Society Presents 2013 State History Awards in Kalamazoo

The Historical Society of Michigan presented the 2013 State History Awards Friday evening at its Annual Meeting and State History Conference held September 27-28 in Kalamazoo. The State History Awards are the highest recognition given by the state’s official historical society.

Lifetime Achievement
The Society presented its capstone Lifetime Achievement Award, which honors men and women who have dedicated themselves to preserving Michigan’s history over a significant period of time, to Dr. Charles K. Hyde. Hyde’s career spans over four decades and includes teaching at the university level, authoring numerous books, completing more than 100 consulting projects involving bridges, factories, private homes and many other notable structures.

Hyde taught history at Wayne State History from 1974 until his retirement in 2010. During this period and since, he promoted Michigan history through research and writing. Among his achievements are 10 books including Detroit: An Industrial History Guide, Historic Highway Bridges of Michigan, and Riding the Roller Coaster: A History of the Chrysler Corporation. His latest title, The Arsenal of Democracy: The American Automobile Industry in World War II, was released this year.

He has also helped preserve numerous historic structures from destruction, including the Chrysler Corporation’s Dodge Main plant in Hamtramck; Parkside Homes, a public housing project on the east side of Detroit; and the Davison Expressway in Highland Park. With his input, a successful National Historic Landmark nomination was prepared for the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant in Detroit.

From 1987-2005, Hyde was the associate editor of the Great Lakes Books Series at the Wayne State University Press. Since 2007, he has served on the editorial board of Michigan Historical Review.

Distinguished Volunteer Service
In this category, the Society recognized John F. Billingsley, who has donated countless hours of professional expertise to the Sanford Centennial Museum. His projects have ranged from creating a design for a veteran’s memorial to honor the area’s fallen soldiers, sailors, and airmen, to managing the construction of a covered bridge on the museum’s grounds. Billingsley also designed a barn pavilion, built numerous additions to exhibits at the museum, and regularly volunteers at museum functions.

Local Society
Established in 1941, the Historical Society of Saginaw County is the umbrella organization for the Castle Museum of Saginaw County History. The Society and Museum were chosen for this award because of their responsiveness to their community. When it was discovered that a lack of funding was discouraging students from taking field trips, the Historical Society of Saginaw County created a mobile museum that travels to local schools free of charge. Staff members also visit schools to present history-based programs to students. In addition, the Museum hosts a number of groups that have strong ties to the community including the Saginaw Area Modular Modelers, Saginaw County Hall of Fame, Saginaw County Sports Hall of Fame, Saginaw Voyageurs, and the Great Lakes Bay African American Hall of Fame. Local universities send interns and students to the Museum for college credit.

The Institutions award went to the Belding Exploration Lab (BEL), a hands-on children’s museum established by the board of the Belding Museum. Opened in 2012, the Belding Exploration Lab includes such exhibits as a working control panel for a radio station, a “dig” box to find fossils, a giant xylophone pipe-organ played with flip-flops, a display of ear models and various telephones, and many more interactive displays.

The BEL was created in response to insufficient funding for science and history education at local schools. From October 2012 to May 2013, 25 classes visited the museum. Leftover funds from the project have allowed the BEL to be free and will ensure its continued operation.

Educational Programs
The Society recognized two undertakings in this category. The first, called The Elders Project, was developed by Terry Wooten. This program encourages students to create poetry inspired by the oral histories of elders from their community. The process takes place over a two week period, including teaching the students oral history interviewing and free verse poetry. The students then interview the elders and select their favorite part of the interview and write a poem based on their selection. Two books have been published from The Elders Project: Water Under the Bridge and A Book of Hours.

An award was also given to the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project. The project was established by Support the Fort Inc. and Western Michigan University (WMU) in an effort to locate the site of Fort St. Joseph. Many partners have been added along the way, including the City of Niles, the Fort St. Joseph Museum, Michigan Humanities Council, the Society for Colonial Wars, and the French-Canadian Heritage Society of Michigan. The project has hosted the WMU archaeological field school since 2002 as well as a summer camp program for students and educators. DVDS, booklets, a blog, a lecture series, informational panels, and an annual open house have also been produced under its aegis.

Special Programs and Events
The Special Programs and Events award was presented to the “History Detectives: Sleuthing for Local History” program. The event, loosely based on the PBS program “History Detectives,” features local historians who present their research projects and resources. Eight organizations co-sponsor the program: Grand Rapids Public Library, Grand Rapids Historical Commission, Grand Rapids Historical Society, Grand Rapids Civil War Round Table, Grand Rapids Public Museum, Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council, the Kutsche Office of Local History at Grand Valley State University, and the Western Michigan Genealogical Society. “History Detectives” has examined such topics as “Saving John Ball Park’s Historic Legacy,” “Rescued from the Attic: A 1918 Grand Rapids Treasure Trove,” “Building a Case: Grand Rapids as an Important Suffrage Center,” and “Imagining Michigan Experiences in the Civil War.”

The 2013 State History Award in the Restoration/Preservation category was presented to Mackinac State Historic Parks for their work to reconstruct the South Southwest Rowhouse at Colonial Michilimackinac.

Originally built around 1730, the South Southwest Rowhouse housed fur traders, families, and soldiers. Mackinac State Historic Parks archaeologists excavated the site from 1963-2007. The data recovered from the excavation, as well as research information from maps, plans, and other documents were used to ensure the accuracy of recreating the original architectural design. The reconstructed South Southwest Rowhouse contains a permanent display titled “France at Mackinac” and a 50-seat theater that tells the story of the 1763 attack during Pontiac’s Rebellion.

Communications: Newsletters and Websites
In the category of Communications: Newsletters and Websites, the Society recognized the Dearborn Historical Commission for its quarterly journal, The Dearborn Historian. Budget issues have resulted in many changes at the journal, including a staff reduction from 18 paid staffers to one. Despite these challenges, The Dearborn Historian continues to uphold high editorial standards and focus its content on original research, delving into such topics as the Dearborn Country Club, a history of Dearborn’s railroad industry, Greenfield Village schools, the 225th anniversary of the first permanent settlers of Dearborn, and the “Battles of the Overpass.”

David Schock was honored with a State History Award for a documentary titled The Road to Andersonville: Michigan Native American Sharpshooters in the Civil War. This film honors the memory of 139 Native-American men who served the Union in Company K. Seven of the company’s men died at the Civil War prison camp at Andersonville, Georgia and never received a traditional burial ceremony. Woven through the documentary is footage from a 2010 journey to Andersonville made by descendants of these soldiers. The intertwined stories bring an important historical context to a mainstream audience.

Best Article in Michigan History Magazine
The inaugural award in this category went to “Spikehorn Meyer: His Own Tall Tale,” authored by Jennie Russell and featured in September/October 2012 issue of Michigan History magazine. John “Spikehorn” Meyer was considered the “most colorful character in the history of Clare County.” He was a farmer, machinist, lumberjack, and miner but also spent his later years as the operator of a souvenir store and wildlife park outside Harrison. Russell’s article details Meyer’s antics at his private zoo, including allowing the public to feed the bears. Despite constant issues with former employees, the Michigan Department of Conservation, and the local police, Meyer’s zoo and his stories kept the public interested in him until he died in 1959.

Publications: University and Commercial Press
Among the four books recognized in this category was Detroit’s Historic Places of Worship, which was compiled and edited by Marla O. Collum, Barbara E. Krueger, and Dorothy Kostuch and published by Wayne State University Press. This volume includes many of Detroit’s famous worship spaces including Sainte Anne in Mexicantown, the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Boston-Edison, Saint Florian in Hamtramck, and Saint Mary’s in Greektown as well as Woodward Avenue notables such as the original Temple Beth-El, First Presbyterian Church, and Woodward Avenue Presbyterian Church. The authors gleaned their information from church archives, oral histories, and public resources.

The second book to receive this award was Railroads for Michigan, written by Graydon M. Meints and published by Michigan State University Press. Railroads for Michigan tells the critical story of the development of the railroad in this state. An industry that shifted back and forth from a private to public effort, railroads impacted almost every significant period in Michigan’s history, including the Civil War, the Grange Movement, the Gilded Age, the arrival of the automobile, World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II. Meints also includes as assessment of the future of the industry and gives biographies of the men and women who were responsible for the development of Michigan’s lines.

Written by Aaron Goings and Gary Kaunonen and published by Michigan State University Press, Community in Conflict: A Working-Class History of the 1913-14 Michigan Copper Strike and the Italian Hall Tragedy received a State History Award as well. Goings and Kaunonen focused their efforts of the Michigan copper strike that received national attention and was a major struggle between labor and management. The strike was overshadowed, though, by violent incidents such as the Italian Hall Tragedy, in which dozens of workers and working-class children died. Goings and Kaunonen utilize previously unused sources such as labor spy reports, union newspapers, coded messages, and artifacts to shed light on this labor event.

The final book to be honored in this category was Beyond Pontiac’s Shadow: Michilimackinac and the Anglo-Indian War of 1763, written by Keith Widder and published by Michigan State University Press. Widder’s book highlights important events in Michigan history, Native-American history, Canadian history, and fur trade history of the Great Lakes region. It also focuses on a discussion of French-Canadian and Indian communities at the Straits of Mackinac. On June 2, 1763, the Ojibwe captured Michigan’s Fort Michilimackinac from the British: an act that halted the fur trade in the area and greatly impacted its economy. Widder examines the events leading up to the attack, the aftermath, and the restoration of commerce.

Publications: Private Printing
The Historical Society of Michigan presented two awards in this category. The first went to Border Crossings: The Detroit River Region in the War of 1812, edited by Denver Brunsman, Joel Stone, and Douglas Fisher and published by the Detroit Historical Society. Border Crossings is the result of a year-long community history project conducted by the Detroit Historical Society and history graduate students at the Wayne State University. The book’s contents focused on subjects often ignored by 1812 historians, namely the lives and interactions of the American citizens, British subjects, French settlers, Native Americans, and African Americans living in the Detroit River Region before, during, and after the war.

Manierre Dawson: Inventions of the Mind, written by Sharon Bluhm and published by Humps Hollow Historical Press, also received an award in this category. Inventions of the Mind tells the story of Manierre Dawson, America’s first abstract artist and a fruit farmer in Northern Michigan. Blending Dawson’s journal writings into the book, Bluhm gives the reader an insight into his family history, art history, and area history. An often-overlooked artist, Dawson was one of the first to paint circles, arches, numbers, and straight lines. Bluhm designed the book like a “personal journal” by including antiqued pages, a ribbon marker, framed photos, and a cover with the look of old leather.

To view photos from the event, visit our Facebook page.


Historical Society of Michigan 7435 Westshire Dr., Lansing MI 48917
Email | Phone (517) 324-1828 | Fax (517) 324-4370

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