BYRON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Started in the old Byron Center town hall, the Byron Center Historical Museum has captivated visitors with tales of the area’s history for more than 47 years.
“Most of the donations come from the community and we only take what pertains to Byron Center and surrounding areas,” Theresa Kiel, president of the Byron Center Historical Society and Museum, said.
When guests enter the museum at 2508 Prescott St. at Harlow Avenue SW, they’re welcomed by rotating exhibits and information on the building, which originally belonged to the Odd Fellows Society.
“It was kind of like a secret society where only men were allowed,” Kiel said. “There was a door, which we still have, that has the little opening in it with a little wooden slide thing where they would open it up, and you would have to show your face (before) you were allowed in.”
The downstairs level showcases a general store with local merchandise, a doctor’s office, a Native American exhibit, an local automotive exhibit and agriculture exhibit.
Upstairs, guests get a peek at the military history that is in the area and, eventually, will get to see a failed attempt to attack the U.S. by the Japanese during World War II.
“We have a Fu-Go balloon that the Japanese sent over to the United States in 1945,” Kiel said.
According to National Geographic, the Fu-Go balloons were “silent assassins of World War II” that rode on a jet stream across the Pacific Ocean to North America and were equipped with explosive devices.
“What they were trying to do was start forest fires in the United States with these balloons,” Kiel said.
The plan was unsuccessful because the balloons were sent over in the winter and they malfunctioned.
“The one that we have actually landed in my grandpa’s property in Byron Center in 1945. There was three boys from the area… that confiscated the balloon and took it down to one of the boy’s parents house and put it in the basement,” Kiel said. “They called the local police and the FBI came out and confiscated the balloon and told them to be quiet about it because they didn’t want the Japanese to know that the balloons came that far.”
The museum plans to display the 45-by-45-foot balloon in a soon-to-be-built secondary building.
Before the pandemic, teachers would bring their students to the museum, where they could have class in a one-room schoolhouse, including saying the Pledge of Allegiance outside and ringing the school bell.
“They ran it just like it was years ago in a classroom,” Kiel said.
For those wanting to see the faces and names of the people who lived in the area, the museum has birth records (1908 to 1952), death records (1900 to 1956), cemetery records from within Byron Township, tax records and plat maps.
“…We (also) have all the yearbooks from Byron Center and South Christian schools up until 1975,” Kiel said.
The museum is open from mid-April through mid-December on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon. Kiel said appointments can be made for additional times. For more information on the Byron Center Historical Museum, 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.
Correction: A previous version of this article said the museum started in the library. This has been corrected to say the old town hall. We regret this error which has been fixed.