Area historical societies gather in Chase

CHASE — Museum directors and historical society presidents from Lake, Osceola and Mecosta counties gathered at Chase Township Public Library on Saturday, Sept. 16,to share ideas and updates, enjoy refreshments and listen to a presentation.

The Mid-Michigan Association of Historical Societies and Museums hosted its annual meeting in Chase for the first time. Members of the Remus Museum, Evart Historical Museum, Evart Area Historical Society, Lake County Historical Society, Chase Historical Society and Marion Area Historical Museum were in attendance.

The association has 20 different museums and historical societies as members, and includes Lake, Mecosta and Osceola counties, bordering Clare and Isabella counties.

Diane Johnson, president of the Chase Historical Society, welcomed the group and gave background information.

“Our library building, which also serves as a historical museum, dates back to a 1930s Work Progress Administration project to build the Chase School. Since the school had closed in 1969, only one room was used for a library, with the rest of the building being closed off. In 2002, we received a grant for $95,000 from the Wege Foundation to restore the building, and now we have multiple rooms used for a library, a meeting room and a history room with archives, family portrait series and to display artifacts. We collect everything we can.

“The Chase Historical Society doesn’t try to compete with the Lake County Historical Society in Baldwin, but we supplement it for the history of the Chase, Cherry Valley and Pinora townships and some of Yates Township.”

Johnson said among the main display artifacts at the library is a large U.S. flag dating back to the late 1800s, having belonged to the Chase chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization for Civil War veterans.

“During the Chase fire in 1892, this flag was rescued from the G.A.R. hall. After the hall burned, Civil War vets met in houses for the next few years. At some point, this flag wound up in Reed City. It was discovered in the attic of the Ben Franklin store about 17 years ago and it was given back to Chase. As far as we know, there are only two G.A.R. flags left in the state, one being at Lansing,” Johnson said.

During the meeting, Roger Elkins, of the Evart Area Historical Society and Chase Historical Society, gave a PowerPoint presentation. Elkins, dressed in a train conductor uniform, passed out train tickets to the attendees and took them on a trip to the early days of this part of Michigan.

He spoke about county seat battles in Clare, Lake, Osceola and Wexford counties.

“If a community had the county seat, they had more opportunity to thrive with businesses,” he explained. “Courthouses were located at the county seats, and officials would do business there. Town officials would fight to have the county seat.”

After the presentation, Marilyn Gross, coordinator of the Mid-Michigan Association of Historical Societies and Museums and vice president of the Marion Area Historical Museum, spoke on the issue of trying to get new and younger members involved in historical societies.

“In Marion, we have Christopher Clark Day, and feature weaving, sewing and a free boiled ham dinner. This is a way to introduce ourselves to the community so people can see we are friendly at the museum and not cranky. We usually gain new members by hosting this event,” she said.

Gross had those in attendance introduce themselves and give updates about their museums and historical societies.

Mark Wilson, vice president of the Evart Area Historical Society, passed around post cards of old Evart area photographs he recolored as well as a calendar in which he blended color with the black and white photos.

“The vibrant color in these recolored photos grabs people’s attention,” Wilson said.

Linda Howard and Char Lenon, of the Remus Historical Society, told how their cemetery tours have been successful.

“We had a great turnout for the tour of our cemeteries. We started out at our big Catholic cemetery (St. Michael’s Catholic Cemetery) and also visited smaller cemeteries such as the Native American and African American cemeteries. Next year we will do a cemetery tour in the Blanchard area,” Howard said.

Bruce Micinski, president of the Lake County Historical Society, informed the group about resourcing old U.S. Forest Service buildings into the new Lake County Historical Museum.

“About $450,000 has been raised toward construction of our new museum, which includes a display building, a community house and a boat house to connect the two buildings. For being the poorest county in the state, this is pretty good,” he said.

As the meeting closed, Gross said it was great to collaborate with everyone.

“These annual meetings are an excellent way to see how historical societies and museums are reaching out to their communities. It is nice to visit the different museums and get ideas for displays as well. This has been a really good meeting,” she said.

The Wexford County Historical Society will host the next annual meeting at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018.