Muskegon's heritage is safe at downtown museum

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Photos by Jeanne Vollmer

by Cynthia Price

As long as there is a Muskegon Heritage Museum, future generations will have the resources to find out about “the economic, industrial and social history” of the Muskegon area.

There is not only a tremendous quantity of exhibits about the businesses and stores that made Muskegon a great place to live over the decades, but there is a high, though slightly uneven, quality to the ways in which the information is shown.

The Heritage Museum, located at 561 West Western Avenue across the street from the Amazon Building downtown, is not duplicative of the also-impressive Lakeshore Museum Center. The exhibits are permanent (though being added to all the time) and very detailed; and they encompass mostly businesses and products made in our great city.

There is a kind of quirky authenticity to the displays. For example, the small sign next to the beautiful statue that came to symbolize Sealed Power says with a touch of humor, “This statue is one of several built in the 1930s for use at auto shows and parades. It is equipped with a small motor... that rotates the statue. It is rumored that an executive secretary named Dodie at Sealed Power posed as The Lady. Others have said that Dodie was a professional model. Neither story can be confirmed.” In fact, a tour guide said that the real story is potentially much more risqué, but he could not be persuaded to share.

Another vivid detail involves the Weesies celery farm. In the exhibit is a worn-looking board. Closer inspection of the picture above it indicates that the actual plank was used by the grandmother at the farm to lean up across furrows in the soil so that she could plant tens of thousands of seeds herself – no fancy machines, just a piece of wood she moved along as she sowed.

The Consumers Energy display includes a handmade replica of the B.C. Cobb Consumers Energy power plant. The display is normally shown without the iconic “stack,” but when the to-scale stack replica comes out from its hiding place, it is overpowering how tall it is.

That display also includes a large check for $10,000, a contribution from Consumers that allows the Heritage Museum to sponsor several no-admission-fee community days throughout the 2018 season. (The museum is open to the public Thursday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., from mid-May to mid-October.) Though the normal price is only $5, with children entering for $2, this is an appealing idea for families. The next community day is July 12, followed by one on August 10.

Whatever fees are paid go to the upkeep of the museum, but the real heroes of the story are the volunteers – they do maintenance, guide tours, seek exhibits and small grants for exhibits, whatever is needed.

Volunteer power has enabled the Muskegon Heritage Museum to enjoy great growth over the years.

Originally founded in 1973 as the Muskegon Heritage Association with a mission to coordinate and assist in the historical preservation of the area known as Muskegon Heritage Village, it was in 1983 that the Museum itself was begun. Along the way, the group spearheaded construction of the Fire Barn Museum (now run by the Lakeshore Museum Center), assisted with the Torrent House preservation, restored and preserved all or part of a number of buildings which were later either sold to private concerns or are still works in progress.

The museum itself was established when someone donated the Corliss steam engine which still forms the core of the museum’s displays. A major renovation was undertaken in 2009, when the Examiner first ran a story. Since then, the Muskegon Railroad Society moved out of the second floor, which the museum then incorporated, and a third floor has been added.

It would be remiss not to mention the hard work of Anne and Allan Dake, who have poured a lot of their hearts and souls into the effort. It was Anne who developed the idea for the Raggedy Anne exhibit, after finding out that the doll was manufactured here. Raggedy Anne recently celebrated her 100th birthday, and Muskegon Heritage Museum celebrated it right along with her.

There are so many, many other exhibits that it is impossible to even touch the surface, but worthy of mention is the working spring winding machine from American Coil Spring, from which visitors can pop out little souvenirs. There is also a functioning Brunswick pinsetter.

The Muskegon Heritage Museum has a Facebook page and a website (www.muskegonheritage.org), and produces a newsletter. To find out more, become a member, or arrange for a group tour, call 231-722-1363.

Or just stop by.
 

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