Museum Tour: Tri-Cities Historical Museum in Grand Haven


GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — With the goal of collecting and preserving local history, the Tri-Cities Historical Museum has something for everyone with thousands of exhibits in its archive and hands-on activities for kids .

“We were initially in a downtown train depot and then moved to our current location which is the historic Akeley Building,” said Erica Layton, executive director.

The two-storey building, 200 Washington Ave. near S. 2nd Street, was built in the 1870s in downtown Grand Haven. The Tri-Cities Historical Museum tells the stories of Grand Haven, Grand Haven Township, Spring Lake, Spring Lake Township and Ferrysburg.

“We go all the way back to the first people, looking at the Indigenous peoples – the Native American inhabitants of the area – through some of the early fur traders and explorers, early pioneers…” Layton said.

The museum brings visitors to the modern era with artifacts donated by community members.

“We have our period rooms, so you can walk into a log cabin…we have our general store, the Ekkens store, our Bastian (and) Blessings soda fountain in the front on the second floor, which is really cool,” she said.

Since the museum is located in Coast Guard City, USA, there is a Coast Guard exhibit as well as the Coast Guard Festival.

When visiting the museum, young guests can experience a family explorer bag that makes the museum a little more kid-friendly with hands-on items, crafts, and more. There’s also a convenient room on the second floor for kids who need to get away and play.

Layton said that during the school year, all elementary schools in the three cities have some sort of interaction with the museum, either virtually or in person.

Students who visit the museum tend to like the horse that’s on display, Layton said.

“He has a real ponytail and the kids constantly pull on it and end up tearing their hair out. Every few months we have to replace the horsetail,” she laughed. “We actually have a ponytail vendor that we get our horsetail from because the kids won’t leave her alone.”

In addition to the permanent exhibitions, the museum organizes different exhibitions depending on the season.

“The exhibit on display now is ‘This Just In,’ it celebrates three years of items people have donated to the museum. It’s really a behind-the-scenes look at what this process looks like,” Layton said.

Guests will get a glimpse of how an object goes from being in your home to behind glass in a museum. Some of the items on display include the first vial of COVID-19 vaccine that was donated in Ottawa County, photographs of a man who was born and raised in the area and died fighting in Vietnam, and a Purple Medal Heart.

As Halloween approaches, the museum displays Victorian decorations to celebrate the spooky season.

In addition to the Washington Avenue location, the museum has a secondary location called the Community Archives and Research Center in 100 172nd ave. south of Comstock Street.

“This is where we house over 70,000 three-dimensional objects that we don’t have the space to display at the downtown museum,” she said.

Items stored at CRAC have been donated by members of the community over the years.

“The community has been so generous in giving us treasures of local history, old businesses, heirlooms, and we are able to keep these three-dimensional objects, the photographic archive off-site at the Center for archives and research,” Layton said.

In addition to appointments to consult the objects kept at the CRAC, the museum offers an online database. To search for the different elements, Click here.

The museum is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Extended summer hours are offered from Memorial Day to Labor Day. For more information, visit the museum website.

*Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series exploring small community museums in western Michigan. More articles will be posted on in the coming weeks.

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Patrick F. Williams