VanBuren County Historical Museum

VanBuren County Historical Museum Run entirely by volunteers; donations always welcome. Admission prices: $5 for adults, $2 for ages 5-12, & free for children under 5. Come see us soon!
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The museum is operated by the Van Buren County Historical Society, whose mission is "to encourage historical study and research, to collect and preserve historical material connected with the County of Van Buren and its vicinity, and to house such material where it may be suitably displayed and accessible to the general public." As the mission statement indicates, the museum includes an archives room for individuals looking to conduct specific research. Yet with four floors filled with exhibits and artifacts, there is plenty to fascinate even the most casual visitor. Come see us and experience all we have to offer! The museum is open to the public June through September, at hours posted on our main page, or by appointment. It welcomes school groups in May, however. Stay turned to this page for regular updates and fun facts, even during our off-season.

#DidYouKnow that you can find one of our display tables with rotating exhibits inside the Van Buren County Courthouse? W...
01/03/2020

#DidYouKnow that you can find one of our display tables with rotating exhibits inside the Van Buren County Courthouse? We try to change it out to present new topics every few months. We’ve labeled the current display as “Crime and Crime Stoppers.” Take some time to check it out for yourself in person.

#HappyNewYear from all of us to all of you!This postcard was sent in late December 1910 to Mrs. Erin E. Johnson in Lawre...
01/01/2020

#HappyNewYear from all of us to all of you!

This postcard was sent in late December 1910 to Mrs. Erin E. Johnson in Lawrence from her cousin in Northampton, Massachusetts.

The individual dishes we showed you yesterday are displayed in the kitchen and ice cream parlor rooms in the basement le...
12/31/2019

The individual dishes we showed you yesterday are displayed in the kitchen and ice cream parlor rooms in the basement level of the museum. However, if you wander the west wing on the first floor you will also find more complete sets to admire. The cranberry-colored glassware collection was owned by Janet McNabb and her husband Dr. Arthur A. McNabb. Both the McNabbs were born in 1890 and led very active civic lives. Dr. McNabb served overseas in a hospital in France during World War I; later he acted as physician for the poorhouse infirmary and then as the county physician when the infirmary was established as the first public hospital in Van Buren County. Dr. McNabb passed away in 1965, and Janet passed away in 1978. The glass collection was donated to us from their estate, per Janet’s wishes.

The clear glassware set was owned by Helen and Paul Lohroff, who were born in 1921 and 1922, respectively. Both were from Decatur. Paul served in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Both were also very active in their communities, including being members of the Van Buren County Historical Society. The dishes were donated to us by their son, following Helen’s passing in 2004.

We love knowing a bit of the story behind the artifacts in our collection. We hope you do too!

The museum has quite a collection of colorful antique dishware. We like to rotate these periodically so more of them can...
12/31/2019

The museum has quite a collection of colorful antique dishware. We like to rotate these periodically so more of them can be seen. Do you have any special china that you use for holidays and special occasions? Was yours passed down through generations? We’d love to hear about it in the comments, and even see a picture if you’re able.

As area teachers enjoy their well-deserved winter break, we think of one local woman who spent 47 years as a teacher. Ha...
12/28/2019

As area teachers enjoy their well-deserved winter break, we think of one local woman who spent 47 years as a teacher. Harriet Tennessee Catt was born in McMinville, Tennessee in 1872. She came with her family to southern Michigan as a young child and later graduated from South Haven High School. She went on to attend Michigan State Normal School (in Ypsilanti) and then the Chicago Kindergarten College (which in 1930 became the National College of Education). She spent most of her years as a educator teaching kindergarteners in Bangor. She moved there with her parents and one sister when she was about twenty, and she remained there until her death in 1943.

This photograph is in the collections of the Bangor Historical Society. Explore the photographic history of the Kindergarten Building in Bangor (built in 1898), including photos of some of Miss Catt’s classes, on their website here: http://www.bangormihistory.com/Old%20Class%20Pictures/new_page_45.htm

#ThrowbackThursday to December 12, 1911, when a freight train from the Kalamazoo, Lake Shore, and Chicago Railroad (more...
12/26/2019

#ThrowbackThursday to December 12, 1911, when a freight train from the Kalamazoo, Lake Shore, and Chicago Railroad (more commonly known as the Fruit Belt) wrecked west of Lawrence. Two freight cars overturned completely into a ditch, while the coal car and a third freight car left the tracks but did not overturn. The overturned freight cars were largely loaded with flour and vinegar. The merchandise was badly damaged, but what could be salvaged was consigned to Hartford dealers to sell. A cause of the wreck could not be determined as the crew operating the train declared they were running slow around the dangerous curve, known as the “reverse curve” between Lawrence and Hartford. Section crews from all the stations between Kalamazoo and South Haven were called to the scene to assist in clean up. The Fruit Belt did not have their own wrecking crew, so the section men were obliged to use jacks and improvised tools to clear the wreck, which they successfully did by the next day.

*Photograph published in the book entitled, Van Buren, Michigan: A Pictorial History, compiled by the Van Buren Regional Genealogical Society.

Whatever your traditions, we hope your  Christmas Eve is a joyous one. In many ways, postcards can be seen as an early f...
12/24/2019

Whatever your traditions, we hope your Christmas Eve is a joyous one. In many ways, postcards can be seen as an early form of text messaging. This particular postcard was sent from West Salem, Wisconsin, to Hartford, Michigan, on December 23, 1908. It reads only, “Read your letter and will answer later.”

With Christmas just four days away, we hope you are getting some time to gather with family and enjoy the holiday season...
12/21/2019

With Christmas just four days away, we hope you are getting some time to gather with family and enjoy the holiday season. The person sending this postcard back in 1908 seemed to understand the lack of snow and wrote on the back, “How’s this for a 4th of July Christmas tree?”

There can be several meanings to the phrase “the girl he left behind him” - this postcard depicts one interpretation. It...
12/16/2019

There can be several meanings to the phrase “the girl he left behind him” - this postcard depicts one interpretation. It was produced by Raphael Tuck & Sons, who were popular postcard distributors in its heyday in the late 1890s and early 1900s. They described themselves as “art publishers to their Majesties, the King & Queen.” It is Christmas Postcard No. 8252.

The back is unmarked, as it was never sent by mail. But it bears this handwritten inscription, “I’m lonesome since I left Mich. The tears fall and blind me. It grieves me so when I think of the girl I left behind me.” These words reference lyrics of a tune, which saw many variations, first in England, but then reaching popularity in America during the Civil War and later during World War I.

#FlashbackFridayOn Labor Day 1911, a small passenger train from the Pere Marquette railroad line derailed two miles west...
12/14/2019

#FlashbackFriday
On Labor Day 1911, a small passenger train from the Pere Marquette railroad line derailed two miles west of Hartford near the Thomas school. The train consisted of an engine, a baggage car, and two passenger cars. The train left Benton Harbor around 7:50am on that September 4th; the wreck occurred at 8:05am. The engine completely derailed, plowed into the roadbed of sand, and turned on its side. The engineer, Charles Lassfolk, was immediately crushed and buried under sand and coal; he was reported to have died with his hand still on the throttle. He had worked as an engineer for fifteen years, and on that day had taken the shift of a fellow engineer who wanted a day off. He left behind a wife and five children. James Slater, the fireman in the engine cab, managed to crawl to safety; however, his face and one side of his body were badly burned by the steam. Two women in the rear passenger car also had severe injuries. Mrs. Ann Wakefoot of Chicago, who was on her way to her summer home at Lake Cora, suffered a crushed hip and internal injuries. Mrs. Lena Wood, an African American woman from St. Joseph, suffered a serious spinal injury. Dr. R. R. Lawrence, the railroad surgeon, tended the injured, most of whom were taken to the Hartford House hotel. The majority of the 75 passengers escaped with only minor bruises. The wreck drew large crowds from surrounding towns; at least two hundred automobiles were reported to be on the scene to witness the wreckage that Monday afternoon. The engine was repaired and operating again within about a month.

On this snowy day, we’d like to share with you some letters written to Santa from Miss Busley’s third grade class in Paw...
12/11/2019

On this snowy day, we’d like to share with you some letters written to Santa from Miss Busley’s third grade class in Paw Paw #OnThisDay in 1915. Enjoy!

On this #PearlHarborDay, we would like to honor the service and sacrifice of two local men who lost their lives on Decem...
12/07/2019

On this #PearlHarborDay, we would like to honor the service and sacrifice of two local men who lost their lives on December 7, 1941. Robert H. Johnson and Wilbur F. Ballance were both from Paw Paw.

Robert Johnson was born on February 12, 1918, in Chicago, but he spent most of his life in Paw Paw, graduating from Paw Paw High School in 1936. In November 1940, he enlisted in the Army Air Force. Following his training, he was posted at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii and assigned to the 22nd AAF Material Squadron. He was killed in action during the attack on Pearl Harbor; he is interred in the Punch Bowl Military Cemetery in Honolulu. Johnson is memorialized in the name of the Paw Paw American Legion McGowan-Johnson Post No. 68.

Wilbur Ballance was born in Paw Paw on September 10, 1921. He graduated from Paw Paw High School in 1939 and enlisted in the Navy the summer he graduated. On the day of the Pearl Harbor attack, Ballance was stationed on the USS Oklahoma as a Seaman First Class in the Radio Division. The USS Oklahoma was struck by multiple torpedos within minutes and capsized. Ballance was one of over 450 men who perished onboard. His remains could not be identified after the incident; however, he is memorialized on the Courts of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
#HonorTheFallen #LocalHeroes #DayOfInfamy

Just a few closer looks at the soda fountain installed in our museum. It was manufactured by The Bastian-Blessing Compan...
12/06/2019

Just a few closer looks at the soda fountain installed in our museum. It was manufactured by The Bastian-Blessing Company. The company was started by Charles Bastian and Lewis Blessing in 1908. The main offices and first factory were in Chicago, Illinois. A second factory was located in Grand Haven, Michigan. The Bastian-Blessing Company was one of the earliest manufacturers of soda fountains and also one of the finest, even calling their main product line the Superior Fountain. They were made of solid steel construction and had completely mechanical refrigeration.

Our story Sunday about Oscar Karmsen and his drugstore in Bangor has us thinking about the soda fountain exhibit in the ...
12/05/2019

Our story Sunday about Oscar Karmsen and his drugstore in Bangor has us thinking about the soda fountain exhibit in the basement level of our museum. The original counter and soda fountain were used by the Gobles Pharmacy. They continued to be used by the Hometown Pharmacy after they purchased the Gobles Pharmacy in 1996. In 2007, Hometown Pharmacy donated these items to us, and we are very grateful! The room where we house this display was originally the staff dining room during the days when our building operated as the county poorhouse. Staff always ate separate from residents and even used different sets of dishes.

Here’s the companion rhyme to the one we posted yesterday. Hope your #DayAfter Thanksgiving is an enjoyable one. #tooths...
11/29/2019

Here’s the companion rhyme to the one we posted yesterday. Hope your #DayAfter Thanksgiving is an enjoyable one.

#toothsomeness #notawordyouuseeveryday

#HappyThanksgiving from all of us at the Museum! We’re thankful for you!
11/28/2019

#HappyThanksgiving from all of us at the Museum! We’re thankful for you!

#Throwback to November in Paw Paw, 121 years ago. The writing below the photograph indicates that this was taken on Nove...
11/26/2019

#Throwback to November in Paw Paw, 121 years ago. The writing below the photograph indicates that this was taken on November 10, 1898, and the town had just received 8” of snow. This block on the northwest corner of the main intersection was known as the Sherman Block at the time. The Dry Goods store you see here would become the Idle Hour moving pictures theater by the end of the next decade. It is now part of the Hiemstra optical business. See the comments section for a more recent comparison photo of this same block.

#ThenAndNowThe vintage ad we showed you earlier this week was from E. Smith & Co. in Paw Paw. So we thought we’d show yo...
11/23/2019

#ThenAndNow
The vintage ad we showed you earlier this week was from E. Smith & Co. in Paw Paw. So we thought we’d show you what that building looked like when they occupied it and what it currently looks like now. The first image is from another newspaper ad for E. Smith & Co., as seen in an 1888 edition of the Paw Paw newspaper, The True Northerner. The second image of the building was taken in 2017. As you can see, the building still stands on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Kalamazoo Street and looks much the same is it did over a hundred years ago. It is currently occupied by H2Design & Co.

Thanksgiving Day is just over a week away; are you ready for it? As this 1907 ad says, we hope you’re getting the best s...
11/20/2019

Thanksgiving Day is just over a week away; are you ready for it? As this 1907 ad says, we hope you’re getting the best sides of all your transactions, unlike some unlucky turkeys this time of year. (E. Smith & Co. was a men’s clothier in Paw Paw for many years near the turn of the 20th Century, so their ads often featured stylishly attired gentlemen like the ones seen here.)

Here’s a little #BeforeAndAfter for you. Photo #1 shows the state of the poorhouse blacksmith shop, when members of the ...
11/19/2019

Here’s a little #BeforeAndAfter for you. Photo #1 shows the state of the poorhouse blacksmith shop, when members of the historical society began their care-taking task. The second photo demonstrates the dramatic improvements made. The final photo was taken in the summer of 2017.

After the Van Buren County Historical Society reached an agreement to lease the old poorhouse building from the county b...
11/17/2019

After the Van Buren County Historical Society reached an agreement to lease the old poorhouse building from the county back in the early 1970s, they faced the monumental task of restoring the vacant building, cleaning its interior and grounds, and then organizing, cataloguing, and displaying donated artifacts. In the photographs below you can see a part of this process taking place with the careful work of four early members of the society. #ThankfulForThoseWhoWentBeforeUs #Preservation #LocalHistory

#FlashbackFriday to one of the early meetings of the Van Buren County Historical Society. This meeting, like most prior ...
11/16/2019

#FlashbackFriday to one of the early meetings of the Van Buren County Historical Society. This meeting, like most prior to the establishment and overhaul of the poorhouse building for a museum, took place in the upstairs of the Hartford Public Library. Can you identify anyone pictured?

The veteran we shared with you yesterday, Brigadier General Vonna F. Burger, attended Lawrence High School, graduating i...
11/12/2019

The veteran we shared with you yesterday, Brigadier General Vonna F. Burger, attended Lawrence High School, graduating in 1920. The first image below shows the building where he would have attended; it was demolished in 1924. The next two images show part of the all-school picture taken in 1920 for Lawrence Public Schools. We are unsure which student is Vonna Burger. Can you identify anyone pictured?

This year #VeteransDay coincides with the 90th Anniversary of the first #ArmisticeDay celebration in 1919. In honor of t...
11/11/2019

This year #VeteransDay coincides with the 90th Anniversary of the first #ArmisticeDay celebration in 1919. In honor of this day, we would like to share with you several pictures and artifacts in our collections that belonged to Brigadier General Vonna F. Burger from Lawrence, Michigan.

Vonna Fernleigh Burger was born on February 5, 1902. He graduated from Lawrence High School in 1920. By July of 1920, he was a cadet at the United States Military Academy, also known as West Point. (Dwight Eisenhower had been a cadet there just five years previous.) Burger spent his time in the Army in the Field Artillery. The majority of his time was spent at Ft. Sill, OK; but he was also stationed a few other places, including Ft. Hoyle, MD, and Camp Polk, LA, where he was awarded the Legion of Merit in November 1945, following his service in WWII. Burger served his full career in the Army, retiring with the rank of Brigadier General. He died two days after his 97th birthday in 1999. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. #LocalHeroes #HonorAndRemember

Our very own volunteers, Sandy and Charlie, will be presenting this local history talk in Gobles on Wednesday, November ...
11/09/2019

Our very own volunteers, Sandy and Charlie, will be presenting this local history talk in Gobles on Wednesday, November 13. Come join us! Light refreshments will be provided.

Join us for a presentation on The Evolution of Rural Life in Van Buren County. This event will be held at the Gobles United Methodist Church, 210 E. Exchange St., Gobles.

#ThrowbackThursdayThis photograph shows several of the founding members of the Van Buren County Historical Society. We a...
11/08/2019

#ThrowbackThursday
This photograph shows several of the founding members of the Van Buren County Historical Society. We are unsure of the occasion but believe it was taken in the late ‘60s or early ‘70s. Can anyone identify the woman on the far right for us?

#FurnitureHighlightContinuing on in the parlor on the second floor, you can find an Eastlake style sofa and a pair of ma...
11/05/2019

#FurnitureHighlight
Continuing on in the parlor on the second floor, you can find an Eastlake style sofa and a pair of matching chairs. This style of furniture was named for Charles Eastlake, an English architect and designer; it was popular in the United States from the 1870s to 1890s. Eastlake’s vision for home furnishings rejected the strong curves and high relief carvings of earlier Victorian furniture. Instead, he designed furniture that was angular, rectilinear, and reduced to simpler geometric shapes.

#FurnitureHighlightThis antique sofa from the Civil War period is also located in the parlor on the second floor. It was...
11/03/2019

#FurnitureHighlight
This antique sofa from the Civil War period is also located in the parlor on the second floor. It was inherited by several generations of the Howlett family and was donated to us by the L. G. Howlett Estate.

#FurnitureHighlightOur museum includes some wonderful antique furnishings, so we thought we would take the time to highl...
11/02/2019

#FurnitureHighlight
Our museum includes some wonderful antique furnishings, so we thought we would take the time to highlight a few of them for you. This beautiful needlepoint rocker rests in front of one of the parlor windows on the second floor. It was owned by Mrs. Peties of Paw Paw and was donated to us by Ruth Sievers of Lawrence in 1992.

Do you have all of your jack-o-lanterns carved for tonight? Will you be dressed as stylishly as the man shown in this 19...
10/31/2019

Do you have all of your jack-o-lanterns carved for tonight? Will you be dressed as stylishly as the man shown in this 1908 ad for a gentleman’s clothing store in Paw Paw? #HappyHalloween from all of us at the museum! Have a fun and safe night!

#DidYouKnow that the First World Series in 1903 was decided by eight games? That series was a best of nine games, and th...
10/31/2019

#DidYouKnow that the First World Series in 1903 was decided by eight games? That series was a best of nine games, and the Boston Americans beat the Pittsburgh Pirates five games to three. Boston had been down three games to one, but they came back to win the next four games. There were big names on both sides. Honus Wager, shortstop for the Pirates and known for his batting titles, actually only batted a .222 during that first series. Legendary pitcher, Cy Young, pitched three games (winning two) for the Boston Americans (predecessors to the Boston Red Sox). #WorldSeries

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58471 Red Arrow Hwy
Hartford, MI
49057

Opening Hours

Wednesday 12:00 - 17:00
Friday 12:00 - 17:00
Sunday 12:00 - 17:00

Telephone

(269) 621-2188

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