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Genesee County Michigan Historical Society

About Us
Genesee County Historical Society
 
 

The Genesee County Historical Society was first formed in 1863 and has operated on and off ever since.  Most of the Society's energy was spent collecting and displaying artifacts in hopes of some day having a museum. Over time they displayed their collections in business windows along Saginaw St, most often at the Hubbard Hardware store. For many years they worked with the Flint Board of Education and displayed artifacts in a museum type setting in the rooms of the old Oak Grove Sanitarium. As we have witnessed in the last 50 years, it was hard to maintain interest and volunteers, so it was not unusual for the collection to be tossed back and forth between the Society and the Flint Board of Education. Most of the collections were stored above members storefronts on Saginaw St or in members garages.
 




After World War II, The Society was reorganized, being lead by Leonard MacKinnon and Charles S. Mott. They took control of the museum collections then in the possession of the Flint School board and created a new society complete with Curators for their various collections. Initially they again displayed the objects in storefronts but by the mid 1950's obtained room in the upper hallways of the Genesee County Courthouse for display of some of the collections. Thanks to the support of other community groups, large collections related to Indian artifacts, lighting, and guns were collected with funds from such groups as the Kiwanis and Rotary. This time, determined to have a real museum, the society became a key player in the development of the Cultural Center and  kept pressing the need to have a historical and transportation museum as part of the College and Cultural Development.
 
 In the Mid 1950's Dr. Roger Van Bolt was hired by  Flint Jr. College as a Social Science instructor, leaving a job with the Henry Ford Museum. Roger became a consultant to the College and Cultural Center and worked closely with the Society on the development of the new museum which combined history and transportation. Roger became the first Director of the museum.
 
During the 1950's and 60's the historical society took the lead under the leadership of Mary Manley to identify and promote Centennial Farms with support from the Consumers Power Company.
 
The Society donated their complete collections to the Sloan Museum in October of 1966 and had a very close relationship to the museum until Roger's retirement in 1978. The Society acted as the Museum's . Friends Board.,  holding monies collected by the early Summer Fair Committee and providing general support to the museum as  the Friends of Sloan Museum  would do in the 1980 and 1990's Roger served as Secretary to the Society for most of the years he was the Director of Sloan. Over time the relationship between Sloan and the Genesee County Historical Society has changed. However, the Historical Society continues to support the Sloan Museum and houses its papers and bequests at the museum.
 
 
In the fall of 1975, The Genesee County Historical Society joined six other community organization to open the Robert Whaley residence for the USA. Bicentennial. Volunteers spent hours cleaning, painting, and preparing the house to be open to the public. Each group was given a room on the second floor as their own. The Society's first contribution to the Whaley House Association was the purchase of a burglar alarm. The Society remains a founding member of the Whaley Historical House Association.




The Society also became involved with the creation of Crossroads Village, making one of the first financial contributions to the project. Many of the Society's members were actively involved in getting the village open to the public.
 
The USA Bi-Centennial brought new life to the Society with a flurry of activity. Most notable were the bus tours. The Society traveled back to Genesee County New York to explore the community's roots. Such a good time was had that the Society soon sponsored weekend bus tours of Western Michigan, visiting historical sites in Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Marshall, Michigan.  In the 1980's the Society, working with  emerging historical societies across the county, put on a day long tour of Genesee County. It was so well attended that two buses were needed.
 
In 1976, Larry Gustin, then an Editor at the Flint Journal,  stood up at a historical Society meeting and asked what we were going to do to save the birthplace of General Motors which was falling in disrepair on Water Street. The next year the Society became involved with the restoration of the Durant Dort office building after it was donated to the City by an anonymous donor. The building was boarded up and waited for funds to be raised for its restoration. In 1979 the rear wall collapsed which compelled the Society to do something if the building was going to be restored. A fundraising campaign was begun. Mrs. Francis W. Thompson, a board member of the Society, pledged funds toward the restoration. In total she would give $450,000. toward the $850,000. restoration. Other funds came from federal grants and a Buick car raffle held at the Buick plant. The building was finished in time for the 100th anniversary of the Durant-Dort Carriage Company in 1886. The Society formed the Durant Dort Carriage Co. Foundation, a 501C4 organization, to oversee the operation of the building.





The restoration of the Genesee County's only National Landmark, the Durant Dort Office Building inspired the Society to become more involved in historic preservation.  The society put on numerous Preservation Conferences in the 1980's bringing in the President of the National Trust, the Owner of Bradbury Wallpapers, and other such notable speakers in the Preservation field.  The Society worked with developer Gerald Yurk  to restore the Carriage Factory and the Northbank Center, obtaining the facade easement of both buildings for the Society to assure their preservation into the future.
 
 
The Society created the Clarence young Essay Contest to promote original local history writing by local college students. Professor  Robert Schafer at UM-Flint played an important role by encouraging the History classes to write on local history topics. The archives at Sloan, UM, the Flint Public Library, and GMI all supported the project by giving special presentations on the value of their collections as resource material.
 
During the 1990's the Society became involved in the preservation of the Vernor's mural when it was feared that the building would be demolished after the fire at Peerless Furniture. The Society played a key role in the initial fundraiser to save the building before the  Greater Flint Arts Council joined the cause and agreed to take on the renovation of the building as its new home.
 
Popular programs put together by members on Flint theaters, auto dealerships, and Flint Coney Islands brought  standing room only crowds to meetings. The Society printed a booklet on the Flint Theaters and is working on another about Flint's Coney Islands. As part of Flint's Sesquicentennial, a  Committee of the Society, working with Arcadia Publishing put together a book called Postcard history of Flint 1890-1960. It was so well received that the same committee  produced another postcard history entitled Genesee County,1900-1960 in 2006.
 
In 1998, the Society joined the new Automobile National Heritage Area along with Sloan, Flint Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, Genesee County Parks, Kettering University, UM-Flint.. They became involved in the fundraising for the arches after two local foundations turned down requests for funding. The Society remains the fiscal agent for all funds for the arches.



 

In 2003 the Flint MotorCities  Stewardship Board agreed to a cooperative effort to open the Durant-Dort Office Building to the public on a more regular basis as part of the auto heritage initiative. The Flint Area and Convention Bureau agreed to rent the second and third floor leaving the first floor available for public use and tours. The Historical Society agreed to lease two offices at a modest rate agreeing to oversee volunteers to open the buildings to tours. The partnership has enabled numerous community groups to use the meeting rooms on the first floor.




That same year the Society began encouraging the City of Flint to put on a Sesquicentennial Celebration and stood ready to do it themselves if needed. Many of the Sesquicentennial Commission members were Historical Society Board members as a result. As part of the sesquicentennial, General Motors contributed funds for an arch in front of the courthouse and the City and County agreed to share the cost of an arch between the County and City Building.  The Sesquicentennial Commission later contributed the funds to match the county's contribution. The Arches should be installed in 2007.

 

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