OTSEGO, Mich. (WOOD) — From telling stories and reuniting families with old photos, the Otsego Area Historical Museum is working to keep history alive.
Built in the early 1900s, the Otsego Area Historical Society is housed in the previous waterworks building. When the building fell into disrepair, a group of people decided that the town should have a museum. After some repairs, the Otsego Area Historical Society opened in 2004.
When visitors enter the museum, they are greeted with a dedication to the paper industry.
“Otsego was a big paper-making industry,” Lyneta Nowak, chair of the Otsego Area Historical Society, said. “At one point in time, there were seven paper-making companies in this small town.”
In the bulkhead, the museum showcases the military history of the area through service members’ uniforms and ribbons.
“We had a Civil War veteran from Otsego that died in Bentonville (Arkansas) and his body was brought back to Michigan. We’ve got his sword and the marker that was used to mark his grave in Bentonville at the time,” Nowak said.
In the larger room, the museum showcases a number of everyday artifacts in displays like a mock kitchen, a parlor, a children’s play area and more.
In the fall, the museum hosts school groups from around the area for a student art exhibit.
“We have a creative arts festival here in town at the end of September and the teachers … display the student art in the museum for a couple of weeks, so we get a big group of kids coming in,” Nowack said, adding that on one day over a thousand people came through the museum’s doors to view the artwork.
To help instill a sense of pride in the area’s history and preserve it for generations to come, the museum has established a junior board that meets once a month.
“They wanted to do a cemetery reenactment (to research and portray a person buried at the cemetery) but they don’t have enough kids to do that and are hoping to generate a little more interest,” Nowak said.
Outside of the museum, members of the junior board have created a little library that holds books, sanitary supplies, food and more for anyone who is in need of something.
In addition to the museum, has a research area and photographic negatives from a photography studio that opened in the 1930s. The negatives are for sale.
“The last person who owned it was going to give up the studio and we as the museum ended up with all of those negatives. They are the negatives of pictures that were taken, family pictures and whatever, going back to 1937,” Nowak said.
She explained that the museum felt those pictures belonged to families.
“We got a lot of (negatives) and we’ve been doing this for probably 10, 15 years so we have greatly reduced the price of those negatives with the hopes that people would be able to get their family negatives if they want them,” she said.
For more information on purchasing negatives, click here.
The museum is open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and one night a week during the summer. Nowack said this varies depending on the week. Appointments during closed hours are also available. For more information, visit the museum’s website.
Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series exploring small community museums around West Michigan. More articles will be published on woodtv.com in the coming weeks.