Auction raises $16,600 for Dowagiac Area History Museum

Published 10:00 am Wednesday, August 2, 2023

DOWAGIAC — An auction of rare and collectible items Saturday raised thousands of dollars for the Dowagiac Area History museum’s expansion project.

Approximately 1,500 artifacts collected by Southwestern Michigan College when it operated an on-campus museum were auctioned off Saturday, July 29 at the Fred L. Mathews Library on SMC’s Dowagiac campus.

The auction, which featured artifacts including hundreds of circus posters, a hand-carved walking stick from James Polk’s 1844 presidential campaign, carpenter tools, Civil War documents from a soldier in the Indiana 75th Infantry, 1800s furniture and souvenirs of the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, netted $16,600 for the museum’s Collections Storage Addition project. 

The big seller was a Round Oak Base Burner stove that sold for $2,200 and one of the circus posters sold for $1,000.

Dowagiac Area History Museum Director Steve Arseneau said the addition will be a two-story height pole-style structure with a mezzanine on the north end to provide additional storage space while allowing open areas in the front for public viewing from the glass doors in the exhibit gallery. Storage cabinetry, shelving and flat files will be moved from the storage room on the SMC campus. 

“This is an important event for us,” Arseneau said. “We’re excited about the addition and what it will mean for local history.”

In 2012, SMC decided to close its local history museum on campus. At the time of its closure, SMC had more than 20,000 artifacts donated by community members. The City of Dowagiac then took over the operation of a new museum within the city limits. The original agreement called for SMC to retain ownership of the collection while giving the Dowagiac Area History Museum full access to use the collection in its exhibits and that the college would continue to house the artifacts not on display in a storage room on the SMC campus. 

After reviewing space options, the city and Arseneau determined the best alternative would be to add storage space on to the north end of the DAHM.

As Museum Director Steve Arseneau began planning the move, he found that the collection had many items that did not meet the museum’s local history mission. These take up space and resources, such as boxes and shelving, which could be better used for objects that meet the mission.

“Museums have to go through this process every once in a while because they do accumulate more stuff than we need,” Arseneau said. “Museums do have to go through what is called a deaccession process. It’s a good thing to evaluate our collections and make sure that we’re collecting for our mission and taking in the right things so that we’re not having to turn away good stuff at a later date because we don’t have space for things.”

Working in partnership with the City of Dowagiac and the Dowagiac Area History Museum, SMC transferred ownership of its 20,000-object collection of history artifacts to the Michigan Gateway Community Foundation in May until the DAHM addition is complete.