—will take over the Gilmore Car Museum historic campus. The show is open to all Chrysler-powered vehicles of all eras, including muscle cars, antiques, street rods and trucks.

 

This year’s event honors the 50th Anniversary of the Dodge Charger and the Chrysler Street Hemi, as well as the 40th Anniversary of the Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volare.

 

The iconic Charger, introduced in 1966 as a two-door, fastback hardtop, dominated NASCAR in 1969. Ten years later, the mopar club logoorange “General Lee” sped onto TV screens in the CBS hit Dukes of Hazzard.

 

When it comes to muscle cars, the 426-HEMI has obtained legendary status. It was 50 years ago that it first became available on civilian production cars and went on to help define an era and set the question, “That thing got a Hemi?” into our memories.

 

In 1976, the all-new models Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volare were designed to be more upscale than their predecessors, Dart and Valiant. Motor Trend magazine named them the “Best Buy of the Day” and followed that up with awarding both as “Car of the Year.”

 

Saturday’s event promises to be the largest Mopar gathering in the Midwest as it fills the show fields at the Gilmore Car Museum. Whether your dream machine is a Dodge Charger, Plymouth Barracuda, or a vintage DeSoto or Imperial, you’re sure to find it—or that hard to find part needed to finish your project car—at MOPARS at the RED BARNS car show and swap meet on Saturday, July 30.

 

Mopars-at-the-Red-Barns-300x200

Participants can show their Mopar powdered vehicles for $20 each, while the general public will be admitted for only $12.00 per person. That includes visiting the entire Gilmore Car Museum campus and all exhibits at no extra charge, and those under 11 are FREE!

 

The Gilmore Car Museum—North America’s Largest Auto Museum—is located just 20 minutes northeast of Kalamazoo on M-43 and Hickory Road.  You can learn more about the Museum and its events at www.GilmoreCarMuseum.org or call 269.671.5089 for more information.

 

The 28th annual MOPARS at the Red Barns Show and Swap Meet will be sure to please as West Michigan’s largest all-Chrysler products car show, featuring over 350 muscle cars, plus antiques and special interest vehicles!

 

chargers

For those on the show field, there will be a chance for 84 trophies in 28 classes, covering virtually ALL MOPARS! Plus, special awards will also be given for Best of Show, Class of 1966 in honor of the Gilmore Car Museum’s 50th Anniversary, Best Club Participation, Longest Distance, Dodge Charger & Street Hemi 50th Anniversary, and Aspen/Volare 40th Anniversary. The car show will also include a large swap meet, food vendors, a beverage tent, and live music! For more information please contact the West Michigan Mopar Club at wmmccommander@aol.com.

 

Exhibitor Admission: $20.00 per vehicle w/two persons

24/7 Information Line: 269.664.5595

New Mini Exhibit ‘An Olympic View’ Opening at the Grand Rapids Public Museum

rio 2016

By: Kate Moore

 

The Grand Rapids Public Museum (GRPM) announced today the new mini exhibit An Olympic View will open July 23rd. With the Summer Olympics arriving soon, this exhibit celebrates the history of the Games, athletes from Grand Rapids, as well as the Brazil, the 2016 host.

 

This year is the first year the Olympics will take place in a South American country. An Olympic View allows visitors to learn more about Rio de Janeiro, Brazil leading up to and during the 2016 Summer Olympics. Visitors will learn about Ancient Greek history and see Ancient Greek artifacts that are part of the GRPM’s Collections. Other artifacts include insect jewelry, Brazilian coins, ancient Greek Lekythos as well as much more.

 

Grand Rapids Public Museum opens a new exhibit tomorrow.
Grand Rapids Public Museum readies for An Olympic View

In the modern era, 12 athletes from Grand Rapids have competed in Olympic Games. Visitors will have the opportunity to learn more about each of these 12 athletes, their sport and if they were Olympic medalists. In An Olympic View visitors will explore the locations of the modern Olympic Games. Visitors will pose as a gold medalist in this year’s Olympics in an interactive photo opportunity.

 

Admission to the mini exhibit An Olympic View will be included with general admission to GRPM. This exhibit will be on display from July 23 – August 21, 2016, coinciding with the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Brazil.

 

The Museum plans to showcase several mini-exhibitions, or pop-up exhibits, each year. They are modeled after pop-up stores, and are intended to be shorter in duration, showcase something new, tie into national and current events and showcase the GRPM’s Collections on a routine basis to the community. For further details visit grpm.org.

John Ball Zoo celebrates 125 years in 2016

john ball zoo logoBy Lizzie Lemur

Additional reporting by Ziggy Zebra

 

Ah, the Gilded Age. The Gay Nineties. The Mauve Decade. As one waxes nostalgic about the 1890s (easy to do if you didn’t live through them), one tends to forget that in that same decade, the Panic of 1893 sparked a severe depression throughout the country, and crime and poverty were pervasive. There were also many strikes in the industrial workforce.

 

Things in Grand Rapids mirrored those of the country. But the people of Grand Rapids had at least one respite — a gift bequeathed to the city by an influential personage, John Ball, upon his death in 1884 — forty acres fondly called Ball 40, where John Ball Zoo (JBZ) currently stands.

 

1 John Ball with his last child
Old guy with a baby. Oh, wait… that’s John Ball!

A pioneer from Hebron, New Hampshire, John Ball (1794-1884) studied and traveled extensively throughout the United States before settling in Kent County and serving in the Michigan legislature, representing West Michigan. He never left West Michigan and is buried in Fulton Street Cemetery, the oldest graveyard in Grand Rapids.

 

In the beginning, people used the land as a park. In 1890, the Common Council declared that it would be called John Ball Park, and a conservatory and greenhouses graced the grounds.

 

Historical records indicate that animals were kept beginning around 1891, and Ball 40 became home to raccoons, fox squirrels, rabbits, a woodchuck and two deer (added later in the year, thanks to two aldermen who gave a portion of their salaries to purchase the buck and doe to start a herd). Owls, hawks, a crow and an eagle also called Ball 40 their home.

 

John Ball Zoo-early zoo exhibits

Notably, there were no lemurs or zebras.

 

But what’s a zoo without a bear, and “Ol’ Jack” was added to the menagerie in 1894. The following year, a bride for Jack the Bear came on board. Jack escaped the zoo in 1897. He didn’t say why, but legend has it that the bride’s disposition wasn’t all that sunny.

 

More animals were added each year, and in 1903, Park Day became a city tradition. Workers got a half day off and all the city parks would open on the same day. Band concerts, speeches and just strolling along provided amusement.

 

john ball zoo installing statueOver the years, the following things happened:

 

In 1909, a reporter played music from a Victrola in front of various animals. It is said that the animals enjoyed this, but individual responses were not noted. We’re here to say that enjoyment is relative and depends on the music being played and the personal tastes of the animals. We would not jump to the conclusion that animals enjoyed any Victrola recording.

 

The John Ball statue was installed and dedicated in 1925. (And we ask, what took them so darn long? After all, a gift of 40 acres is not a mere trifle. Nor is it measly.)

 

Charles Lindbergh spoke to throngs of admirers at the park in 1927. Guess what his speech was about. (Hint: Charles’s mind was on one thing and one thing only.)

 

Hard times hit in 1930, and some of the animals were taken to other zoos during the Depression. Only a small group of animals remained.

 

John Ball PARK DAY POSTCARD

In many ways, our history reflects that of most American zoos created in the Victorian era. Before then, only the very rich had access to collections of exotic animals. Cities began to build their own zoos in the late 19th century. For the first time, everyone could share in the mysterious and fascinating world of animals.

 

Zoos have evolved through the years as we learned more about exotic animal husbandry and exhibit design. Education became a major focus, naturalistic design became a force, and conservation became the mission.

 

Help JBZ celebrate this special birthday

Sponsor one of its 125 days of animal birthdays or become a member (you’ll get unlimited free admission and many other perks!). JBZ also offers a wild place to hold your next event with a variety of indoor and outdoor venues. Go here for more info.

Want to learn more about JBZ? Visit the website here.

WKTV celebrates Heritage Hill Home Tour with a rebroadcast of popular film series

Exterior shot of the Meyer May House from the home's porch.
Exterior shot of the Meyer May House from the home’s porch.

The annual Heritage Hill Tour of Homes is set to kick off in a couple of weeks and to whet your appetite WKTV will rebroadcast the award-winning “Grand Homes of Heritage Hill.”

 

“Grand Homes of Heritage Hill” will air Wednesday, May 18, at noon featuring the 2007 Telly Award winning episode “The Voigt House.” Friday, May 20, at 11:30 a.m., all three episodes will air, “The Voigt House,” “The Meyer May House,” and “Connors House.” Hegewald also received a Festival of the Arts film award in the documentary category in 2007 for his work on the series.

 

“The homes of Heritage Hill have fascinated me all of my life – from their varied architectural styles to their unabashed grandeur,” said Thomas Hegewald in an 2014 WKTV article about the series. Hegewald is the producer, videographer, and writer behind the series. “On every occasion that I have driven through this area, I have gawked at the homes and picked my favorites. I had been volunteering at WKTV for a few months when Tom Norton, the station manager, suggested that I produce a series on these homes. It seemed like an ideal match.”

 

"The Grand Homes of Heritage Hill" episode feature The Voigt House won a Telly Award.
“The Grand Homes of Heritage Hill” episode feature The Voigt House won a Telly Award.

In 2009, the Grand Rapids Public Museum discontinued the public hours for the Voigt House, making Hegewald’s video the about the only way to peek inside the 19th century home. Built in 1895-96 for the prominent merchant and businessman Carl Voigt, the Voigt family lived in the house continually for nearly 76 years until Voigt’s youngest son, Ralph, died in 1971. In 1974, the Kent County Council for Historic Preservation purchased the home and donated the structure to the City of Grand Rapids. One of the most noted features of the facility is that since it was a one-owner house, the first floor was redecorated in 1907 and never update again with the original silk wall coverings and carpeting remaining.

 

Hegewald said he selected the Voigt House and the Meyer May House because they both showcased how the original owners had once lived. “The Voigt house featured not only the original furnishings, but the décor as well,” he said. “The only restoration came in replacing an item, and only when completely necessary. Since there had been an addition to the Meyer May House, followed years later by it being broken up into apartments, a complete restoration had to take place to bring it back to its original state.”

 

Even the details of the Meyer May House were well planned.
Even the details of the Meyer May House were well planned.

The Meyer May House originally was built for a Grand Rapids clothier and purchased and restored in 1987 by Steelcase. The home was opened to the public in 1987 and provides the opportunity to se a Prairie house exactly as Frank Lloyd Wright intended. Along with being part of this year’s Heritage Hill Home Tour, the Meyer May House is open to the public Sundays from 1 – 4 p.m. and Tuesdays and Thursday from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

 

The third home in the series is the Connors House, which is privately owned. While the home was owned by one family, it needed to be brought up to code for electrical and plumbing. “With extensive renovations underway, much thought was also put into the décor of the home to reflect its past, but with a contemporary feel as well,” Hegewald said.

 

“In the end, I came away with an appreciation for this area in our city – from the original owners who built the homes to those who fought to save them from destruction during the days of urban renewal,” he said. “I also applaud the efforts of the homeowners today who strive to keep up with the amount of work it must take to keep these homes in good repair.”

 

A greater appreciation of these historic homes and the district they are in is one of the reasons Heritage Hill started its annual Tour of Homes 47 years ago. This year’s tour, which is Saturday, May 21, from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Sunday, May 22, from noon – 6 p.m., features six restored private houses, three historic buildings and two recent additions that demonstrate how new construction can fit into the fabric of a historic district. The tour includes the 1886 Queen Anne-style home built for the Davis family of Stow & Davis Furniture Co.; a 1916 Georgian Manor, a 1906 American foursquare and a 1912 Tudor Revival.

 

Advance tickets for the tour are $15 and available at the Heritage Hill Association Office, 126 College SE or at www.heritagehillweb.org. Tickets the weekend of the tour are $20. All proceeds go to the Heritage Hill Association and the organization’s historic preservation efforts. A free shuttle bus for the tour is provided between featured properties. For more information on the tour, call 616-459-8950.

Michigan Masonic Library offers a glimpse into the world of the Free Masons

 

 

 

 

By: Dylan Rettler

 

The Free Masons, an ancient organization with diverse origins arguably from ancient Egypt to the architectural schools of medieval Europe, continues its outreach to the Grand Rapids Community by way of The Michigan Masonic Museum and Library.

 

This project demonstrates not only marked differences that the Freemasons appreciate from the past, but also the organization’s continuity of adherence to timeless ideals and traditions. The overwhelming disclosure of Masonic information the library offers speaks to the former, while the latter is reflected by the consistency of rites and conduct expressed through degrees. The diversity contained within the Masonic Library stacks of over 8,000 items has topics with potential relevancy to the general public, the academic community and those with general curiosity. All are the target audience for whom the Masonic Library seeks to enlighten.

 

Michigan Masonic Library 2The existence of the Michigan Masonic Museum and Library is a testimony to the progress Masonry has made through the decades. Turbulent times in the Brotherhoods history necessitated covertness, resulting from a tendency towards persecution of the organization and its members, sometimes manifesting itself in outright illegality of their existence. Not until 1717 in England did the order officially announce its presence.

 

Since the official decree of its existence, the brotherhood has made a divulgence of a massive amount of self-referential material, much of which is available within the Michigan Masonic Museum and Library. This release of information, among other things, clearly indicates the Masons have experienced a marked transformation.

 

Currently, the Masons are not a secret society, but a society that has secrets. Theses secrets are limited to ideas such as means of recognition, i.e. handshakes, body postures and terms designating a true initiate.

 

While the Museum demonstrates the aformentioned metamorphosis, it also expresses certain fundamentals that are etched upon the continuum of ideals and traditions still appreciated by modern masons. Belief in a supreme deity, the brotherhood of man, and the recognition of an immortal soul are three long-held requirements for membership well documented within the stacks of the library. An additional exemplification of the consistency the order has maintained is illustrated through the symbolism the library shelves reveal.

 

Two of the most iconic signs are the square and compass. The square represents a standard of interpersonal integrity and honesty a Mason holds himself to while the compass denotes certain introspective boundaries of conduct that are adhered to. This solidarity concerning traditions also manifests itself above the library within the congregational halls of rite. Temple Chambers are still arranged as they were long ago, ubiquitous with symbolism and often a reflection of the Temple of Solomon. The library leaves no doubt that the Masons have preserved among other things much of its primary beliefs, symbols and traditions from ancient times.

 

Michigan Masonic LibraryThe Masonic Library has made significant progress in its mission to inform and educate Grand Rapids and other communities about its organization. The Library, once a far off collection in Alma Michigan, has come now to rest for more than a decade on the foundation floor of 233 Fulton St.

 

One noteworthy addition is an impressive collection of museum artifacts, some dating back to the 1700s. Another advancement keeping in step with the now, is the Library’s online content found online at the library website, Facebook and YouTube (indexed at Michigan Museum and Library). The collection is now readily available to the Grand Rapids community, and is the largest collection of any Masonic Library in the state.

 

The library museum continues to speak as the dual dynamic of change and preservation previously illustrated. The library also represents an ongoing invitation, offering more than a glimpse as to who the Freemasons are and what they represent.

Chicago’s Young Lord founder helps document the history of Grand Rapids southeast, southwest areas

 

 

By Joanne Bailey-Boorsma

joanne@wktv.org

 

When Anita Christopher, the director of senior programs at the United Methodist Community House, met Jose “Cha Cha” Jiménez, she had no idea he was the man behind Chicago’s legendary Young Lords of Lincoln Park.

 

And Jiménez did not know any of Christopher’s past which included being a member of Western Michigan University’s Black Action Movement, which shutdown WMU’s Student Center in the late sixties, shortly after Martin Luther King Jr. had died.

 

However, the two quickly learned they had a lot in common. Both lived in Kentwood. Both had been active with civil rights movements and both shared a passion of preserving their culture’s past.

 

That passion lead to Jiménez extending his current project of documenting the Young Lords in Lincoln Park through oral histories to residents living on the southeast and southwest sides of Grand Rapids.

 

In celebration of the two projects is “A Neighborhood Affair to Preserve Community” Tuesday, March 29, from 4 – 8:30 p.m. at Grand Valley State University’s Kirkhof Center, Pere Marquette Room 2204, on the Allendale Campus at 1 Campus Drive. The event features the Young Lords of Lincoln Park oral history project, including a clip from the upcoming documentary, and the release of 46 oral histories from residents living on Grand Rapids southeast and southwest side. The Grand Rapids oral histories will be available through Kent District Library and the Young Lords of Lincoln Park are available at gvsu.edu/younglords.

 

Cha Cha Jiménez and Anita Christopher
Cha Cha Jiménez and Anita Christopher

In 1980, Jiménez had moved to Grand Rapids to take a break from the pressures of the Young Lords, a gang based in Chicago’s Lincoln Park that he helped transform into a civil rights group for the Puerto Rican community. Jiménez eventually enrolled at Grand Valley State University where he decided, as an undergraduate project, to document the Young Lords in Lincoln Park.

 

When Jiménez began helping at the United Methodist Community House, he saw the same thing that had happened in the Lincoln Park area was happening to those on the southwest and southeast sides of Grand Rapids. The residents – especially the older ones – were being displaced by urban renewal.

 

“We talk about walkable communities,” Jiménez said. “How can residents walk to the stores or the businesses if they are being pushed further and further to the outer fringes where they have to take a bus to get anywhere?”

 

In an effort to develop a conversation on how to best accomplish renewal while meeting the needs of those who live in the neighborhood, Jiménez began to record the oral histories of area residents.

 

The histories provide a view into a portion of history that does not always make it to the school textbooks, Christopher said. To provide a connection to the youth with their elders and to give students of various backgrounds a sense of who they are and where they came from. Both Jiménez and Christopher agreed that having that connection, builds a sense of pride.

 

“It is like a tree with no roots,” Christopher said of youth without a sense of history. “It is not very stable and with a strong wind, could blow down.”

 

The oral histories also provide something else – that no matter your background, everyone has faced struggles and challenges that connect cultures and people together. Jiménez and Christopher discovered that as Christopher, who was interviewed for the project, told her story of BAM’s occupation of the Student Center.

 

The interviews are as diverse as the people. Christopher said she learned from a woman who had been coming to the Community House for the past 10 to 15 years that she had been involved in the march at Montgomery and helped stage a boycott with Rosa Parks. Jiménez admitted he learned some new things as well. “I interviewed one woman who is Anglo-Saxon and she talked about how she was a sharecropper. To be honest, I always thought sharecroppers were mostly Latino families.”

 

Jiménez added the interviewee said “she had always wanted to write book about her life and I told her that now she had through telling her story here.”

 

“A Neighborhood Affair to Preserve Community” is free and open to the public. Reservations are requested by Friday, March 25. To reserve a spot, email, younglordsmail@yahoo.com.

The story of one B-17 Bomber, some high school students and Virginia’s most photographed spots

By Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
joanne@wktv.org

  • The Spirit of South High
    The local Campfire Girls present the flag during the dedication ceremony for "The Spirit of South High" on April 6, 1944. (Grand Rapids Historical Collection)
  • The Spirit of South High
    The bomber's pilot poses with "The Spirit of South High" queen and officials. The second man from the right is Henry Mulder, a South High civics teacher who helped the students. (Grand Rapids Historical Collection)
  • The Spirit of South High
    A local band performs during the dedication ceremony for "The Spirit of South High" on April 6, 1944. (Grand Rapids Historical Collection)
  • The Spirit of South High
    The B-17 bomber, "The Spirit of South High," departs from then Kent County Airport on April 6, 1944. (Grand Rapids Historical Collection)
  • Mabry's Mill
    Mabry's Mill in Virginia: the crash site of the bomber is located right behind the restaurant at Mabry's Mill. (Photo provided by Sandra Warren)
  • The Spirit of South High
    Sandra Warren's book "We Bought a WWII Bomber: The Untold Story of a Michigan High School, a B-17 Bomber & the Blue Ridge Parkway!"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While Grand Rapids’s South High School has been closed for almost 50 years, the school’s spirit remains strong as its Varsity Club still meets regularly along with other alumni get-togethers.

 

No one can deny that the spirit of South High School is just as strong now as it was when the school was open and one person who can attest to that is author and 1962 graduate Sandra Warren.

 

“It was quite an amazing school,” Warren said. This might be an understatement since within its graduating classes were former president Gerald R. Ford (1931) and singer Al Green (1966). And the students did some amazing things such as raise $375,000 through the sale of war bonds and stamps to purchase a B-17 Bomber – aptly titled “The Spirit of South High” – for the World War II effort, the subject of Warren’s latest book.

 

“The students did all of this work to raise this money for the B-17 and there was a dedication on April 6, 1944 and from there it flew off with no one ever really knowing what happened to it,” said Warren, who will give a presentation on her book “We Bought a WWII Bomber: The Untold Story of a Michigan High School, a B-17 Bomber & the Blue Ridge Parkway” on Monday, March 7, at Grand Rapids Public Main Library, 111 Library St. NE.

 

“There were these wonderful stories that it had won all these battles in defending our freedom,” Warren said. One South High alum took it upon himself to find out what happened to “The Spirit of South High” and with the aid of another – Ford – he discovered its history was not that glamourous. The bomber was used for training in the United States and was dismantled in Columbus, Ohio, according to a military report.

 

“Many of the alums were disheartened to learn the end of the story was it was used for training,” Warren said, adding that during one of her presentations about South High she stated “I wonder how many pilots it had trained. It could have had far more of an impact on the war as a trainer than if it had gone off into the war.”

 

A classmate, who also was a veteran, heard that comment and decided to see if he could find a list of those who had trained with South High’s B-17 Bomber. What he discovered was the bomber had a much more colorful past than originally reported.

 

“The Spirit of South High” never fought in the war, nor was it dismantled as reported, instead it had crashed during a training exercise in the area that today is considered one of the most photographed places in Virginia – Mabry’s Mill. What made it even more interesting is that no one from Virginia’s Patrick County Historical Society or historians for the Blue Ridge Parkway, the road where Mabry’s Mill is located, knew anything of the crash.

 

“I had one historical member say to me that he had been involved with the group for decades and couldn’t figure out why he did’t know about the crash,” said Warren, who has copies of the reports made by those involved in the crash. “I went on a local radio station in Patrick County asking people if they remember the crash to contact me and we started getting calls.”

 

At the time of the crash, Oct. 1, 1944, the land was a pig farm. The original accounts talk about how the neighbors helped the pilots all of whom got out of the plane safely. The six-member crew were being retrained to lead their own combat units, Warren said, adding that all of the crew members had amazing records with one being involved with the atomic bombing of Japan.

 

“The military took what it could savage from the plane after the crash,” Warren said. “The farmer had to sign a paper stating it was OK for the military to leave the smaller pieces of metal on the land.”

 

Warren visited the crash site last May and discovered that much of those small pieces are still there. The area has been marked as an archeological dig site and Warren said she hopes to have a national marker placed there.

 

“It really is a magically story,” Warren said. “It is quite amazing what these students did and in the end, just how much of an impact the bomber did have on the war effort.”

 

Sandra Warren’s presentation on her book “We  Bought a World War II Bomber: The Untold Story of a Michigan High School, a B-17 Bomber & the Blue Ridge Parkway,” is at noon March 7 at the Grand Rapids Public Library. For more information on the presentation or other library activities, visit www.grpl.org or call 616-988-5400.

Rarely exhibited Newcomb ceramics, tableware, jewelry, textiles and more on display thru April 17 at GRAM

Platter, c. 1942-1948. Gulf Stream. Sarah A. E. “Sadie” Irvine with Kenneth Smith or Francis Ford. Newcomb Art Collection, Tulane University

By GRAM

 

Between 1894 and 1948, some of the most beautiful and functional art objects of the Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts movements were created at the Newcomb Pottery Enterprise in New Orleans. The Pottery was an innovative educational experiment as much as an operational facility: it was conceived in the late 19th century at Newcomb Memorial College, Tulane University’s coordinate institution for women, as an income-generating venture for women training in the applied arts.

 

The Newcomb School operated under the philosophy that no two handcrafted objects should be alike, as evident in the wide-ranging works of the exhibition. The selection of handcrafted objects showcases the Pottery artisans’ unique interpretations of animal and botanical subjects, including the flora and fauna of the American South.

Sadie Irvine at the Newcomb Pottery Studio

 

Women, Art, and Social Change includes examples from the full range of the Newcomb collection, from the naturalistic, blue and green tones, to the signature design of vertically banded spatial divisions, to the austere, modernist aesthetic that celebrated the vessel form. The exhibition is rounded out with historical photographs and artifacts that lend additional insight into the Newcomb Pottery story.

 

The exhibition serves as a retrospective of the works of the students and teachers of Newcomb Memorial College, and their important contribution to women’s rights and social change. The Newcomb model proved successful during a time of economic hardship, providing financial stability and economic autonomy for numerous women, who established themselves vocationally as independent artisans, instructors, activists, and businesswomen. This pioneering cohort of self- reliant women not only made a lasting impact on the art community, but also proved the value of an education, during a time in which learning opportunities for women in the Deep South were lacking.

 

Over 125 rarely exhibited Newcomb ceramics, tableware, jewelry, textiles, bookbinding, and graphics, from one of the most remarkable collections of 20th century American pottery, are on display at the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM), 101 Monroe Center NW. Call 616.831.1000 for info.

Kentwood ‘founder’ remembered for his passion, dedication

A picture of the first Kentwood City Council from "The Story of Kentwood." Quentin 'Jack" Ward is on the far left.
A portion of a picture of the first Kentwood City Council from “The Story of Kentwood.” Quentin ‘Jack” Ward is on the far left.

It has been a long time since Quinten “Jack” Ward has walked through the doors of the City of Kentwood but his influence and passion for the city can still be felt today.

 

Ward, considered one of the founding fathers of the City of Kentwood, died Feb. 11 in Denver, Colorado, surrounded by family. He was 90.

 

“I remember he was very active and very passionate about the city,” said Nancy Shane who started with the City of Kentwood in 1974 as the mayor’s secretary. Shane currently is the assistant to the Kentwood fire chief.

 

“He was one of the original leaders who helped to shape our city,” Shane said. “He was very conservative and really set the tone and the direction for the city fiscally.

 

“The city has continued to follow his direction and because of that we have been without the problems that some of our neighbors have had.”

 

It was the mid-1960s when a group of Paris Township citizens decided enough was enough when it came to the annexation of township industrial property. In 1964, enough votes were garnered for the formation of a nine-member Charter Commission and the three-year clock started ticking to secure charter approval from voters and the Michigan Secretary of State.

 

With some other charter changes, including the establishment of wards, the charter was approved in 1967 with Paris Township becoming the City of Kentwood.

 

Ward was one of the first commissioners elected to the council and he served as a first ward commissioner from 1967 to 1981. Shane said she remembers that he simply decided not to run for election in 1981. Ward did run for mayor in 1979 but was defeated by Marvin Hoeflinger. It was also the same year that the city’s first female commissioner, Joyce Van Keulen, was elected.

 

According to “The Story of Kentwood,” from 1967 to 1977, “the elected officials of Kentwood occupied themselves with setting up a new city government and all its many services – including fire and police, protection, zoning, sanitation and libraries.

 

Shane said while Ward had a passion for the whole city, one of his personal projects was the city’s library. A year after the city incorporated, a library was built at 200 44th St. and in 1969 was moved to a rented building at St. Mary Magdalen Church. Plans were in the works to construct a new library but was delayed when city leaders discovered that it would be more than twice the budgeted amount. In 1975, the new facility would be built at 4700 Kalamazoo Ave. SE. Ward also would see the construction of Kentwood’s City Hall at its current location, which was dedicated in 1977.

 

According to a recent obituary in “The Grand Rapids Press,” Ward graduated from the University of Michigan in 1952 with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and also earned a master’s degree in business administration from Western Michigan University.

 

He worked for Lear Siegler and joined six other engineers to form a small business that grew into X-Rite, which pioneered a new era in the science of color measurement. Ward’s interest in sailing also inspired him to also start The Sailboat Center, a family business in  Grand Rapids.

Community Builders: Early African-American Women in Grand Rapids

Mary Roberts Tate For over 25 years the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council has underwritten efforts dedicated to rediscovering and crediting the rich past of area women, including the history of the 115-year-old Grand Rapids Study Club, the oldest African-American women’s club still in existence.

 

During the 1890s, local women’s clubs proliferated so rapidly, and organized women into such a social force, that newspapers were compelled to create new sections featuring their plans and activities. These early accounts revealed that  all women, from Grand Rapids Jews to Polish Catholics, gathered for self-education and charitable purposes. Along with the African-American Married Ladies Nineteenth Century Club in 1898, they hosted state and nation-wide gatherings to publicly denounce racist articles.

 

In 1907, five local African-American women’s groups, representing a small percentage of the city’s population, hosted the Michigan Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs. Delegates were welcomed by the Grand Rapids mayor and treated to gracious receptions and trolley tours. Hosts included African-American women leaders like Emma Ford and Mary Roberts Tate who began speaking their minds in public, on area stages, and in newspapers.

 

On February 11, in a program series of the Grand Rapids Historical Society, Yvonne Sims and Jo Ellyn Clarey will tell a fascinating story that corrects errors and fills gaps in Grand Rapids history. They will reintroduce the Beverly sisters, address misinformation about Hattie – the first African-American teacher in the Grand Rapids Public Schools – and introduce her longer-lived sister, Ethel, whose contributions to the community were much more extensive.

Ethel Beverly Burgess (left) and Hattie Beverly (right)
Ethel Beverly Burgess (left) and Hattie Beverly (right)

 

While women community builders, especially the African-American, have often been forgotten locally, ignored statewide, and dismissed nationally, Grand Rapids women have been breaking down barriers impeding them from the very beginning. Only now are women’s historians pulling their stories out of the rich social environment that fostered their emergence onto the public stage. And their histories are now challenging almost every generalization made about them ever since.

 

Event Details:

 

Date: February 11, 2016 at 7:00pm
Location: John F. Donnelly Conference Center at Aquinas College – 157 Woodward Lane SE, Grand Rapids
Co-Sponsors: Grand Rapids Study Club & the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council

 

About the Presenters:

 

Yvonne Sims has helped lead significant community events as the Forum on Violence and won the Giants Award in 1986 for community service. As a native Grand Rapidian, she has served as a Lifestyles columnist for the Grand Rapids Press and invested in projects of the Grand Rapids Study Club, the city’s longest-continuing African-American women’s group. Her historical programs and oversight of club archives have been a major addition to local women’s history.

 

By profession a literary scholar, Jo Ellyn Clarey taught at a variety of academic institutions before redirecting her path into the world of local women’s history. She has helped document the achievements of lost women and forgotten events, including those representing early African-American women in Grand Rapids. Besides winning the 1999 Albert Baxter Award in local history, she has served on the boards of the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council, the GR Historical Society, the GR Historical Commission, and organized women’s history research and programming statewide and nationally.

‘Toy Stories’ at the Holland Museum Will Tease Out Your Inner Child

Toy stories at Holland Museum
By Victoria Mullen

 

Remember the playthings you had as a kid? That favorite toy you took with you everywhere, even to bed–like a teddy bear missing an eye and loved to tatters? I never had a teddy bear, but I did have a cute little red corduroy horse. I don’t recall his name.

 

Such simple things we appreciate much too late.

 

Until Feb. 27, you can find a glimmer of childhood past and wax nostalgic at Holland Museum’s “Toy Stories” exhibit, a fun-filled display with hundreds of toys dating back to the late 1800s. It’s the collection of Merrill Taylor and her late husband, Tom, who spent much of their adult lives collecting antique toys, games, decorations and advertisementsvintage toy popeye.

 

You know what? The Taylors sound an awful lot like my Aunt Marina and Uncle Bob, who are now in their very late 80s. Maybe you have a family member like this, too. Aunt Marina and Uncle Bob collected everything—and I mean everything. Kewpie Dolls. Beanie Babies. Mickey Mouse figures and dolls. Vintage teddy bears. Glassware, magazines, lamps. My uncle had a penchant for Quaker Oat cereal boxes–his collection was stacked to the ceiling. He also had a collection of gem stones, cat whiskers… the list goes on. Wait. It was my aunt who collected the the cat whiskers.

 

One really cool feature of the Taylors’ toy collmarblesection is this: They will let you play with them. The exhibit also has an interactive “Toy Lab” that helps people learn about the mechanics and science of invention by building their own toys.

 

The collection has been featured in Country Living and other notable magazines. There is no apparent theme, just a chaotic and delightful mix of toys. The Taylors have never sold any of the toys from their collection.

 

“Toy Stories” will be on display through Feb. 27 at the Holland Museum, 13 W. Tenth St. in, of all places, Holland, Michigan. For more info, go here.

‘History Detectives’ Shares the Scoop on Kindergarten and ‘Radical’ Women in 1890s Grand Rapids on Jan. 23

GRPL History SleuthWho knew Kindergarten has a history? Revolutionary German methods for teaching young children were adopted in Grand Rapids when members of the Ladies Literary Club (LLC) founded a Kindergarten Training School in 1894. The Froebel Foundation’s Scott Bultman will use his vast collection of photographs and documents to report on how LLC women lured the country’s best teacher here from Chicago and how the daughter of Grand Rapids’ first architect devoted her life to the movement.

 

Kindergarten became both a calling and a career opportunity for local women from varied socio-economic levels and racial backgrounds. Built by dedicated women reformers and philanthropists nationwide, the movement spawned settlement houses and the YWCA, as well as temperance and suffrage initiatives. Grand Rapids’ fascinating story will illustrate the overall national history.

History Detectives will be held from 9:30 am-4 pm. “Kindergarten and ‘Radical’ Women in 1890s Grand Rapids” by Scott Bultman kicks off the day at 9:30 am. Sponsored by the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council, this event is FREE.

Other session topics include:Kindergarten Assoc.

  • Kindergarten and “Radical” Women in 1890s Grand Rapids
  • When “Everyone Knew Everyone”: Forming a Latino Community in Mid-Century West Michigan
  • Retail Icons: Shopping Downtown in 1950s Grand Rapids
  • New-Car Smell: Nostalgia and the Story of Grand Rapids Car Dealerships
  • Modern Design Leader: The Story Behind Herman Miller
  • The Intoxicating History of River City Brewing

 

Each session will last 45 minutes and will be presented by a local author or historian. From 4:30-6 pm participants are invited to an after-party at Mitten Brewing Company to talk about the day over a beer or two.

 

*Limited Seating – Space is limited and seating is offered first come, first served. There will be an overflow room available with a simulcast video presentation. History Detectives will be held from 9:30 am-4 pm on Saturday, January 23 in the Ryerson Auditorium at the Grand Rapids Public Library, 111 Library St. NE. The program is free and open to the public. For more information, call 616.988.5400 or visit our website at www.grpl.org. The Grand Rapids Public Library connects people to the transforming power of knowledge. Click here for a brochure.

 

Partnering organizations for the day include the Grand Rapids Historical Society, the Grand Rapids Historical Commission, the Western Michigan Genealogical Society, the Grand Rapids Public Museum, the Kutsche Office of Local History at GVSU and the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council. A box lunch is available for $10 and must be ordered in advance by calling 616.988.5492 or by emailing rsvp@grpl.org.

Historical Detectives Program Investigates Local History

ToylandBy: Kristen Krueger-Corrado

 

History can be fascinating and enlightening because it gives us the opportunity to see how people lived before us. In a way, we’re seeing our future, because at some point the history books are going to look back at our time period and the way we lived.

HistoricalCars

 

Far too often, history is digested and explored at the national level. Wars and major events that almost everyone can relate to are often discussed. However, local history can be just as fascinating. It’s your backyard. It’s someone or something a generation or two before you actually experienced in first-person.

 

The Grand Rapids Public Library has partnered with six local historical agencies to present the History Detectives program. The day-long event will be held on Saturday, January 23 and run from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm at the Ryerson Auditorium in the Main Library – 111 Library St NE.

 

The event is free and open to the public. Six, 45-minute session topics presented by a local author or historian will be available. Session topics include:

 

•    Kindergarten and “Radical” Women in 1890s Grand Rapids
•    When “Everyone Knew Everyone”: Forming a  Latino Community in Mid-Century West Michigan
•    Retail Icons: Shopping Downtown in 1950s Grand Rapids
•    New-Car Smell: Nostalgia and the Story of Grand Rapids Car Dealerships
•    Modern Design Leader: The Story Behind Herman Miller
•    The Intoxicating History of River City Brewing

foxdeluxebeer

 

After the sessions are history, all participants are invited to an after party at Mitten Brewing Company to further talk about the day over a couple brews.

 

A box lunch is available for $10 and must be ordered in advance by calling 988-5492 or by emailing rspv@grpl.org.

 

Partnering organizations include the Grand Rapids Historical Society, the Grand Rapids Historical Commission, the Western Michigan Genealogical Society, the Grand Rapids Public Museum, the Kutsche Office of Local History at GVSU, and the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s Historical Council.

Listen to GRAAMA: Conversations with the Elders Bring to Life Experiences of a Bygone Era

GRAAMABy Victoria Mullen

Long before the advent of written language, storytellers used the spoken word to preserve a record of past experiences from one generation to the next. Oral history was transmitted in song or speech and took on many forms: chants, folktales, ballads, sayings, or songs–knowledge shared without a writing system. This was especially key where people of a society were denied access to education or were afraid to leave a written GRAAMA 3record of their knowledge.

In America, slaveholders forbade slaves from learning to read or write to keep them in ignorance; the idea was to discourage escape or rebellion. In fact, the legislation that denied slaves formal education likely contributed to their maintaining a strong oral tradition, a common feature of indigenous African cultures.

African-based oral traditions preserved history, mores, and other cultural information among the people. This was consistent with the griot practices of oral history in many African and other cultures that did not rely on the written word. The folktales offered African Americans the opportunity to inspire and educate one another.

GRAAMA 2It is the rich, local history that Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives (GRAAMA) now seeks to preserve by interviewing the elders of a bygone era–the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s. It doesn’t really seem that long ago, but once the keepers of the stories are gone, the histories will be lost forever.

The new organization has recently launched a multimedia project called ‘Grandma’s Voice.’ Made possible in part by a $25,000 grant from The Michigan Humanities Council through funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the acronym is a play on the word, ‘Grandma,’ which conveys the museum’s core mission: to document the oral history from some of the area’s oldest living people–particularly women–who can offer insight into their long-ago experiences. Some people are 80 to 100 years old, so time is of the essence.

GRAAMA has teamed up with the Grand Rapids Urban League and the KuGRAAMA 4tsche Office of Local History at Grand Valley State University. The organization is looking for elderly folks who can tell the story of early Grand Rapids or the surrounding area.

You don’t have to be a grandma to share your stories. GRAAMA encourages families and individuals to inspire others by sharing skills, experiences, and knowledge with other creative minds. Call the elders of your family, and then email george@graama.org. The organization says that those who are interviewed will receive a small stipend. The finished audio/video disk will be the main attraction at Museum once it opens in 2016.

For more info, go here.

Images courtesy of GRAAMA

Experiencing History in West Michigan

USSSilversides
USS Silversides

West Michigan is full of rich, vibrant history, and many opportunities to get out and experience it. Experiencing history, rather than simply reading it out of a textbook, provides a far richer understanding of the people, places, and experiences of the area. We’ve collected some of our favorite ways for you to experience the varied history of the region, from living history parks to visiting the seat of Michigan’s only monarchy to tasting ice cream from a 120 year old company.

USS Silversides Submarine Museum

Tour a restored WWII Submarine, a Prohibition-Era Coast Guard Cutter and the Naval Museum at the USS Silversides Submarine Museum in Muskegon. This is a wonderful opportunity to experience what it was really like to sail a sub trolling the waters of the South Pacific 60-plus years ago. Named for a small fish of the same name, the Silversides once slid beneath the surface of some of the most dangerous waters in the world.  You can walk the deck topside as well as the major internal compartments below deck.  Keep an eye on their calendar for special lectures, classes and performances, too!

LakeshoreMuseumCenterLakeshore Museum Center

The Lakeshore Museum Center is a fun and fascinating museum which preserves and interprets through exhibits, education, and programs the natural and cultural history of Muskegon County. Take a 400 million year journey that explores the prehistoric plants and animals of Michigan’s past, or get pulled into the Science Center where everyone can learn about simple science through hands-on activities. Some of their permanent exhibits include, “Coming to the Lakes” featuring a life-sized mastodon, fur trader’s cabin and tools used during the lumbering era! The “Habitats Gallery” tells of native plants and animals.

Coopersville Historical Society Museum

Coopersville Historical SocietyHighlights of the Coopersville Area Historical Society Museum include extensive railroad and interurban train displays, a sawmill exhibit circled by a model railroad running through logging territory, an early schoolroom, household furnishings and business displays, among which is an extensive recreation of an early local drugstore. Also featured is the Del Shannon monument and exhibit which commemorate the life and career of Coopersville’s native son who gained international fame in the 1960’s as a recording artist and songwriter. A Lincoln log activity area, along with other exhibits, is popular with younger visitors. The Museum’s collections are enhanced by the quaint and nostalgic atmosphere of its two buildings.

The main museum building is a Michigan Historic Site and on the National Register of Historic Places. The charming brick structure was once a depot and substation for the area’s electric powered interurban rail line, the Grand Rapids, Grand Haven & Muskegon Railway, which ran from 1902-28. A rare passenger car from the railway, Car #8 – Merlin, sits beside the building where it once made many daily stops. The car is undergoing stages of restoration. Adjoining the former depot is the rustically designed Sawmill & Early Settlers Building which houses exhibits reminiscent of early settlement days.

Grand Traverse Lighthouse

Grand Traverse LighthouseLocated at the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula near the village of Northport, the Grand Traverse Lighthouse is one of the oldest lighthouses on the Great Lakes, and guided ships through the northern entrance to the Manitou Passage for 150 years. Today it is a museum surrounded by a picturesque state park where visitors can envision the once-isolated life of lighthouse keepers and their families, with extensive exhibits and period furnishings from the 1920s and 1930s. Its popular “volunteer lighthouse keeper” program provides an opportunity to live in the lighthouse, carrying on routine maintenance and answering the questions of its frequent visitors.

Castle Farms

Castle FarmsTreat your family to nearly 100 years of history at Castle Farms of Charlevoix. Inspired by French castles, Castle Farms was built in 1918 as a model farm. Closed in 1927, the beautiful stone buildings fell into disrepair. In later years, the Castle served as an artist’s mecca, and also rock n’roll central, with performances by 100 different rock groups. A restoration begun in 2001 completed the Castle’s transformation. Tours include viewing displays of antique toys, castles, royalty items, and WWI museum. Train buffs and kids of all ages will love the indoor train displays. Open year round, Castle Farms is a spectacular piece of Michigan history to explore.

Hudsonville Ice CreamHudsonville Creamery & Ice Cream

Started in 1895 as a farmers’ cooperative, the Holland-based Hudsonville Creamery & Ice Cream is the largest manufacturer of branded ice cream in Michigan. Nearly 90 years ago, in 1926, the company was located in Burnips—in north-central Allegan County. Four of the six original flavors remain in the company’s portfolio: vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and butter pecan (orange pineapple and Tootie Fruitie since been discontinued).

Today, this Midwest company has been producing its creamy, delicious ice cream – using many of its original flavors, while at the same time creating refreshing new recipes inspired by the Great Lakes. A recent partnership with Travel Michigan and the Pure Michigan brand has resulted in a plethora of flavors that give a nod to the agricultural industry here in the Great Lakes State. Current Limited Edition Flavors include Pumpkin Pie, Pure Michigan Salted Caramel Apple and Pure Michigan Winter Campfire. Year-round offerings such as Sleeping Bear Dunes Bear Hug, Mackinac Island Fudge, Grand Traverse Bay Cherry Fudge and Michigan Deer Traxx, among others.

Others:

Get your history fix with a visit to the below locations to experience a step back in time.

Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, Grand Rapids
Gerber Guest House, Fremont
Harbor Springs Area Historical Society
Historic White Pine Village, Ludington
Historical Association of South Haven
Holland Museum, Holland
Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum, South Haven
Michigan Maritime Museum, South Haven
Michigan Flywheelers Museum, South Haven
Music House Museum, Acme
Point Betsie Lighthouse, Frankfort
Port of Ludington Maritime Museum, Ludington
Silver Beach Carousel, St. Joseph
USS LST 393, Muskegon

Repeal Day 2015: Time to Party Like It’s 1933!

prohibition-drinkers1
By Victoria Mullen

This year marks the 82nd anniversary of Repeal Day. Can you imagine going 13 years without a legal drop of alcohol? I don’t know anybody who can. Well, wait. I can. But I’m a lightweight and also a wet blanket, so you won’t see me getting invited to many parties. Which is why I live with cats.

From 1920, the start of Prohibition, to 1933 when Amendment XXI was ratified (to repeal Amendment XVIII), Americans either had to abstain or become very creative. Creativity ruled. But why Prohibition in the first place? There are a few theories floating around as to why Prohibition was instituted (one of which has to do with nefarious oil dude, John D. Rockefeller, but I leave that for you to explore here).

As Amendment XVIII went into effect on January 17, 1920, Americans could no longer manufacture, sell, or transport intoxicating beverages. Picture this: One day, you’re having a beer with your friends, and the ver51TvOJA4L4Ly next day–poof!–you’re no longer allowed to consume alcohol. What a blow to the American psyche it must have been when Prohibition became part of the Constitution, holding the same status as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the abolition of slavery.

Maybe some people alive today remember Prohibition, but I sure don’t. Still, you can get a taste of that era at American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, a world exhibition created by the National Constitution Center. At the Grand Rapids Public Museum (GRPM) now through January 17, 2016, this exhibition explores the tumultuous years of 1920 to 1933, and why the country went dry in the first place. Prohibition’s advocates said that they wanted to improve the nation’s moral and physical health, and in some ways they succeeded. But the nation also endured a huge rise in corruption, crime and cynicism. By the time Prohibition ended with the ratification of Amendment XXI in 1933, America had become a very different country. Personally, I don’t think the collective psyche ever recovered.

But let’s not worry about that right now. The whole idea here is to have fun and celebrate. There are plenty of engaging community and educational programs to round out the exhibition, so go here to find out what’s happening. The GRPM is hosting special Repeal Day activities: For example, you’ll get to meet the characters who were important in passing the first and only amendment to repeal another amendment ever. (Uh, never say “ever.”) Adults and children are invited to join in on some hands-on activities in the Museum’s Galleria to learn about this “milestone” in our country’s history.

Repeal is a huge deal, folks, so huge that other venues are joining in the celebration. That includes the SpeakEZ Lounge (600 Monroe Ave NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503). Beginning at 7 pm on December 5, 2015, you’ll time-travel back to the devent_21440803ay Prohibition ended. Savor special appetizers and cocktails as you listen to the River City Jazz Ensemble. They’ll be playing vocal jazz hits and classical instrumental music that was popular during Prohibition. Be sure to wear your favorite 1920s and 1930s attire to immerse yourself in the experience. Cover is $10 and includes snacks.

Repeal Day at the GRPM is Saturday, Dec. 5 from 9 am-5 pm, 272 Pearl St. NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503. Call 616.929.1700 for more information, or visit the website.

Explore the Reynold Weidenaar Retrospective, now through Jan. 17

weidenaar mackinaw bridgeIf you’ve not heard of Reynold Weidenaar, perhaps you can be forgiven, but if you miss this retrospective exhibition of the Grand Rapids native’s oil paintings, prints, and watercolors, you’re only cheating yourself.

Three local cultural organizations–Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM), Calvin College, and Kendall College of Art and Design (KCAD)–have joined forces to orchestrate this extensive exhibition that celebrates the 100th anniversary of Weidenaar’s birth. Along with GRAM’s retrospective are exhibitions at KCAD at Ferris State University and Calvin College’s Center Art Gallery. KCAD provides an overview of the artist’s work in drawing and watercolor. Calvin’s exhibition investigates the artist’s working methods, including several states of individual prints.

The 100th birthday celebration began in spring of 2015 withreynold-henry-weidenaar-valley-of-wrath Through the Eyes of Weidenaar, an exhibition at the Grand Rapids Public Museum which focused on his self-styled role of community chronicler. Nationally recognized, Weidenaar (1915-1985) had a noteworthy career, and he is one of West Michigan’s most talented and renowned artists. He studied at the Kendall School of Design, Grand Rapids and the Kansas City Art Institute. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1944 and traveled through Mexico creating gorgeous images in mezzotint.

weidenaarWith roots in 20th-century American Regionalism–a movement dedicated to representing rural and small town life–Weidenaar’s work is timeless, depicting West Michigan through a historical context and singularly personal perspective. His deep familiarity with the region’s places and people allowed him to mine a wealth of subject matter.

Restlessly creative and ambitious, Weidenaar continually worked to hone his skills and master new artistic techniques. Known for his technical virtuosity as draftsman and printmaker, he became successful in the 1940s exhibiting and selling his etchings. He began creating mezzotint prints in the 1950s, even though the technique was not widely practiced at the time. Especially well received, his work in mezzotint fostered a resurgence of awareness and appreciation of this distinctive method of printmaking.

In 1954 he took up watercolor painting, and in only ten years, he had created 1,300 watercolors of West Michigan subjects–enchanting landscapes and industrial scenes that pulsed with life. After mastering etching, mezzotint, and watercolor, Weidenaar began to paint in oil and explored the processes of the Flemish and Dutch Old Masters.Weidenaar Cathedral-Repairs-Mexico-City-by-Reynold-Henry-Weidenaar

When scrutinizing Weidenaar’s work, take notice of the intricate detail with which he created his works. His works can be very dramatic, at times satirical–or eerie with a mystical quality–but they are always intriguing and never dull. There’s much more than meets the eye: Familiar West Michigan cityscapes and landscapes will be apparent, and you’ll want to get up close to appreciate the idiosyncratic and sometimes off-color (so to speak) sense of humor depicted in his work.

Don’t just take our word for it; experience it for yourself. Go forth, and discover the wonders of Weidenaar.

Shedding Light on Michigan’s Haunted Beacons

Haunted LighthouseBy: Dianna Higgs Stampfler

I’ve been fascinated Michigan lighthouses since 1997, when I started working at the West Michigan Tourist Association (1997-2004). Did you know Michigan has more lighthouses than any state? And, that a fair number of those are rumored to be haunted? Although I’ve never experienced any of these ghostly encounters myself, I’m happy to share the stories that have been passed along to me by others. If you’d like to learn more about “Michigan’s Ghostly Beacons,” I invite you to attend one of my upcoming presentations on the topic. The schedule can be found here.

What is it about lighthouses that seem to attract spirits – most often than naught, the ghosts of former keepers? Maybe it’s a never-ending passion for what was more of a lifestyle than a job. These keepers often lost their lives during their service, protecting the sailors on the inland seas from the dangerous and rocky shores of the Great Lakes. Many served twenty, thirty, even forty years and beyond, raising their families along these freshwater coastlines, because it was the only life they knew.

Here in Michigan, we’re proud to claim more lighthouses than any other state – with 117. The first light was built here in the 1820s; the latest in 2006. Nearly two dozen of these lights are rumored to be haunted – in most cases, by former keepers or their families. Their spirits live on, dedication unfaltering – even after the lights, and their lives, have been extinguished.

White River Light Station, Whitehall (Lake Michigan)

William Robinson
William Robinson

When William Robinson and his wife, Sarah, first came to the Whitehall area in the 1860s, there was no lighthouse at the end of the White River to guide the many boats coming and going due to the area’s rich lumbering industry.

Robinson took it upon himself to walk the riverbank nightly and hang a lantern on a pole, marking the entrance to the river for those vessels coming in after dark. He also began the drawn-out process of commissioning the Lighthouse Service to have an actual lighthouse built at the site.

After several years, Robinson’s attempts were rewarded and in 1875, the White River Light Station was first lit. The ships captains, who had been coming in and out of Whitehall for those years under Robinson’s safe guidance, petitioned the service to have him appointed the first keeper. It was a position he held for 44 years, until 1919 when age forced him into retirement. The day before he vacated the light, Robinson passed away in his sleep.

Rumor has it that neither he, nor his beloved wife – who had died many years prior – have ever really left White River Light Station.

The current resident keeper, Karen McDonnell, has reported multiple ghostly occurrences in her 20+ years of service. Content that it is the Robinsons, she simply shares the stories with visitors to the museum. Captain Robinson is frequently heard walking around upstairs in the former bedrooms and lantern room.

It’s Sarah’s spirit that is a bit more interesting. Karen says one day, she’d been upstairs dusting the museum display case when the phone rang. She set her dusting supplies down and went down to answer the phone. When she returned a short time later, she was startled to find her dusting supplies had moved and the display case was void of dust. Knowing of Sarah’s reputation as a meticulous housekeeper, Karen was amused. Over the years, Karen reports that attempts to recreate that incident have only succeeded on that original display case in an upstairs room which once was the nursery. A place Karen believes Sarah holds dear to her heart.

Seul Choix Point Lighthouse, Gulliver (Lake Michigan)

Captain Joseph Willy Townshend
Captain Joseph Willy Townshend

Captain Joseph Willy Townshend was an avid cigar smoker, and it is widely believed that his death in 1910 was the result of lung cancer. The fact that his body was embalmed in the basement of the keeper’s home and that his body lay in state for an extended period of time awaiting family from far away to pay their last respects, probably didn’t do much to help ease his mind as he left this world. So much so, that he opted to stay and keep watch on his majestic beacon.

The Gulliver History Society, which maintains this lighthouse, has kept detailed records of each ghostly occurrence at the lighthouse. Whether it be sight, sound, smell or just an eerie feeling, each is recorded in a log book which has more than 300 entries thus far. Faces in mirrors, the pungent odor of cigar smoke, rocking chairs moving on their own, pictures with hazy figures, images in windows – these are all common at Seul Choix (Shish-Shwa).

One of the most commonly told stories begins when the alarm at the lighthouse goes off in the middle of the night, sending an emergency call to both local law enforcement and the head of the historical society. The officers arrived first, and access the situation by walking around the lighthouse checking for any foul play.

One officer reportedly heard the sound of a chair moving across the floor and a man’s voice coming from the kitchen. When this account is shared with the museum administrator, it is met with a chuckle and a brief history of the resident ghost. Inside the house, no one is found – however, one of the kitchen chairs is pulled away from the table. The lighthouse is locked up and all parties depart.

A few weeks later, the scene repeats itself. The same two officers, the same museum staffer. Again, no one is found inside. The lighthouse is locked up tight and everyone heads out.

As the squad car makes its way down the long, dark, narrow roadway, it is approached by an oncoming car. Curious as to why anyone would be headed to the lighthouse at such a late hour, the police turn on their lights and exit their car to investigate. The oncoming vehicle is full of drunken teenagers, who are subsequently believed to be responsible for a series of break-ins and vandalizing acts in the area (one on the night of the original tripping of the alarm).

Turns out Captain Townshend was watching out for his lighthouse, making sure authorities were there to prevent any damage from occurring.

Saginaw River Range Light, Saginaw (Lake Huron)

When Peter Brawn was appointed the eighth lighthouse keeper at Saginaw River Range light in March, 1866, little did he know that his tenure would be short-lived. The next year, Peter suffered an unrecorded injury or disease and became incapacitated as a result.

His wife, Julia, took over the duties on an unofficial basis. In March 1873, Peter finally succumbed to his illness and passed way. Ultimately, Julia was finally appointed the official keeper after serving seven years in an interim position.

In 1875, Julie remarried – a man named George Way, who in addition to the title of her husband was appointed head keeper, with Julia demoted to serving as assistant. By 1882, the assistant position was abolished all together and Julia was left with no official title or duty. The following year, George himself passed away. However, before Julia was able to resume her duties as head keeper, she disappeared from lighthouse service – never to serve again.

While there is no proof that Julia actually had anything to do with the deaths of her two husbands, it is quite a coincidence that any time she lost her position as head lighthouse keeper the husband lost his life. Rumors of ghostly occurrences at this light are attributed to the two former keepers who died there, whether of natural causes or at the hands of their wife, Julia Brawn Way.

For more about Michigan’s lighthouses – haunted or otherwise – visit the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association at www.gllka.com.

Beaver Head Island Light
Beaver Head Island Light

Ghostly Beacons

St. Joseph Keeper’s Residence
South Haven Keeper’s Residence
White River Light Station*
South Manitou Island*
Grand Traverse Lighthouse*
Beaver Head Island Light*
Squaw Island Light
St. Helena Island Light*
Waugoshance Shoal Light
Seul Choix Point Light*
Sand Pointe Lighthouse*
Eagle Harbor Light
Rock of Ages
Big Bay Point Lighthouse B&B
Crisp Pointe Lighthouse
Point Iroquois*
Old Presque Isle*
New Presque Isle*
Thunder Bay Island Light
Sturgeon Bay Light
Tawas Point Light
Saginaw River Range Light
Point aux Barques

*Open for tours

This article was republished with permission from Dianna at Promote Michigan. We do our best to help with the promotion of the great State of Michigan!

Muskegon celebrates slapstick comic genius in weekend film fest

bluffton train station “The best summers of my life were spent in the cottage Pop had built on Lake Muskegon in 1908.” Buster Keaton in his autobiography, “My Wonderful World of Slapstick

How did actors survive hot summers a 100 years ago, when theaters without air conditioning shut down for the season? About 200 of those performers chose to head to Muskegon where an artist colony of vaudeville performers flourished in the 1900s. Buster Keaton and his performing parents joined their fellow artists in card-playing, fun in the sun and the bracing waters of Muskegon Lake and Lake Michigan.

Those glory days are celebrated this weekend with the return of the International Buster Keaton Society to the city Buster Keaton claimed as his hometown. The group numbers between 400 to 500 members, some from as far away as the United Kingdom, Germany and Canada.  Annual attendance for the convention is usually between 50-100. 88 people are registered for the convention this year!

Society member Ron Pesch, who lives in Muskegon, will conduct a private tour for convention-goers to explore the neighborhood where Keaton lived, and other areas in the Bluffton community where the big names of the vaudeville circuit partied and sunbathed during their off-season.

1924: American comedian Buster Keaton (1895-1966) sitting in the funnel of a ship in a scene from the film 'The Navigator'.
1924: American comedian Buster Keaton (1895-1966) sitting in the funnel of a ship in a scene from the film ‘The Navigator’.

If you’re inclined to ask, “Who’s that?” when you hear Buster Keaton’s name, you can probably be forgiven.  His star shone most brightly after vaudeville waned in the 1920’s. As a major star of silent film, Keaton’s comic routines and deadpan expression landed him equal billing with comic geniuses such as Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd–and if you’re still saying, “Who?” you probably like video games more than movies.

But Pesch says Keaton’s influence is cited by a number of major stars including Johnny Depp, Jackie Chan, and even Drew Barrymore.  Pesch added, “The first ten minutes of the Pixar classic ‘Wall-E’ are filled with references to Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.”

On Saturday night, October 3, 2015, at 8 p.m. (doors open at 7:30), two Buster Keaton films will be screened for fans, “The Railrodder” and “Battling Butler” at the Frauenthal Center for the Performing Arts. Director Gerald Potterton will attend, who actually directed Keaton in his film “The Railrodder.” Potterton is best known for directing the cult classic, “Heavy Metal.” Dennis Scott will perform on the Barton Theater Organ, and Pesch notes, “Anyone who experiences a silent film in that theater with the organ accompaniment will be a Keaton fan forever.”  Tickets are $8 per person or $21 for the whole family.  For more information, visit www.frauenthal.org .

For more information about the artist colony in Muskegon.

Editor’s Note: Lake Muskegon was changed to its proper name of Muskegon Lake.

Wounded Warriors and Flag to be Escorted into Grand Rapids by Police, Fire and Motorcyclists

veteranflagIn honor of those who sacrificed their lives during the terrorist events of Sept. 11, 2001, the exhibit 9/11: A Day That Changed America, on loan from the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York City, and a rescue vehicle used following the attacks, on loan from the Henry Ford Museum, will be on display at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum (GRFPM) in downtown Grand Rapids. The exhibits will be on display as part of the 14th annual Community Day of Remembrance and Scout Salute on Sept. 11, 2015.

In addition, Wounded Warriors from the West Michigan region, and the flag that will be flown at the museum during the commemoration, will be escorted into Grand Rapids by fire and police personnel, and more than 200 motorcyclists. Several other events are scheduled during the commemoration.

For the 14th year, the President Ford Council, Boy Scouts of America will lead the West Michigan community in a day-long “Scout Salute” at the GRFPM on Sept. 11 to pay respect to all those who died during the terrorist attacks. The day of remembrance has been held annually from sunrise to sunset since Sept. 11, 2002, at the GRFPM and has been supported by the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation each year.

September 11“Each year the Community Day of Remembrance and Scout Salute are commemorated here in Grand Rapids so children and their families have the opportunity to learn about the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001,” Joe Calvaruso, executive director of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation said. “This year’s events and exhibits allow the West Michigan community to honor and remember all those who gave their lives because of the terrorist attacks 14-years-ago.”

To honor the arrival of the flag that will be flown during the Scout Salute, during the afternoon of Sept. 10, Wounded Warriors, members of various police and fire departments, the Patriot Guard Riders, members of the Rolling Thunder motorcycle group and the Boy Scouts of America will escort the flag to the GRFPM from the National Guard Armory located in Belmont, Mich. Upon the flag’s arrival to the museum at 5 p.m., it will be raised during a ceremony which is open to the public.

During evening ceremonies on Sept. 11, SpartanNash will present a personalized Honor and Remember flag to the parents of Army Specialist 4th Class Brian K. Derks, who was killed in action August 13, 2005, in Baghdad, Iraq.

“SpartanNash cares deeply for those who protect our families and defend our freedoms, and we are committed to ensuring that these brave men and women’s sacrifices and stories are not forgotten,” said Meredith Gremel, SpartanNash vice president, corporate affairs and communications. “The Honor and Remember flag pays tribute to all our soldiers who gave their lives in service to their country, paying the ultimate price for our freedoms.”

While the exhibits are on display in Grand Rapids, the GRFPM, located at 303 Pearl Street N.W., is free and open to the public to visit. The museum and exhibit will be open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on Sept. 11.

The schedule of events for the day includes:

7:18 a.m. (sunrise) Scout Salute begins – the community is encouraged to participate at any time during the day

8:40 a.m. Honor Guard lowers flag from full- to half-staff

8:45 a.m. Moment of Silence and Remembrance

8:46 a.m. The Salute Bell will be rung one time for Tower 1 (the time the first plane hit the first tower)

8:50 a.m. Introduction of speaker Mayor George Heartwell

9:03 a.m. The Salute Bell will be rung one time for Tower 2

9:37 a.m. The Salute Bell will be rung one time for the Pentagon

10:03 a.m. The Salute Bell will be rung one time for United Airlines Flight 93

Noon Ceremony to honor Police, Fire, EMS and Military members

12:30-2 p.m. Canine unit demonstration, meet and greet at Ah-Nab-Awen Park

7 p.m. Evening ceremonies begin
· Performance by The Salvation Army Brass Band
· SpartanNash Honor and Remember flag presentation
· Remarks from keynote speaker Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley
· Remarks from Boy Scout Council President Wayman Britt
· The final salute and the flag being raised to full-staff

8 p.m. (sunset) Scout Salute closes

Wyoming’s Oldest Home, ‘Rogers Mansion,’ Up for Sale

Rogers Mansion 1When it comes to family names in Kent County, Rogers is as recognizable as it gets. From Rogers Plaza – Michigan’s first indoor shopping mall – to Rogers Lane Elementary, the Rogers family name is a staple to the Wyoming community.

Along with that name comes the ‘Rogers Mansion,’ a home which has stood in Wyoming since 1836 and is now up for sale.

According to Bill Branz of the Wyoming Historical Commission, Justice Rogers came to Grand Rapids from Vermont in 1835. When he arrived, the city was still in its infancy with the only developments in the area being a Native American settlement and the Campeau Trading Post.

The 2,600 square-foot house originally sat on 160 acres of land granted to Justice Rogers from President Martin Van Buren. That location, 1144 Rogers Plaza Drive, would be the house’s home until 1960 when the house moved to make way for Rogers Plaza. When the house was moved to its current home at 1141 Colrain Ave. SW, it received a facelift to its foundation, electrical and plumping work.

Rogers Mansion 2Although a 4 bedroom 2 bath house doesn’t seem like a “mansion” now, consider the house is 179 years old! What’s even more impressive is how much of the original house still exists after all these years later. The original skeleton key to the front door is still used and the windows, latch handles, and turned railings are organic to the home.

The home is the oldest in Wyoming and believed to be the oldest in Kent County.

Melanie Rogers, the great-great-granddaughter to Justice Rogers, currently resides in the ‘Rogers Mansion.’ Both of her children have moved out of Michigan and Melanie wants to be able to spend more time with them in Chicago and California.

Selling the house will be an emotional experience, but now another family will be able to enjoy the beauty and history of a home approaching its second century!

City Wants more Questions Answered from Beckmaze Historical Society

A side view of the home today.
A side view of the home today.

janice_limbaughBefore reporting on the update of  the historical Dewey-Wedgewood Home at Beckmaze, I need to acknowledge the citizen journalist , Dorothy Simon-Tibbe who told us about Wyoming’s oldest residence. Thank you Dorothy!

Here’s a brief recap: The 180 year old residence and its three-acre property are the focus of preservation by a group of local historians known as the Beckmaze Historical Society. They are a non-profit group that is passionate about seeing the grounds along Buck Creek preserved as a community learning center through the City of Wyoming. The reason Beckmaze Historical Society is seeking jurisdiction as a community center is because the city of Wyoming does not recognize historical or museum status for properties under city ordinances. I asked the head of the city’s planning, Tom Cochran, why there is no historic status under the city planning commission ordinances and he honestly replied, “I don’t know.”

The foundation of the original 1830s sawmill is still visible today.
The foundation of the original 1830s sawmill is still visible today.

It would seem to this citizen journalist that if there were a historical or museum status in the city ordinances, the Dewey-Wedgewood Home at Beckmaze would be deemed a historical museum – hands down! After all, records of the property predate Michigan becoming a state! Native American artifacts have been found around the home as well as pre-Civil War coins. So to put it in layman’s terms: This property is a historical no-brainer.

Unfortunately however, it is not that simple due to the city’s current ordinances. Wyoming city officials say they have more questions than answers to the group’s request. After hearing the Beckmaze proposal at last month’s public meeting, Wyoming’s planning and development committee shared concerns about emergency access to the site, the availability of public parking, and the potential response from neighboring residents.

Kelly Hogan of the Beckmaze Historical Society tells us that while all the neighbors are supportive of the property’s special use, details for emergency access and parking at the site are being worked out.

The front porch in 1906.
The front porch in 1906.

She added that once all the city’s concerns are addressed, the group will resubmit their proposal to the city. White is also considering having the state of Michigan do a historical evaluation of the property to present its findings to the city planning commission. Perhaps then the city council will be motivated to sign a new ordinance to govern historical properties in Wyoming. Currently the city Wyoming does not have a designated museum. There is a historical room at the Wyoming branch of the Kent District Library.

If you are interested in joining the Beckmaze Historical Society to help protect this property, call 616-258-8617 or visit Beckmaze Historical-Society on Facebook for the latest updates.

Time is Running Out to Preserve Wyoming’s Oldest Residence

Find out how you can help save the 1834 property for future generations!

 

The Dewey-Wedgwood House at Beckmaze - Wyoming's oldest secret.

“If the planning commission refuses our request to be sanctioned a community center, we are done,” says Simon-Tibbe. “All the hard work of volunteers, board members and our benefactor will be a missed opportunity to preserve a piece of Wyoming’s history. We could lose it forever.”

by Dorothy Simon-Tibbe and Janice Limbaugh

The original log house from 1834 remains a part of the house after several renovations and additions through the years.
The original log house from 1834 remains a part of the house after several renovations and additions through the years.

 

It is perhaps the oldest secret in the city of Wyoming. Hidden in the woods near busy Byron Center Avenue, a gem of local history sits quietly in the shadows of aging hardwoods. The two-story home on three acres along Buck Creek goes back to the 1830’s, when it was the site of a sawmill that provided lumber used to build the village at Grandville, the area’s first homes, and the city of Chicago. The Dewey-Wedgwood Home at Beckmaze holds over 180 years of forgotten stories and undiscovered treasures that one local woman is bound and determined to bring to light.

 

“I was born to do this,” says Kelly Hogan, a life-time Wyoming resident. “There’s more than what is in plain view around you. There’s rich history here that you wouldn’t see if you didn’t know what to look for.”

Between the house and Buck Creek is a clearing where deer like to visit on a regular basis.
Between the house and Buck Creek is a clearing where deer like to visit on a regular basis.

 

Ever since Hogan stumbled across the property, she’s grown more and more passionate about preserving it and establishing the house as a local landmark and educational center. It is not an easy task. Working alongside her is Wyoming historian Dorothy Simon-Tibbe who wrote the following narrative describing the uniqueness and importance of this endeavor:

Adjacent to the house is Buck Creek where remnants of a bridge are still visible. A stagecoach traveled a two-track road that stopped at the house.
Adjacent to the house is Buck Creek where remnants of a bridge are still visible. The road over the stone bridge was the original Byron Center Avenue.

 

Imagine standing in a dense forest of virgin white pine towering over the clear flowing waters of Buck Creek in 1832! You have followed a survey just completed by Lucius Lyon and Sylvester Sibley in 1831, and will claim this land in the Michigan Territory by registering with the U.S. government to gain patent at White Pigeon.

 

In 2014, the Dewey-Wedgewood Home at Beckmaze (2551 Oaklane S.W. in Wyoming) stands proud on this very spot 180 years later. Beckmaze Historical Society has been given this beautiful historic home on three acres of land contiguous to Buck Creek. The original log cabin, built in 1834, is within the walls of the existing building, albeit many additions have been made.

 

Beckmaze Historical Society was established purposely to preserve what remains of a historic estate that once contained over 1100 acres of land and played a significant role in local history from the very beginning of settlement in the Grand River Valley. The Society claims that this is the oldest surviving residence on an original foundation, and no other is as important to preserve as this one.

The home in 1970.
A side view of the home in 1970.
A side view of the home today.
A side view of the home today.

 

The effort to preserve the property began in 2008 when Hogan and Simon-Tibbe first inspected the property and since then the two have been joined by several others. Now that the home has been secured, the community has the opportunity of a lifetime!

 

The Beckmaze Historical Society is a 501-c-3 designated non-profit and needs volunteers and donations to sustain the restoration. The first order of business is to restore the home to its former glory so that it will survive into the future. The plan is to use it to educate the public about Wyoming’s true place in history and to one day host classes for crafts that hearken back to the age before electronics. The Society is at a crucial point right now. The full support of the surrounding community is essential to the success of the cause.

Here are a few of the key points regarding the property’s history:

1834: One of the first 3 sawmills was built on the site, as well as the Jenison cabin and several other buildings

 

1835: From this mill, the first ever load of white pine lumber was shipped to Chicago that April

 

1840-1865: Known as “Dewey’s Station”, it is believed to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad

The foundation of the original sawmill is still visible today.
The foundation of the original sawmill is still visible today.

 

1855: The original mill was replaced by a steam saw mill capable of cutting 2-million board feet of lumber each year. The foundation of this mill and the dam is still visible today. Also visible is the original stone base for the bridge that was once a part of the original route of Byron Center Avenue.

 

1869: Dewey negotiated with The Lake Shore and Southern Michigan Railroad to have that line directed across the original estate in exchange for a station being built nearby, which was especially significant at the turn of the century.

The front porch in 1906.
The front porch in 1906.

 

1890: The home was discovered by an artist named George H. Ford, who soon turned it into a showcase and then used it as the main “lodge” of his artist colony. The famed Grand Rapids artist Mathias Alten frequented the colony while others such as photographer Fedora E.D. Brown and English artist Octar Copson commissioned homes of Ford’s design to be built adjacent to the property. He donned the colony with the name “Beckmaze” which meaning is interpreted to be “sweeter than the sweetest thing”. Current plans are to restore the home to its appearance under Ford’s ownership when it represented the best that Grand Rapids had to offer in the way of design and decoration.

Ford added architectural renovations that were state-of-the-art for the day.
Ford added architectural renovations that were state-of-the-art for the day.

 

1925: Dr. Llewelyn Wedgwood purchased the property and maintained its beauty until his death in 1949. After several years, it passed into the hands of the Braun family who spent three years restoring the property again.

The home in the winter of 1940.
The home in the winter of 1940.

 

1959: Wedgwood Christian Acres Home for Boys was organized by members of LaGrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church. Over the next 49 years the home underwent many necessary changes as the organization strove to continue its function as a residence for trouble youth.

 

2008: The property was sold into private ownership and suffered severely due to lack of maintenance. In the meantime, efforts had begun to bring attention to its historic value resulting in the formation of the Beckmaze Historical Society in 2010.

 

2011: The home was purchased by the society’s main benefactor and held in trust until it was able to receive it as a donation.

 

Thankfully now in 2014, the title has been transferred to the Society but still it faces uncertainty as it must appeal to the Wyoming Planning Commission for special use of the property as a community center in order to move forward. This meeting is set to take place October 21st at 7 p.m. at Wyoming’s City Hall.

 

“If the planning commission refuses our request to be sanctioned a community center, we are done,” says Simon-Tibbe. “All the hard work of volunteers, board members and our benefactor will be a missed opportunity to preserve a piece of Wyoming’s history. We could lose it forever.”

 

This approval and the funds to carry out the preservation effort are sorely needed. The Society is hoping that the entire community will recognize the importance of this site and lend whatever support they can to the cause. To make a tax deductible contribution or to find out how you can help, contact the Beckmaze Historical Society at 616-258-8617 or find us on Facebook. Donations and inquiries can also be made by addressing correspondence to Beckmaze Historical Society at 2551 Oaklane S.W., Wyoming, Michigan, 49519.

Wyoming’s Changing Cityscape

Studio 28 is History

28 West is the Future

Studio 28 demolition is a loss for some; a relief for others.
Studio 28 demolition is a loss for some; a relief for others.

by Janice Limbaugh

It's one last showtime for Studio 28 as cars line up to watch daily demolition process.
It’s one last showtime for Studio 28 as cars line up to watch daily demolition process.

 

As the demolition of Studio 28 began on Tuesday morning, cars filled with curious onlookers and sentimental locals paraded through the parking lot all day long. A line up of parked cars watching the demolition was reminiscent of an old drive-in theater – but on this day, the demolition of the world’s former largest movie theater was the main feature. Be advised that should you go, bring your own refreshments. This show is going to last about two-weeks and have plenty of intermissions.  But it’s at the end this show when 20 acres of prime business property sit open and available that the suspense really begins. What will fill the void?

With her mouth still frozen from a dental appointment, a longtime Wyoming resident goes out of her way to pick up a piece of Studio 28 while her husband waits in the car.
With her mouth still frozen from a dental appointment, a longtime Wyoming resident goes out of her way to pick up a piece of Studio 28 while her husband waits in the car.
A demolition worker says the debris from the theater has been a hot commodity. He's keeps a pile of bricks available for public pickins.
A demolition worker says the debris from the theater has been a hot commodity. He’s keeps a pile of bricks available for public pickins.

 

Here’s a preview of coming attractions or rather a long term vision for this area by the Wyoming Downtown Development Authority. Picture this: 28th Street as a walkable town center in the heart of Wyoming, economically vibrant and sustainable with businesses and shops, green space and landscaping, detailed building facades, town homes, condos, and convenient parking. This community effort is called 28 West! Click here to see  what Wyoming’s future neighborhood may look like. Logo-August-2012

 

 

 

 

 

Following the Book Trail

By Esther Middlewood  Kentwood Library

The Richard L. Root Kentwood Branch Library stands prominently at 4950 Breton Road, next door to the Kentwood City Center. Its stunning architectural design and the outstanding sculpture in the foyer attracts visitors from not only Kentwood, but also surrounding areas. Completed in 2010, the library contains multiple amenities, including (but not limited to) a large community room for programs and events, an expanded computer area, conference rooms, study rooms, and the Cora Bowen Stauffer Kentwood Heritage Room. Usage of the library facilities has increased with the expanded space and available technology. Curiosity, however, asks “Where did it all begin?”

 

In the early 1830’s a number of families came from New York to settle in the part of the county known as Paris Township. They carried with them the family Bible and perhaps one or two other books. Settlements such as Bowen Station, Home Acres, and East Paris Road slowly developed while the rest of the township remained essentially rural with large farm properties until after World War II. Following the war, Grand Rapids residents and industry began moving southeast beyond the city limits into Paris Township. With no library, Paris Township residents borrowed books from the Kent County Library’s bookmobiles. In an oral history, a former student from one of Paris Township’s one-room schoolhouses described the services of the bookmobiles and told her interviewer that adults could borrow as many books as they wanted, but children were limited to four books each. The Kent County Library named the bookmobiles Hither, Thither, and Yon. In the early 1950’s the county bookmobile began stopping at Home acres, one of its most popular stops.

 

In February 1955, an official request for a permanent Paris branch was forwarded to Kent County Library officials by Fred Darling, the Paris Township clerk. By November at that year, the Paris Library opened in a new building on 44th Street near Jefferson Avenue. The Paris Library flourished under Mrs. Edel Torngren who helped the numerous patrons who crowded into the library during its first full year of operation. It quickly became the most heavily used branch of the county library system. When Mrs. Torngren died unexpectedly in 1962 the branch was renamed in her honor. Although the library has since moved several times, the small brick building remains and serves the community as a veterinary clinic.

Kntwd Libr 2

 

By 1967, the library’s collection of books had grown and it could no longer be housed in the small building on 44th street. In the same year, Paris Township became the City of Kentwood and elected officials occupied themselves setting up a new city government and all its many services—including a library. In mid-1968 the City Commission started exploring an expansion of the existing library. In 1969, the library relocated on 52nd Street in a rented building which had been St. Mary Magdalen Church. Initially, Commissioners budgeted $30,000 for the expansion project.

 

When a renovation estimate from the architect was more than double what they had planned to spend, Commissioners discussed selling the library site and relocating to a new site.

 

In 1975 Kentwood finally built a new library thanks to an earlier donation of four acres of land to the city for a library site by Mrs. Cora Bowen Stauffer. She stipulated that the new library must be built on the site within five years or the land would revert back to her. Finally, in September 1975, the new $715,000 Kentwood Branch Library opened on a site which a hundred years previously had been the Bowen family’s cornfield. By 1990 time, traffic, and a leaky roof had begun to take a toll on the library, so city officials allocated money from the general fund for redecorating. In 1991, a ten-year-old Kentwood resident, Jillaine Burmeister, won an Earth Day contest sponsored by the Amway Corporation. Her prize was a 12-foot tall flowering crab tree which she planted at the library. “The library will be here forever, and people will always come here,” she explained.

 

Jillaine’s statement, however, faded into history when the library once again outgrew the available space and the building developed structural problems. Kentwood officials began to consider a new site—one more centrally located in the developing city. The new Kentwood Branch Library, opened in August 2010 speaks for itself. The library was renamed the Richard L. Root Kentwood Branch Library in 2012 in honor of the former mayor’s dedication to the community and to the completion of the library project.