Photo courtesy Carol Hendricks
Among the members of the recently formed Downriver Historical Ogranizations who met last month at Trenton’s Moore House are Flo Thompson (left), Trenton Historical Commission and Museum; Dave Warren, Southgate Historical Society; Betty Nixdorf, Allen Park Historical Museum; Kaye Warren, Southgate Historical Society and Commission; Lila Fedokovitz, Flat Rock Historical Society; Carol Hendricks, Trenton Historical Society; Linda Miercejewski, Trenton Historical Society; and Organizations chair Tammy Travis-Taylor, Grosse Ile Historical Society.
By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers
TRENTON — The story of Downriver, its evolution from agricultural origins through the industrial boom, is kept alive by a variety of community-based groups with a shared passion and common interests.
With slight variations, many of these local historians face the same challenges, and recently formed the Downriver Historical Organizations, an informal panel of representatives from Allen Park, Flat Rock, Grosse Ile, Lincoln Park, Southgate and Trenton, with others expected to soon join the monthly chats.
Longtime Southgate volunteer Dave Warren said the goal of the group is not to duplicate individual collections or efforts at the community level, but to share information, resources and suggestions as the different groups face similar-yet-specific challenges.
“We are meeting to form an alliance with other organizations,” Warren said. “It seems all the museums are in the same boat: Funding is down, memberships are down and visitor numbers are down.”
Caretakers of local history bring passion for their respective communities with the common knowledge that preserving local history depends on support from in dividual donors and contributors. Historical preservation was not high on budget priority lists in recent years as local governments throughout Downriver faced mounting budget deficits. Some have been supported by municipal government, others rely solely on donations. Most communities have two entities with an interest in local history, a government-appointed “commission” and an independent, nonprofit “society.”
In Southgate, Mayor Joseph Kuspa recently proposed that the two organizations merge into a Historical Foundation, sharing resources and know-how to showcase and maintain the collection and museum. In Trenton, often-shared membership in the commission and society work to preserve the Moore House and the artifacts within.
Local involvement spans a range from community to community. Tammy Travis-Taylor, chair of the Downriver Historical Oranizations and president of the Grosse Ile Historical Society, said Grosse Ile’s historical efforts include a pool of 100 volunteers for the city’s four museums, among which the North Channel Front Range lighthouse which recently received a federal grant for restoration work.
In Lincoln Park, Jeff Day said the government-appointed commission was established in the 1970s primarily to run the city’s museum building, itself a piece of local heritage from its days as a U.S. post office. Lincoln Park, he said, was among the rare communities where the annual budget includes allowances for a museum curator, albeit a part-time position.
Ironically, many said they are finding new success and friends online, and through high school students. Several high schools, including Trenton and Southgate, include a room dedicated to local school history, and libraries continue to witness a growing interest in genealogy. Historical society members often get requests for old newspapers and other community records.
Others struggle to maintain a museum building or to attract membership or interest.
“Some people don’t even know the town has a museum,” Warren said of Southgate, a comment that met understanding nods of agreement from others in the Organization.
Under any name, the mission to collect, record and preserve community history continues throughout Downriver. For more information on local activities and attractions, visit the respective community and historical group web sites.
(James Mitchell can be reached at [email protected].)