An Inside Look at the Archives of Michigan

If you’re a Michigan history buff or just love to discover new things at Michigan museums, then a visit to the Archives of Michigan or the Michigan Historical Museum  in Lansing is sure to pique your interest! Today, Mary Detloff from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources takes us deep inside the Archives of Michigan for a look at Pure Michigan way back when. 

Outside the Michigan Historical Museum in Lansing, MI

Tucked into a light grey archival box on a shelf in the Archives of Michigan, organized neatly in manila folders, the yellowing onion skin typing paper represents the loving correspondence of a Michigan man and woman, a World War II soldier and his wife.

“Dearest, You know now that the invasion has started …” starts a letter from Charles Westie, a Michigan solider, writing to his wife Ardith on June 6, 1944 – D-Day. During the coming weeks, Westie would serve in combat in France as part of the invasion force that turned the tide in Europe in the Allied Forces’ favor.

The Westie correspondence, between two ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances, shows the difficulty of the life of a soldier, waiting in England for his orders to go to battle in Europe, and his wife, waiting anxiously in Michigan for any news from her husband.

Archivist Bob Garret sorting through a photo collection recently donated to the Archives of Michigan.

These letters, along with hundreds of thousands of documents, maps, records, photographs and other ephemera, make up the Archives of Michigan. The Archives holds more than 120 million records that tell the story of Michigan from the encounters of Europeans and Native Americans to records from Governor Jennifer Granholm.

The Archives, the Michigan Historical Museum, and the Michigan Historical Commission all marked their 100th anniversary this past year, coming into existence in 1913 with a law signed by then-Governor Woodbridge N. Ferris.  The law created the Michigan Historical Commission, and directed the body to collect, arrange and preserve historical material related to Michigan and the old Northwest Territory.

”The Archives of Michigan serves as Michigan’s memory.  It holds the historical documents, maps and photographs of state and local governments and private citizens,” said Mark Harvey, state archivist.  “The Archives collections document the tragedies and triumphs of the government and individuals of the State of Michigan.”

Archivist Bob Garrett with an original blueprint for the Michigan State Fairground from 1922.

With documents dating back to 1792, the Archives of Michigan holds a vast selection of historical documents ranging from the original blueprints and architect’s drawings of the Michigan Capitol Building to the papers of former state legislators, to naturalization records from the turn of the century, to more personal collections, such as the Westie letters and a rare diary from a Michigan soldier who witnessed the Philippine-American War in 1899.

The public can access materials from the Archives in a couple of different ways.

Archivist Bob Garrett assisting a researcher in the Archives of Michigan Reading Room.

First, you can visit the Archives of Michigan, located in the Michigan Historical Center, 702 West Kalamazoo, in Lansing. The Archives has a reference room open to the public from 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. The reference room is always manned by two Archives staff members, who are available to assist visitors with records requests. Visitors of all ages are welcome, and typically include attorneys, academics, graduate students, staff from legislators’ offices or state agencies, persons doing genealogy research or younger students.

Some of the more popular records in the Archives have been digitized and are available to the public on the website www.seekingmichigan.org, which is a partnership between the Archives of Michigan and the Michigan History Foundation. Seeking Michigan features 1.2 million records, including items such as searchable Michigan census records from 1884-1894, death records from 1897 to 1920 and a lot of Civil War material.

Seeking Michigan also features an online shop called Michiganology that offers unique products with a tie to the Archives, such as t-shirts and prints featuring brewery labels from early Michigan breweries, which were required to register their labels with the state. The store also sells notecards featuring old trout stamps, items highlighting the Proud Robin (once a symbol of Michigan Week) and many other items. There is also a blog maintained by archivists and staff from the Michigan Historical Museum featuring stories from Michigan’s past.

Have you visited the Archives of Michigan or the Michigan Historical Museum? What interesting items did you see during your visit? 

Mary Dettloff is senior advisor for communications for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and a native of Northern Michigan.

Take A Summer Lighthouse Tour in Pure Michigan

Did you know that Michigan is home to more lighthouses than any other state? With the official start of summer just days away, it’s the perfect time to plan a Michigan lighthouse tour. More than 115 lighthouses are scattered up and down the coasts of Pure Michigan, guiding sailors and capturing imaginations. Some still shine for ships, others share their stories with us first-hand as museums, as bed and breakfasts and as Michigan history in the making.

Take a look at the listing below for a sampling of what you can discover while touring Michigan’s lighthouses, and learn more in the following video from the Pure Michigan summer video series.

A complete listing of Michigan’s lighthouses can be found on michigan.org.

Au Sable Light Station
Grand Marais
The AuSable Light Station is listed on the national register of historic places. It was built in 1874 to warn mariners of a dangerous reef off of the AuSable Point. Now automated, the light station is being restored to its 1910 appearance. Guided tours are offered July and August. The grounds are always open, but access is limited by snow from November – April. Visit the website to learn more.

Big Bay Point Lighthouse Bed & Breakfast
Big Bay
One of the few surviving resident lighthouses in the country, guests enjoy a half-mile of Lake Superior shore, viewing tower, sauna, library and fireplaces. Enjoy biking, waterfalls, skiing and snowmobiling nearby. Summer lighthouse tours  and booking information are available here.

Point Betsie Lighthouse
Frankfort
The Point Betsie Lighthouse is the oldest standing structure in Benzie County. The lighthouse was built in 1858, and marks the all-important entrance to the southern end of the Manitou Passage, a once-vital maritime shipping channel. Learn more on the Point Betsie website.

South Haven Lighthouse
South Haven
An image of maritime heritage, South Haven’s Lighthouse on the south pier still stands today as a vision of seemingly magical qualities. Built in 1903, this distinguished landmark has welcomed travelers for more than 100 years. Start planning your trip here

Sturgeon Point Lighthouse
Harrisville
Sturgeon Point Lighthouse is located five miles north of Harrisville on Lake Huron and was completed in November 1870. The tower is 70 feet, 9 inches tall and is 16 feet in diameter at its base. The light is 3.5 order Fresnel lens made in Paris, France. The light is still maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard. The keeper’s house is now a maritime museum which is open to the public from Memorial Day to mid-September. The lighthouse tower and the grounds are also open to the public. Visit the website for more information.

Fort Gratiot Lighthouse
Port Huron
The Fort Gratiot Lighthouse is the oldest operating lighthouse on the Great Lakes. It was established in 1825 and rebuilt in 1829 and 1861, at the time it was also the first lighthouse on Lake Huron and is the oldest surviving lighthouse in Michigan. It helps keep watch over Lake Huron at the entrance to the St. Clair River. The 86 ft. light stands above the lake level in a conical stone tower, overlaid with red brick that has been painted white. The keeper’s cottage and fog whistle house are red. Tower climbs and tours are available during business hours, weather permitting. See the Port Huron Museum website for information on tours and group overnights in the restored Duplex building for 20+ people.

How many Michigan lighthouses have you visited? Share with us below!

I’m Goin’ to Jackson

Jennifer Bowman is a southwest Virginia native who moved to Michigan just over a year ago. Fascinated by travel and discovering new places, Jennifer spends her free time exploring Michigan towns and writing about her experiences on her blog, Wading in Big Shoes. Today, she fills us in on a recent day trip that she and her husband took to Jackson, Michigan.

When my husband and I planned a day trip to Jackson, we weren’t sure what was in store for us. In all honesty, we were out to explore, and considering the fact that the city was new to us and just on the outskirts of Metro Detroit, it seemed like the perfect solution to our last-minute agenda dilemma. So, with jackets and umbrellas in tow, we set out on a rainy Saturday morning to learn a little more about the city named for our seventh president.

We got to Jackson around lunch time, so we read some online restaurant reviews and settled on a little “dive” restaurant called the West Texas Barbeque Company. Knowing that the best food is often found in the humblest of places, we followed our GPS down a few back roads until we reached the bare-bones building, livened with a brightly-painted façade and a cozy, indoor atmosphere. Being from Virginia, I found myself very comfortable among the southern-style setup, and was happy to see that the other restaurant patrons were largely comprised of baseball cap-wearing, old pickup truck-driving people who also appreciated good food without the frills. Add to that a huge pulled pork sandwich so juicy that it must derive from a line of French dips, and you’ve got an afternoon in southern-inspired Heaven.

After stuffing ourselves to capacity, I would’ve been content with taking a nap until it was time to wake up for “Pulled Pork, Round Two,” but my husband and I had places to be. And so, it was off to Jackson’s historical pivot point, the old state prison.

Jackson’s first state prison, historically known as the hub of the city, produced a thriving labor force during the Industrial Revolution. Today, a large barrier wall still surrounds the campus while indoor jail cells and common areas have been transformed into a residence hall and artist workshop community. Intrigued by the notion of people living and creating masterpieces in a place originally intended to house criminals, I wandered the halls of the present-day armory, both fascinated by its history and creeped out by its eerily quiet hallways and iron-barred windows. The visit was made much more enjoyable, however, by colorful murals that sprawled across every wall and handcrafted mobiles that adorned well-lit corners. There was even a wedding reception setup going on in part of the building, complete with orange flower bunches and masses of origami cranes. If that isn’t proof of creatively utilizing space and making the most of places with dark pasts, I don’t know what is.

The rest of our afternoon entailed gawking at historic buildings in downtown Jackson, visiting the Sandhill Crane Vineyards and Winery (a beautiful, relaxed place run by self-proclaimed “Non-wine snobs”), and a jaunt through the Ella Sharp park and museum. Inside the museum, my husband and I evaluated rooms filled with modern artwork and historical artifacts from the city of Jackson, ranging from the jaw bone of a prehistoric mastodon through clothing and commercial products from the Civil War, Industrial Era, and recent years. My biggest discovery of the day? Jackson was the birthplace of the Republican Party. I never expected a quiet, little city to be so influential, but it goes to show that there’s history to be explored everywhere you go—even if it’s just a stone’s throw from home.

Jennifer Bowman is a southwest Virginia native who moved to Michigan just over a year ago. Fascinated by travel and discovering new places, Jennifer spends her free time exploring Michigan towns and writing about her experiences on her blog, Wading in Big Shoes. You can follow her on Twitter @JHBowman.