The Benzie Area Historical Society

Our story is the Ongoing story of the Benzie Community

Benzie Area Historical Society

Over 50 Years of Serving the Benzie Community

In true community spirit, the seeds of the Benzie Area Historical Society were planted in conversations led by civic volunteers with the local Kiwanis Club.  The informal organization was created in November, 1968, and five people were named to an organizational committee for the Benzie Area Historical Society (BAHS). 

On January 20, 1969, BAHS was incorporated, with 212 charter members recruited, and in May, the first meeting was held.

The Benzonia Congregational Church had recently vacated their church home, built 1884-1886, for a new building.  The last church service in the old building was held in 1968. 

The church board of trustees, being cognizant of a clause in the deed reverting the ownership of the property to the Bailey heirs, negotiated with the sole surviving heir of Charles Bailey, Dorothy Hensel.  From the beginning of the move to organize a historical society, Hensel had been one of its most ardent supporters and served on the organizational committee.  She transferred the property to the church through a quit-claim deed.  In 1969, the Congregational Church negotiated a three-year lease with BAHS for the use of the building, and the Benzie Area Historical Museum (BAHM) opened to the public on Memorial Day, 1969.  In 1971, the church trustees presented the deed to the BAHS.

Learning about local history helps people realize the grand scheme of historical change is made up of countless individuals like them who in their own ways contributed to the ongoing story of our community. The first issue of the BAHS newsletter, The Benzie Quarterly (now the Benzie Heritage) was published in 1981.  “The Benzie County Story” contains fascinating people and information, and the newsletter’s goal is to share these stories in an interesting, entertaining, and engaging manner.  

The Museum building received the State of Michigan Historic Site designation in April 1981.  BAHS also led the efforts to install historic markers or recognize important sites including three on the shores of Crystal Lake indicating the pre-1873 water level and one in Elberta commemorating Lake Michigan carferry service.  Most recently, we supported the successful application for an historical marker at the Diamond Crossing in Thompsonville, the tenth in our county.  The marker was dedicated on October 16, 2020.

In 1988, the Drake School in Platte Township was donated to BAHS, and the school building was restored to an early 1900 period rural school. A dedication ceremony was in May, 1989. “A One-Room Schoolhouse Experience” is offered to local schools for field trips, and children experience what it was like to be a student of the time and learn about the people who lived here in the early 20th century. Drake School draws many visitors in July and August.

In 1990, a time capsule was buried in Beulah’s village park to recognize and celebrate its Centennial; the capsule will be opened in 2090.

In 2019, the Benzie Area Historical Society celebrated 50 years of collecting, preserving, interpreting, and sharing our history and our community’s strong support for our mission continues today as evidenced by our robust volunteer program.   That year our volunteers logged more than 8300 hours in their roles as docents, researchers, archivists and community educators.  

We Celebrated our 50th Anniversary in 2019

Opened in 1969

With aid from the Benzonia Congregational Church

Benzie County Was Formed in 1869

Making a Mark on History

Our history is our people and Community

Disaster!

Lightning struck the steeple of the Museum resulting in major fire damage to the building and artifacts in 1985. The entire roof and steeple were destroyed. Damage to the BAHS collections was not as bad as feared. Most artifacts had recently been covered with plastic sheeting in preparation for a renovation so water damage to the artifacts was limited. Volunteers formed a bucket brigade of debris to uncover and save some of the artifacts. 

Several service clubs, including the Benzonia Township Firefighters and Crystal Lake Kiwanis, donated substantial funds for rebuilding. Thanks to a fundraising campaign and several generous individuals, the Museum was reopened in two years.

We provide historic resources for the Benzie community

The Drake School

In 1988, the Drake School in Platte Township was donated to the Benzie Area Historical Society
Before-DrakeSchool Drake2

In 1988, the Drake School in Platte Township was donated to BAHS, and the school building was restored to an early 1900 period  rural school. A dedication ceremony was in May, 1989. “A One-Room Schoolhouse Experience” is offered to local schools for field trips, and children experience what it was like to be a student of the time and learn about the people who lived here in the early 20th century. Drake School draws many visitors in July and August.

Benzie County Archive Room

A True Community Resource

The newly constructed Mitchell wing of the Museum, dedicated in 2001, features an archive room, office/workspace, handicapped accessibility, updated restrooms, and a new main entrance. 

The Benzie County Archive Room includes photographs, letters, manuscripts, documents and other ephemera organized and available to researchers, schools, writers, and the general public. Our archivists have catalogued over 29,000 objects in PastPerfect, and our research, genealogy, and archive team uses this space to provide research opportunities for the public and primary source research training to local students.

Diverse Artifacts Collection
Rooted in Education

BAHS has been the recipient of over 29,000 artifacts including textiles such as quilts and wedding dresses, photographs, musical scores, tools, and furnishings. Not all artifacts can be routinely shared with Museum guests due to space constraints; more than 2,500 artifacts are stored in a climate-controlled Collections Warehouse, built in 2000.

Community Resources and Meeting Space

The addition of a meeting room enabled the Society to expand its community education programming. Our community’s character is rooted in education; Benzonia began as an educational Christian colony and the Grand Traverse College was founded by Oberlin College in 1863 “to afford all people, regardless of age or sex, the opportunity to receive a liberal education.” 

Seeking to carry on that tradition, BAHS strives to support life-long learning. The Benzonia Academy Lecture Series, a monthly program, has presented over 134 lectures.

A weekly column in our local newspaper “100 Years Ago” features historical articles from yesteryear. BAHS has published three books recently; namely, The Royal Frontenac Hotel, Aux Becs Scies: Frankfort Harbor 1860-1920, and Landmarks of Betsie Bay. BAHS researchers are a community resource providing articles, presentations, research, photographs, and other support to local schools, civic organizations, researchers, the media, and community members.

Throughout our history, BAHS has offered walking and bus tours, programs, and events throughout our county and collaborates with other historical societies, libraries, and civic organizations. During the past two years, those offerings included historical cycling tours, bus tours that included visits to two other local historical museums, a special exhibit at a local art center, and a presentation on Michigan’s impact on boat building which featured antique wooden boats. Other collaborations include Remembering Benzie: An Oral History Project with the Benzonia Public Library and Benzie Central Schools.

Historic Museum Exhibits
Rooted in Education

Exhibits of our life and heritage here in Benzie County are lively, authentic, engaging, and creatively tell our Benzie County story. Our unique history is well represented with exhibits featuring Pulitzer-Prize winning author and Benzonia-bred Bruce Catton, the Ann Arbor Railroad and Carferries, resorts and summer camps, logging and sawmills, agriculture, education, textiles, and the Grand Army of the Republic. The Museum also includes the many tools and materials used in daily life throughout the years including stoves, ice boxes and refrigerators, and other appliances.

An Exhibits Committee prepares at least two temporary exhibits each year; past exhibits include World War One, Cycles of Yesteryear, and Summer Fun in the Benzie Sun. Local high school students’ artwork featuring historical Benzie County sites and events is a featured annual exhibit.

The research, thought, and energy put into our exhibits speaks of volunteers’ love of and devotion to our community and its past. Many of our docents have deep Benzie roots and connections so their experiences add depth, and our remaining volunteers are dedicated, self-professed “history geeks” with a deep passion for Benzie County.

A concert with the Benzie Community Band on the Museum lawn followed by an open house with Museum tours is an annual community event.

Junior Historians

In 2001, our educators created Junior Historians, a free program following Michigan’s Social Studies Academic Curriculum Standards for elementary school students. Each 45-minute program includes a tote of hands-on artifacts for the students to hold, study and learn from. Volunteer educators travel to local elementary schools, and BAHM and Drake School host school tours. Last year, over 640 students participated in our programs or toured one of our campuses.

BAHS routinely works with teachers from Frankfort-Elberta, Benzie Central Schools, Interlochen Arts Academy and private schools. An annual Bruce Catton essay contest for Frankfort-Elberta middle school students is hosted at BAHM each year.

Advancing with the Times

This year we made significant investments in upgrading our technology with purchases including a new server, computers, printers, wi-fi, donor database, and communications software. This investment is symbolic of our strong donor and member support and dedication to expanding our programming online.

We Exhibit Amazing Historic Artifacts