During our own Genealogy Roadshow, Chuck and I found a collection of museums dedicated to area history: Grass Lake Area Historical Connections (GLAHC). This particular road show was focused on learning more about my Grandmother Ruth’s early years, to be more specific, when she taught school in a one-room school house in Grass Lake from 1912-1914. Chuck is always game for an adventure, so it wasn’t hard to talk him into a road trip. So on a sunny Saturday afternoon, we packed up the Ford Ranger and headed west on I-94 and were delighted to find tucked in the village of Grass Lake, Michigan a collection of museums dedicated to preserving area history.
There were no scandalous discoveries about my Grandmother during our visit to the Coe House Museum, but we did learn a great deal about Grass Lake’s history, found a few clues to fuel my research, and as an added bonus, we got a glimpse into the daily life of Michigan residents in the early 1900’s.
Grass Lake Area Historical Connections
We have the Grass Lake Area Historical Connections (GLAHC) to thank for preserving a connection to Michigan’s history and keeping the museum doors open. The Coe House Museum was the first GLACH museum and soon the Troops and Trains will open; a new facility with two distinct museums: the Interurban CAR 29 and the Michigan Military Heritage Museum.
Marilyn O’Leary and Scott Gerych welcomed us when we arrived and were eager to help us look for clues and to educate us about Grass Lake’s history. Although not available during our visit, they are in the process of developing files of family research available for the public’s use.
The Coe House Museum
The Coe House Museum is much more than a museum, it is a connection to the past, a micro Henry Ford Museum. When we entered the Coe House Museum doors, its charm and authenticity cast an unshakeable spell. I was instantly bewitched. Just barely inside the door, the phone grabbed my attention. I was transfixed to the wood floor while staring at it. I fingered the iPhone that was nestled in my pocket and studied the directory posted above this delightful link to the past.
With our tour guides close at hand, we wandered from room to room asking questions and marveling how life is the same but yet so different.
While admiring the bookcase Marilyn asked, “Have you read ‘Whistle Stop‘ by Maritta Wolff?” Intrigued, I said no and asked for more details. Maritta Wolff grew up on a farm just east of Grass Lake in early 1900’s and when she was only 22 she wrote “Whistle Stop.” It was published in 1941 and was an instant Best Seller. As the story goes, Grass Lake residents were outraged by the novel. First of all, it contained vulgar language. And second, some of the resident’s thought the characters were based on them. This made me laugh. I’m looking forward to adding this to my summer reading list.
During a lively discussion about the trains, Scott said something along the lines of “the trains were bloody death traps.” Chuck and I both said in unison, “Really?” Scott said, “oh yes, there were train wrecks on a fairly frequent basis and the trains would break down and leave travelers stranded out in the middle of nowhere. And because they were electric, animals and people didn’t always hear them coming.” Scott had our attention now. Apparently it was pretty wild and land owners would also shoot at the trains. “Seriously?” I asked. Scott chuckled and said “Oh yes, if you want to read about it, the book ‘From Spirit Lake to Goose Lake‘ by William Haney does a great job telling the story.” As soon as we got home, I requested it from the U-M Library.
The Michigan Military Heritage Museum
Currently located in the Coe House is the Michigan Military Heritage Museum. It is bursting at the seams and is a historic treasure that shouldn’t be missed. Donated to the Coe House Museum by Mrs. Bidwell, are the military artifacts of Private Charles Silas Bewell of Jackson. Also on display is the uniform of Doctor Milton Shaw of Morrice, MI.
American North Russian Expeditionary Force 1918-19 (A.N.R.E.F.)
Many of the men in the A.N.R.E.F. were from Michigan and the battles they fought in North Russia were the only engagements where the U.S. fought communist Russians. This was new information to me. A history lesson I don’t remember learning in school.
The arrowheads on display below were found on Sackrider Hill. The name comes from Christian and Jane Sackrider — New York immigrants who traveled in 1840 across Canada, through Fort Detroit to Grass Lake. The Sackriders farmed 160 acres of government-issued land while raising six sons and one daughter.
Interurban Car 29 Museum
Car 29 is still under restoration, but when it’s finished it will be a beauty and I believe the only restored Interurban car in Michigan.
Also, if you’d like to learn more about the interurban trains, the Detroit Historical Museum has a great train exhibit. All this talk about trains helped me remember my connection to trains. My great grandfather, William Lewick was a supervisor of a railroad telegraph construction and maintenance team. William is the man standing a little apart at the far right as you look at the photo.
I suspect my father is to blame for my propensity to stop and read historical marker signs and explore old cemeteries. This hasn’t always been the case, though, as I can remember when my father would pull off the road so he could read a historical marker and I would plead with him to hurry and then count the minutes until he’d return. I’m now the parent scampering over fences and stomping through tall grass to read historical marker signs and my kids are pleading with me to hurry and get back in the car. I can’t help chuckling when I recall one particular incident in 2010 when Isaac actually got out of the car and retrieved me. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.
Michigan Central Railroad Depot
When I saw the green Michigan Historical Site sign by Grass Lake’s railroad depot we had to stop.
Like most non-profits, the GLAHC needs your help. They are looking for volunteers, if you are interested call Marilyn at 1-517-522-8324 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The GLAHC offers special exhibits and events, monthly speakers and research assistance. They also offer special tours for schools, senior groups and youth organizations by request. Please check their website or call Marilyn for details. Be sure to check their calendar for hours of operation.
We’ve more pictures in our gallery. We don’t mind if you download the pictures and share on your favorite social media sites, but please give Chuck or LifeInMichigan photo credit and don’t remove the watermark.
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