Understand how the Lenawee Historical Museum works


In the minds of many people, “story” is something you read or watch on television. For some, it is something unpleasant that they endured at school. For others, like those of us at the Lenawee County Historical Society, it’s fascinating and can easily become an obsession.

It’s ironic that as “history buffs” we don’t really know our own history.

The Lenawee County Historical Society as we know it today has its origins in early May 1923. It was at a meeting on May 4, 1923 that the society adopted its constitution and bylaws. In addition, Charles Palmer of Adrian was chosen to be the Curator of the Society and Mrs. Jack Clark of Clinton was elected Historian.

Oddly enough, on January 24, 1914, the Daily Telegram reported that the local DAR branch had decided to “take the lead” in forming a Lenawee County Historical Society.

In addition, the 1908 newspapers repeatedly mention the Lenawee County Historical Society. However, the real mystery is an article from October 9, 1920, referencing an 1878 Lenawee County Historical Society publication! It is clear that the Company has been around for a long time and we hope it will continue to prosper for many years to come.

Over the years, the Society has received support from local government, in cash or in kind. For example, in December 1908, Adrian’s City Council passed a resolution giving the Society free use of a corner room in the basement of the soon to be completed Carnegie Library building, ” in order to constitute a collection of relics. ”

For many years the museum has been housed in the Commercial Bank building in downtown Adrian. When Adrian’s City Library outgrown the Carnegie Library building and moved into its larger quarters on East Maumee Street in 1978, the city donated the Carnegie Building to the Historical Society for a song. For several years, the Museum received nominal funding from the county to cover operating expenses as well as some grants that offset the salary of a full-time curator.

That all changed 10 or 12 years ago when the Lenawee County Historical Society was taken out of the county budget. The Historical Museum would no longer receive any municipal or departmental financial support. Today, the museum is entirely dependent on donations, membership fees and book sales, and its staff is 100% volunteer.

Even under these new conditions, the museum can remain free to the public, and was open five days a week. Then came COVID-19.

The pandemic has affected the museum in several ways. The most obvious was the forced shutdown for three months, which meant no donation at the door. Although there was never an entrance fee, many visitors left donations behind.

COVID-19 has caused the loss of several volunteers. Many are elderly and fall into one or more of the high risk categories for COVID-19 and have decided to retire permanently and completely. When some of the COVID-19 restrictions were lifted and the museum was able to open on a limited schedule, some volunteers from high-risk groups chose to stay home rather than risk exposure to the virus.

Museum volunteers fall into one or more of the four categories. They serve primarily in museum exhibit areas and provide ‘color commentary’ on exhibits and help visitors navigate the two floors of artifacts.

People often come to the museum’s extensive archives in search of the history of their home or business; others come in search of documents relating to their ancestors. This is where the second group of volunteers comes in. They help find the documents needed to answer questions and help clients piece together seemingly unrelated facts.

The third category of volunteers work directly with artifacts and documents as they are received from donors across the country. Objects, whether artefacts or historical documents, are sorted, cleaned, repaired, cataloged and either classified, stored or displayed.

The last category of volunteers takes care of the building and the land. There is a lawn to mow, snow to shovel and, yes, a toilet to unclog.

Every once in a while there is an “everyone” project to dismantle an exhibit or build a spare. And there are occasional trips to other museums in the area where we enjoy camaraderie and hone our skills. Volunteers in all categories typically spend four or more hours per week learning the job on the job.

History buffs of all ages willing to donate a few hours a week are always in demand at the museum. No experience is needed beyond the desire to learn and help. Please do not hesitate to join us anytime.

Bob Wessel is vice president of the Lenawee County Historical Society and can be contacted at LenHist51@gmail.com.

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Patrick F. Williams