Lake County Historical Society seeks to build museum

BALDWIN – Revamping the the image of Lake County for the 21st century seems all that anybody can talk about right now.

The Lake County Historical Society is looking to celebrate and promote its past.

The society is embarking on a plan to turn the current Lake County Tourist Center site, at 911 Michigan Ave. in downtown Baldwin, into a one-stop shop for those seeking information and history on Lake County.

The opportunity for this plan came when the United States Forestry Service donated two, 1930s era “Civilian Conservation Corps” buildings that it had been using as ranger stations in Baldwin.

Paul Bigford, vice president of the Lake County Historical Society and chairman of the Welcome Center and Museum Committe said the donation benefited everybody involved.

“It’s a win-win with us and the forestry service,” he said. “These buildings were going to be demolished and hauled to a landfill, but instead, we get to recycle these buildings.”

The property currently houses the Lake County Michigan State University Extension program, the Lake County Chamber of Commerce and the Lake County Historical Society.

Though the site houses all of those organizations, only the MSU Extension is open full-time.

The Chamber of Commerce is only open based on volunteer staffing, and the Historical Society is only open by appointment.

The purpose of this plan, is to turn the site into the Lake County Welcome Center and Museum.

Bigford said that when the buildings are ready to be moved, they will be transported right down Michigan Avenue in downtown Baldwin which Bigford thinks will be “a historic event.”

The two buildings from the forestry service will be placed on opposite sides of the main museum, which will serve as a bridge for the whole campus.

The Historical Society is in the process of negotiating with the Lake County Board of Commissioners for the rights to the property.

“(Lake County) is anxious to divest of the property and we are anxious to acquire it,” Bigford said.

The current plans call for the current Tourist Center building to torn down and to a construct a new building its place, which would become the center of the campus.

The building would feature rooms for exhibits, a multi-purpose room that would be available to the community and feature public restrooms that would be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Each of the forestry service buildings will have a second floor containing additional office space and one will house a research library.

The plans for the museum were constructed after a feasibility study conducted by Jill Engleman, a Historical Society member who has worked in the construction industry on historical projects for more than 30 years.

Engleman conducted a “needs assessment” which was based on the likes, wants and the needs of the Historical Society

Based on that, she developed the rendering which serves as the current plans for the project.

The museum will be able to educate visitors on what Lake County has to offer, Engleman feels.

“With the development of this campus, we’re going to achieve many things,” she said.

“It’s not only going to expand the services of the Historical Society, but we’ll have museum space to show and educate on the history of Lake County and that’s something we can’t do at this point.”

Jane Alison, who is a member of the Historical Society and sits on the Museum Committee feels the site will be a place for all members of the community to have a sense of ownership in.

“Its a truly a welcome center for the whole county,” Alison said. “There’s going to be displays of Lake County hunting, fishing, business, lifestyle...everything.”

The museum will look to feature artifacts from the residents of Lake County, many of which Bigford feels have not been out for public display.

“A lot of these items are in people’s barns and garages,” he said. “The type of item where the wife doesn’t want it in the house but the husband doesn’t want to get rid of it.

“There hasn’t been a safe and secure location to display these things.”

The multi-purpose room, is a needed feature for the campus, Bigford said.

“The Historical Society has been meeting in various backrooms and corners since (its founding in) 1983,” he said. “We can’t get more than 12 people in our room in back of the historical society.”

The project is currently in the midst of the first of a three phase process, which Bigford anticipates to be completed by the summer of 2013.

“Our immediate goal is to rise $25,000 locally,” he said.

The purpose for that is to show foundations that offer grants that there is sufficient local interest in the project.

Bigford noted that the Historical Society has received a committment of a $25,000 grant from the Crane Foundation that is contigient on raising $25,000 in local funds.

“I’d like to get this wrapped up by the end of April,” Bigford said. “That might be over ambitious, this is a difficult time to be fundraising.”

While a deal is not in place for both the MSU Extension and the Chamber of Commerce to move to the new building, Engleman feels that it would benefit all of the organizations involved.

“The combined facility will help expand the tourism for the county and tell them what we have,” she said.

The museum will feature brochures in the front of all other county organization, that wish to display them.

“People who like museums aren’t going to come for just one museum,” Bigford said. “So if they know there’s a spot where they’ll be able to find other stuff to do, maybe they’ll stay for a while and eat lunch or stay in a hotel for a day or two and that helps the county.”

Bigford said the target date for the end of the project is fall 2014.