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 pieces in its archives and hands-on activities for children.
“We were initially in a train depot downtown and then we moved to our current location which is the historic Akeley Building,” Erica Layton, executive director, said.
The two-story building, at 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 first people, looking at indigenous people — Native American inhabitants for the area — kind of taking that through some of the early fur traders and explorers, early pioneers…” Layton said.
The museum brings guests to the modern era with items donated by community members.
“We have our period rooms, so you can go into a log cabin… we’ve got our general store, the Ekkens Store, our Bastian (and) Blessings soda fountain up front on the second floor, which is really cool,” she said.
Since the museum is located in Coast Guard City, USA, there is an exhibit on the Coast Guard as well as the Coast Guard Festival.
When visiting the museum, younger guests can check out a family explorer bag that makes the museum a little more kid-friendly through hands-on items, crafts and more. There is also a hands-on room on the second floor for children who need to step away and play.
Layton said that during the school year, all elementary schools in the tri-cities have some sort of interaction with the museum either virtually or in person.
Students who visit the museum tend to love the horse that is on display, Layton said.
“It has a real horse tail and the kids constantly pull on it and eventually they pull the hair out. Every few months, we have to replace the horsetail,” she laughed. “We actually have a horse tail vendor who we get our horsetail from because the kids won’t leave it alone.”
In addition to permanent exhibits, the museum cycles out different exhibits depending on the season.
“The exhibit on display now is ‘This Just In,’ it’s celebrating three years of items that people have donated to the museum. It’s really a behind-the-scenes kind of look at what that process looks like,” Layton said.
Guests will get a glimpse at how an item goes from being in your house to behind glass at a museum. Some of the items on display include the first COVID-19 vaccine vial that was given in Ottawa County, photographs of a man who was born and raised in the area and died while fighting in Vietnam and a Purple Heart medal.
Heading into Halloween, the museum is displaying 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 at 100 172nd Ave. south of Comstock Street.
“That is where we house more than 70,000 three-dimensional objects that we don’t have the space to put on display at the museum downtown,” she said.
The items stored at CARC have been donated by community members over the years.
“The community has been so generous with giving us treasures from local history, from old businesses, family heirlooms, and we’re able to keep those three-dimensional objects, photographs archives offsite at the Archives and Research Center,” Layton said.
In addition to appointments to view the items stored in the CARC, the museum offers an online database. To search the different items, 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’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.