Dowagiac museum to unveil new exhibit next week

Published 9:51 am Wednesday, October 14, 2015

(Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

Dowagiac Area History Museum Director Steve Arseneau poses next to a vintage Round Oak Stove Company sign featured in the museum’s new second floor history exhibit. The display, focused solely on the history of the City of Dowagiac, will open Monday. (Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

A little more than two years after opening, the Dowagiac Area History Museum is ready to share its next set of stories about The Grand Old City.

The local museum will host a public unveiling of its new Dowagiac history exhibit on the recently renovated second floor at 6 p.m. Monday. Following some brief remarks at 6:15 p.m., visitors will be able to tour the newly constructed display and enjoy some light hors d’oeuvres.

The opening ceremony wraps up the work that has been ongoing since the beginning of the year to renovate the second floor of the museum, which relocated from the campus of Southwestern Michigan College to the former Behnke Paint Store in 2013. The museum had spent the year prior raising $50,000 through donations from the local community for the project, which was matched by additional $50,000 from the city.

Since renovation work on the second floor wrapped up in early summer, Museum Director Steve Arseneau, along with longtime museum volunteer Chuck Timmons, have poured hundreds of hours into building display cases, setting up lighting, and finding and placing items for the new permanent exhibit, Arseneau said.

The opening of the new space fulfills two goals that Arseneau has had on his agenda since the opening of the Railroad Street building: to complete renovations to the entire museum and to tell a fuller history of the men, women and institutions that have called Dowagiac home for nearly 200 years.

“Dowagiac has a really interesting story,” Arseneau said. “We just needed a little bit more room than we had to share it. That’s what propelled this project forward.”

Covering the history of the city of Dowagiac from its inception in 1848 up to the rehabilitation of the city’s downtown in the 1990s, the new permanent exhibit space contains hundreds of photos and artifacts from the museum’s vast historic archives that showcase different eras of the community.

The exhibit is separated into different areas, each one based off a particular theme. In one corner of the space is a display that covers the history of some Dowagiac’s prominent 20th Century businesses, such as Judd Lumber, Wolverine Mutual Insurance and Oppenheim’s; another contains jerseys and photos of the Dowagiac Chieftains from various points in history.

“The greatest selling point is the many one-of-a-kind things on display — pieces of Dowagiac lore and history that you won’t find anywhere else,” Arseneau said

Some of these relics include the ledger of the first banker who set up business in Dowagiac in 1860, an old alarm box used by early Dowagiac firefighters and a rare AMIGO tractor manufactured in 1960.

The second floor also contains space for temporary exhibits, the first of which will be “Michigan Eats,” a traveling exhibition examining different food traditions throughout the state presented by Michigan State University. It will be on display starting in February.

With many of the items contained in the new Dowagiac history exhibit on display for the first time, Arseneau is happy to have the chance to share some new stories about the city with new and returning visitors, he said.

“It’s going to bring back a lot of memories for visitors,” he said. “This is what we’ve been preserving these items for. I’m glad we’re able to be a part of this.”