Fun historical fact for the day: did you know that before the electric vacuum was invented around the turn of the century, people used manual ones? Yep, you applied sheer elbow grease to create vacuum suction, by pumping a bellows up and down. And here you thought pulling out the Miele once a week was hard work!
The Lake County Historical Society (LCHS) of Baldwin, Michigan – a rural town about three and a half hours northwest of Detroit – has amassed thousands of photos and artifacts like this vacuum, which is on view right now as part of a temporary exhibit titled A Woman’s Work is Never Done, in the lobby of a bank in the Baldwin business center. “It’s showing the wife or mother doing all the things we’d do today, only how she did it in 1915, without running water or electricity,” says Jill Engelman, who curates LCHS’s museum.
If the early 1900’s are your bag, LCHS has got it all. Display cases from turn of the century ice-cream parlors, collectibles from old businesses and hotels, lumber and logging tools, even a 1940’s Runabout – an old mahogany speedboat. And then there are the photos. Literally thousands of photos of families, of the logging and lumbering industry’s activity in the area, of early railroads, of hunting and fishing in the area, of snowshoeing, boating, ice-fishing, skiing, county fairs, theater. Engelman, who before moving to Baldwin worked in a Chicago-area museum, has never seen anything like it.
“There’s such a wide variety,” she says. “The range is enormous. We try to give an overview of the county. We’ve gotten visitors from all over the United States. People from back east, from California, from Texas, and they all comment that they are so impressed with our museum.”
To build a home
The best news of all is that the 30-year-old society – which has until now been sort of a roving organization, setting up camp in the backs of banks or garages – recently came into proud possession of its very own permanent home. Two, in fact! They’re 1938 US Forest Service Ranger residences, originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and miraculously preserved through the years. Rural Michigan doesn’t have much of a tradition in buildings preservation – more often you’ll see buildings torn down and replaced – so the LCHS feels incredibly lucky to be moving its collection to a space that’s got a history as rich as the artifacts it’ll house.
“It’s nothing like the East Coast. 1938 is old for Lake County, because nobody preserved anything here. People like to tear things down, so there’s not a whole lot of historical buildings left,” says Engelman, who has a background in historic preservation. One of the buildings will become a permanent museum, the other a community center.
Nothing like knowing where to really hang your hat, is there?
Raise the Roof
Only one problem with choosing the old over the new: Leaks! LCHS is in the middle of a three-stage process of relocating and renovating the two structures, and Engelman and her team are raising money right now, via ioby, specifically for roof repairs that will set the museum up for a nice, long, and dry legacy. To see photos of the museum, to donate, or just to learn more, visit their campaign page – click here.
We at ioby are super proud to be supporting the LCHS in their big move – not just because the project highlights what we see as the diversity and range of our own mission, but also because we believe that there’s something beautifully precious about the kind of history they’re working so hard to preserve. The kind of history that’s small, quiet, hyper-local. These are not appliances that presidents or first ladies used a century ago. These are not photos of anyone famous. These are the trappings of the lives of people just like us, if we’d happened to have been born 100 years ago. And what could be more worth saving?
Feeling inspired? Want to take action in YOUR neighborhood? If you have awesome ideas about how to make your town greener, safer, and more fun, let us help! Tell us your awesome idea right here. We’d love to help you get started today.
Pssst…. In OTHER ioby news: Speaking of Michigan, we’re thrilled to be starting work in Detroit! Click here to join us as we set out on our newest adventure, to learn more about what we have to offer this great American city, and who our early Detroit partners will be.