Sunday, May 8, 2016

Open-Air Museums in Michigan - Part 1: Mill Race Village

Mill Race Village:
"Sister, do you think we'll have many 
visitors to-day?"
"Why, I certainly hope we do, 
for visitors will make a blue day
quite grand!"
Continuously we hear of local historic structures slated to be torn down. And it's almost always for the same reasons: it's old, dilapidated, no use to anyone, we need a new parking lot, "progress."
In fact, I wrote a posting on this very same subject a few years back (Preserving History).
But there is a positive side as well: even though this crap continues to happen, I also realize that here in the metro-Detroit area of Michigan we are very blessed at the amount of historical preservation that has actually occurred.
And you can thank the Bicentennial in 1976 for much of it.
It seems that the 200th anniversary of the United States declaring Independence from England certainly speared quite a national pride in America's history, and not just on the east coast. Beginning in the late 1960s and continuing on throughout the following couple of decades, historic preservation seemed to become a national past time. Nearly every village, town, and city began to preserve their historic structures which then became a source of pride for the citizens. And one village in particular, Romeo, is almost 100% historically preserved, just as it was when built over a hundred years ago. And it remains as it has always been.
To add to this awareness of the past, the idea of creating open-air museums - a park-like area in which the local (and usually more prominent) historic structures were removed to - was a growing idea for many historical societies. I cannot speak for other states, but I can say that here in Michigan we have numerous smaller, more localized open-air museums. And they are fine places to visit to enjoy history in a more intimate setting.
So, what I thought I would do is spotlight a little of Michigan's history by posting the first in a series on our local open-air museums. Maybe it will hopefully entice metro-Detroiters - and even some folks from out of state - to experience the wonderful history we have here.
Now, I am not going to begin with the most well-known open-air museum we have in our state, Greenfield Village, for obvious reasons. I, instead, will highlight a few of the smaller historical museum villages that tend to be over looked by too many.

First up, let's check out Mill Race Village, located in the Detroit suburb of Northville. Mill Race was initially created back in 1972 by the Northville Historical Society and was built upon land donated to the City of Northville by the Ford Motor Company. Originally the site of the city's first gristmill (hence the name Mill Race), it is now home to 11 historic structures, all from the general surrounding area of Northville. Unfortunately, the original gristmill, built in 1827 - and its successor, built in 1847 - were razed nearly a hundred years ago. However, the 11 buildings now situated here have been beautifully preserved for future generations. Seven of the 11 are presented here:
Mill Race Village: New School Church
Built in 1845 as a Presbyterian Church, over the years was also used as a school, a township hall, and a Salvation Army barracks.
The Northville Historical Society was formed in 1964 to save this building from demolition. It was moved to Mill Race Village in 1972.

Mill Race Village: The 1890s Cottage House
This home was moved to Mill Race in 1976. I have no other information about it, only that it is "typical of the era."
Mill Race Village: The 1890s Cottage House

Mill Race Village: The 1873 Yerkes House
Built by William Yerkes, son of one of the earliest settlers in the Northville area. William's mother's name was Sarah Cady - and we shall see the Cady name spring up again shortly.

William Yerkes was an attorney, a probate judge, as the first village president of Northville. 

This nine room Gothic-style home was moved to Mill Race in 1975.

Mill Race Village: Hunter House
This is a classic Greek Revival home with half-gabled wings and was built in 1851 by Stephen and Mary Hunter.
The house was relocated to Mill Race Village in 1972.

The Hunter House is used as a museum, filled with furniture and other items typical of the mid-19th century.

The dining area of Hunter House

Mill Race Village: Wash Oak School
Moved to the Village in 1975, the Wash Oak School House was built in 1873 and continued in operation until 1966.

Mill Race Village: Cady Inn
Remember we spoke about Sarah Cady, mother of William Yerkes? Well, here's the connection! I read that she was the daughter of one of Northville's founders, who presumably built this inn around 1835. It was moved to Mill Race in 1987.

Dining area
Another area for dining.

Mill Race Village: J.M. Mead General Store
This was the last timber-framed constructed commercial building in downtown Northville and was built sometime between 1830 and 1850. It was rescued from demolition by the Northville Historical Society volunteers and reconstructed inside Mill Race Village.

Mill Race Village:
The beauty of Mill Race shines in the autumn.
Note the gazebo, built inside the Village in 1979.

Mill Race Village:
To see history, dirt roads can make all the difference in the world.

Mill Race Village:
A few of us visited Mill Race during Christmas time.
The scene could nearly be like a picture print by Currier & Ives, couldn't it? 

Mill Race Village:
The Cady Inn is a welcome of warmth for winter travellers.

Mill Race Village:
We participated in a small Civil War reenactment at Mill Race a number of years ago. What an excellent place for photographs.
Beautiful village, isn't it?
By the way, if you ever visit the metro-Detroit area - maybe with plans to go to Greenfield Village - please take some time to check out Mill Race Village as well. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.
(Click HERE for information on Mill Race Village)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The above is what can happen when a community cares about their past.
But please don't get me wrong - things aren't all peachy and rosy in the preservation world. Historic structures (and historic places such as battlefields) are being destroyed at an alarming rate, and it's we who must do what we can to prevent this from happening. Continued involvement, donations, and support to local historical societies is one of the best ways to do this.
Remember also that we as reenactors can do our part in offering to bring the past to life at these wonderful mini-bits of history.

Every little bit helps.

~Information about Mill Race Village came directly - even word-for-word in most cases - from the guide book information sold at their gift store.

(All photos in this post were taken at Mill Race Village)


No comments: