Museum ready by DogwoodPublished 7:24pm Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Dowagiac Area History Museum expects to open in time for the May Dogwood Fine Arts Festival, but the wigwam on the lower level which will start a two-floor, chronological community history will come later.
Birch bark cannot be harvested until June.
Behnke’s Paint and Floor Covering, 202 W. Railroad St., has been transformed, its entrance swung to the south side of the building, off the parking lot.
Most noticeably, the new brick facade replicates a downtown building.
Black glass will further stoke the similarity to a Grand Old City storefront.
Inside, framing has been completed, but the rest of the vision resides in Director Steve Arseneau’s head.
Standing at the entrance, he points out placement of artifacts when the move from The Museum at Southwestern Michigan College begins in earnest in February.
“Each floor is about 3,000 square feet,” he said. “The old museum we have about 4,500 square feet of exhibit space. The collection will still be stored at the college, so we don’t have to build on a storage facility right now.”
Arseneau said the lower level and the ground floor will open initially, with the upstairs constituting a separate second phase.
The museum will be equipped with an elevator.
The entryway opens onto “Industrial Dowagiac,” with Round Oak stoves, grain drill manufacturing, James Heddon’s Sons and the Lindsley automobile.
“I’m even able to get our Beckwith Theatre on this floor,” he said.
Downstairs, Arseneau, of Niles, is working with Michael Zimmerman, Pokagon Band tribal historic preservation officer, on the 10-by-7-foot wigwam, which visitors will be able to go inside while examining Potawatomi artifacts.
Other areas will display early settlements, townships and the Underground Railroad hidden room.
“One addition I want to make in that back area is a meeting room for our lecture series,” Arseneau said.
There will be a small research library.
“Small Town, Big World,” about former residents who made a mark in the wider world, such as Iven Carl Kincheloe, Leigh Wade and Webb Miller, will be joined by Olympic wrestler Chris Taylor, for whom Dowagiac’s football field is named.
“It is my professional pinnacle so far,” he said. “It’s been a good learning experience. The beauty of this building, once it was gutted, is that it’s a nice rectangular building with a blank canvas to work on. It was part of Lindsley Lumber, built after World War II. My concern was vibrations from trains, but it’s very minimal. I can’t say enough about how the city is supporting this project,” Arsenau said, pointing to the council to Mayor Donald Lyons and City Manager Kevin Anderson.