Saturday, September 1, 2012

Annoucing The Historic Sites Inventory of Southwest Michigan

Not all of the people that walk through the doors of the Local History department are looking for information regarding a family or an individual.  Oftentimes, their interest lies in the history of their home, a business, or of buildings of the past.  Although there is abundant information available that with diligent research may eventually provide some of the answers, there has been no regional file system or archives that supports a search by an address, until now...

The Van Buren District Library is pleased to announce the establishment of its Historic Sites Inventory (HSI).  Simply put, the HSI will be an address-by-address, building-by-building survey of structures and the land parcels on which they stand, past and present. 

How will this be done?  First, it should be stated that there is currently no set of comprehensive listings of addresses as they have existed to use as a base.  We will be drawing from present-day addresses that appear in things like telephone books & city directories, and seek out listings maintained by local officials.  However, over Michigan's approximate 180-year existence, addresses have been evolving as new plats have been drawn and local & county re-numbering has taken place.  In fact, if you were to look at an addressed letter 100 years ago, you would see that numbered streets were not common, particularly in non-urban areas.   The envelope might say simply a street name, or more generic yet, just a town. 

The long-term goals of the HSI will be two-fold:  1.  Identify accurate locations with a variety of descriptions, and  2. Collect as much data as possible about each.  As with other projects such as the Bess Britton Michigan One-Room Schoolhouse Collection and the Southwest Michigan Military Registry (sponsored by VBRGS), the project will be built from a wide variety of resources.  Some of these are photographs, title abstracts, postcards, newspaper articles, correspondence, plat maps & atlases, and pre-1880 land records.

Of course, the lion's share of information will come from individuals who have personal knowledge or history in their possession of the area's homes, businesses and buildings.  You can participate in the HSI if any of the following apply for any one of the six Michigan counties of Allegan, Berrien, Cass, Kalamazoo, St. Joseph or Van Buren:
  1. Current residence
  2. Past residence
  3. Current or past residence of parents, ancestors or other family members
  4. You or family member have conducted a business
  5. Personal knowledge of the history of a home, business or building from other sources

When the HSI project was announced at the last meeting of VBRGS, I also passed around inventory cards to everyone in the room so that they had an opportunity to at least give us present-day data about where they reside.  Sharing even just an address is very useful.  This helps us create that base of information so it can be organized and more things added as it becomes available. 

The short-term goals of the HSI include:
  1. Create a card file of addresses with brief information & timelines 
  2. Create files, organized by address, for supporting documents & photographs
  3. Post an address listing online (no names posted)
  4. Take photographs of present-day structures
  5. Draw together information already in the Local History Collection
The Village of Decatur has been used as the litmus to formulate the process for the collection & organization of the HSI.  Marcellus, Breedsville and Keeler have been "adopted" by other individuals who will supervise the collection of data for those communities.  There are plenty of locations left, so anyone interested in adopting are encouraged to contact us for more information. 

To submit addresses for the project, provide by e-mail the numbered address and the names of the current occupants.  Other information such as dates, prior occupants/owners, use of property, construction history, etc. are all welcome as well as photographs & any documents relating to the site's history.

We are excited about the HSI and its potential for preserving the history of the buildings & land of Southwest Michigan.  Likewise, we will be pleased to be able to offer visitors to the Local History Collection another avenue of possibilities for their research. 

Nameless Picture of the Day
 Unidentified Couple
Photographer - McCollum, Dowagiac

Can you identify the young woman in this cabinet card?  Do you have knowledge of the photographer?  Please contact us if you have any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the photo's catalog number with your e-mail.