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New and Noteworthy at TCHM

The Tribune's 2024 People's Choice for Best Museum


Tri-Cities Historical Museum is honored to have won Best Museum in People's Choice Awards 2024! The Museum values its deep-rooted connection with our community. From lifelong residents to curious visitors, the Museum has become a gathering place where stories are shared, memories are made, and history comes alive. Through engaging exhibits, educational programs, and community events, the Museum has become an integral part of the social fabric of the Tri-Cities, weaving together the diverse threads of its local history.

As we celebrate this milestone, the Tri-Cities Historical Museum extends its heartfelt gratitude to the community for its unwavering support. This award belongs to each and every person who has walked through our doors, shared their stories, and contributed to our shared history. Together, we will continue to honor the past, inspire the present, and shape the future of the Tri-Cities.


Blue Star Museums Program


The Tri-Cities Historical Museum (TCHM) is pleased to announce its participation in the esteemed Blue Star Museums program for the year 2024. Beginning on May 18th and continuing through Labor Day (September 2nd), the Museum will extend complimentary admission for all exhibits and programming to active-duty military personnel and their families, offering a unique opportunity to explore the rich cultural heritage of the Tri-Cities region.

The Blue Star Museums initiative, a collaboration between the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, the Department of Defense, and more than 2,000 museums nationwide, aims to honor and support the military community by providing access to arts and culture. This program recognizes the sacrifices made by military families and acknowledges the role of museums in fostering connections, understanding, and appreciation.

"As an integral part of our community, the Tri-Cities Historical Museum is honored to participate in the Blue Star Museums program," said Erica Layton, Executive Director at the Tri-Cities Historical Museum. "We recognize the importance of giving back to those who serve our country and their families, and we are excited to offer them an enriching and educational experience through our exhibits and collections."

New Program for Littlest Learners

Tots at Tri-Cities is our brand-new program series that takes place at the Museum and is designed with preschool-aged children in mind. Each session offers a topic that we explore through stories, materials, and the Museum itself by doing what this age group does best: play! Topics include:


  • From Sheep to Shawl: All about Textiles

  • Will it Roll? Exploring movement

  • From Garden to Table: All about food

  • Searching for Shapes

  • and more!

This foundation is so important to a future understanding of -and belonging in- the world. Without an understanding of numbers and time, it’s impossible to grasp the concept of the ‘past’. Without an exploration of letters, words, place names, or descriptions, we are ill-equipped to take in the full detail of the people, places, and happenings around us. And without a place and space to connect with these elements and with our community, we fail to provide a sense of both belonging and autonomy.


By breaking big historical topics (‘the past’, ‘historical figure’ or ‘momentous event’) down into these explorable elements for our youngest learners, TCHM is helping lay the foundation for engaged future citizens who can not only connect with their present and past, but are boldly curious to do so. When we invite everyone to explore the Museum in a way that is meaningful to them, no matter their age - that is exactly how we fulfill our mission.

Middlemist Research Grant Awarded to TCHM Curators

Photo Credit: Joshua Simon

Photo Credit: Joshua Simon

Photo Credit: Joshua Simon

Kate Crosby, TCHM Exhibits Curator, with Joshua Simon, Assistant Exhibits Curator, submitted a research grant application in 2023 to the Drake Middlemist Scholarship Fund, requesting support to meet a simple aim: conduct research on behalf of the TCHM exhibitions department for two upcoming special exhibitions, Picnics and Parades: 100 Years of the Coast Guard Festival and Ship Shape Sisters: The Women of the  Coast Guard SPARS. Specifically, Simon and Crosby hoped to gather more historical information about SPARS who were connected to the Tri-Cities community.


The Picnics and Parades: 100 Years of the Coast Guard Festival exhibit will open to the public on May 18. Featuring images, objects, uniforms, and documents, this exhibit revisits early days of the Coast Guard Festival, and will present notable artifacts from the past 100 years, including newly-accessioned objects from the Coast Guard Festival’s archives.

Crosby and Simon planned and executed a packed itinerary, with multiple trips to visit Indiana, Illinois, Connecticut, and Washington, D.C. Each trip proved to be a whirlwind of collections investigation: scanning images and documents, gathering historical records, and making connections in the upper echelons of the Coast Guard. 


Simon spent two days in January visiting the Purdue University Archives and Special Collections in West Lafayette, IN, and, later, also visited The National Archives at Chicago, IL. This trip proved to be a rare chance to research a key figure of the SPARS: Dorothy Stratton, the director of the SPARS during WWII. Captain Stratton was the Director of the SPARS from its inception in 1942 until her resignation in 1946, when the SPARS were dissolved following the war, prior to their reinstatement in 1949. 

The National Archives at Chicago, IL, contain Life Saving Station logs for Station Grand Haven and other District 9 stations, and have provided important information on the earliest Coast Guard picnics.

The final destination for the research project was Washington D.C., where Simon visited both the United States Coast Guard Historian’s Office and the National Archives. At the National Archives, Simon found and scanned the entirety of the logbooks of the Grand Haven lighthouse keeper from the dates 1875-1900 and 1920-1940. At the Coast Guard Historian’s Office, Simon viewed materials that provided extensive background and logistical information about the visit of Coast Guard dignitaries to the 1985 Coast Guard Festival, among other Festival materials.

As the capstone to this project, Crosby and Simon plan to create two digital exhibitions from the mounted exhibitions on display in Centennial Hall and the Small Gallery. 

Photo Credit: US Coast Guard (Purdue University Archives and Special Collections)

MACC Capital Improvement Grant Award

In September, Tri-Cities Historical Museum was awarded a Michigan Arts and Culture Council (MACC) Capital Improvement grant to undertake parking lot upgrades at our Community Archive and Research Center (CARC): replacement of the cracked and weedy parking lot, uneven entryway, and missing ADA-accessible signage and striping. The grant award will meet just under half of the full cost of the parking lot and requires the Museum to match the granted funds with contributions from its supporters.

CARC has served as a hub over the past 10 years for community historical research, and the site where over 70,000 artifacts are stored.


At the CARC, we preserve artifacts like the silk wedding dress worn by Esther Savidge at her marriage to Nathaniel Robbins. This 132-year-old gown, the shoes and gloves she wore, along with Nathaniel’s suit, their wedding invitation, and a photograph of Esther wearing the gown, are all carefully preserved at CARC as irreplaceable pieces of Tri-Cities history.


We are proud to welcome history explorers of all ages to the Museum and to CARC with free exhibits, tours, facilitated research, and education programs. With this grant award and contributions from our community, we will begin these overdue improvements at CARC in spring 2024.

Historian of the Year 2023

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About Dr. Petras


Born in Wisconsin, raised in Michigan, Dr. Chris Petras kept his mid-western roots while earning a Doctorate in Public Administration and Public Policy from Western Michigan University. Over the last decade, Dr. Petras has co-authored and published several articles in professional publications, such as Police Chief Magazine and Public Management, on various public/non-profit leadership topics.


When Dr. Petras moved to the Grand Haven area, he discovered a rich military history woven into the community fabric. It was a natural fit. Dr. Petras’ late grandfather served in WWII. Several of his ancestors also served their country, in various wars, including the Civil War and WWI. Wanting to learn more about Grand Haven and its military history, Dr. Petras researched a plethora of materials and discovered Grand Haven soldiers played an integral role in WWI. Digging deeper, he uncovered documents which led to the posthumous awarding of Purple Heart medals to the namesakes of Grand Haven’s American Legion and VFW Posts, Charles A. Conklin and Alvin F. Jonker, respectively.


Dr. Petras’ research and insights on Grand Haven during WWI and the local American Legion Post have been featured in American Legion and Sons of the American Legion publications and in guest columns for the local Grand Haven newspaper. In 2019, Dr. Petras published a book on the first 100-years of Charles A. Conklin American Legion Post 28 and co-produced and directed a documentary film, based on the book, with acclaimed West Michigan documentary filmmaker, Daniel Joel Deal. The documentary has broadcast on regional PBS television stations.

Recognizing a local historian who honored our local heroes with his research

On November 14, the Board of Directors of the Tri-Cities Historical Museum recognized Dr. Chris Petras for his efforts and achievement in bringing home 17 Purple Heart medals to Grand Haven soldiers killed or wounded in battle in WWI. Eleven months before, in January, Dr. Petras, having completed months of research, submitted reams of paperwork to the US government, and having personally traveled to Chigaco to have each of the 17 medals engraved with the soldier’s name, made the decision to donate them to the Museum’s collection.


The extraordinary moment was marked with a formal ceremony where the soldiers’ descendants and relatives, officers of the Charles A. Conklin American Legion Post #28, and Museum staff and Board members, as well as local government officials gathered in the Museum’s Centennial Hall to honor the soldiers and officially accession the medals into the collection. They are now housed at the Community Archive and Research Center (CARC), where they will be preserved and protected for future generations. When not on exhibit, the medals can be viewed online and researched on Collective Access, and the full digital exhibition can be found at

Interview with Intern Maddalena Frissora

Elisa Hopper, Development Director, sits with Maddalena Frissora, one of two summer interns in 2023, to hear about her project: a digital exhibition on art in the TCHM collection. We learn a little about where she’s come from, and where she’s heading as a new museum professional. We also find out each other’s favorite dinosaurs! Listen now to the full interview on YouTube. 


Maddalena notes that “the internet’s forever”, so it gives us, as curators, the chance to “make an exhibit available for longer, and accessible to those who may not be able to come into the Museum.”

Find out more about internships with Tri-Cities Historical Museum, our collection, or any of our current and past exhibits.

Museum staff attend annual Michigan Museums Association Conference

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Four TCHM team members participated in the Michigan Museums Association’s annual 2-day conference with other Michigan museum professionals in Flint, MI. Through a grant from the Michigan Arts and Culture Council, the team was able to attend workshops, tour cultural highlights of Flint, and connect with their counterparts at other Michigan cultural institutions.


Erica Layton, TCHM's Executive Director, said of the experience, "We were so energized by the conversations we had with others working in our field, and by the many different places we were able to see." 


"This time we are able to spend outside our own building--seeing how other museums invite their community in, gaining ideas from our colleagues-- is so important in inspiring us to create new and meaningful experiences for our own visitors."


The MACC minigrants program offers professional and organizational development (POD) opportunities to museum professionals across Michigan. The Holland Area Arts Council is the regranting organization that awarded the POD Minigrant for our staff to attend the conference.

NEW ADA-Compliant Doors make your Museum more Accessible

The Museum welcomes on average 18,000 visitors a year to its three floors of permanent and temporary exhibits...families with children of all ages, students, senior citizens. The main entrance doors of the Akeley building–-beautiful and historic, but extremely heavy–-impede access for not only persons with disabilities, but families with small children and strollers, individuals using walkers or canes, and others with limited mobility. 


With the support of a grant from The Loutit Foundation, we have recently installed ADA-compliant automatic door openers for these doors. The Museum is grateful to The Loutit Foundation for its support in expanding the accessibility for all to enjoy the history of our building and the exhibits it houses.

Interview with Intern
Sabrina White

We are experiencing technical difficulties with our video interview. Please check back soon!

Sabrina White, our second of this summer’s two interns, shares her project plan with Elisa Hopper, Development Director. Sabrina is interning with TCHM’s collections department, and shares her interest in diaries, news and journals from the past. Her excitement about history and museum work comes through. See the full interview on YouTube. 

Visit the Community Archive and Research Center (CARC) at 14100 172nd Ave to access the artifacts that Sabrina cataloged as part of her project. Schedule research time with our curators or a tour of the CARC and collections warehouse to explore other artifacts related to Tri-Cities history. Book online or contact Jared Yax at (616) 842-0700 x 200. 

Find out more about internships with Tri-Cities Historical Museum, our collection, or any of our current and past exhibits.

Disaster Preparedness

Tri-Cities Historical Museum (TCHM) is the recipient of a federal grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Sciences (IMLS), allowing TCHM to purchase and assemble materials for two emergency kits and provide both classroom and hands-on training for our staff. 


The impetus to apply for IMLS funding came as a result of the May 2020 catastrophic flooding in Midland, Michigan. Large storms had caused the Tittabawassee River to swell and overwhelm two dams. Two museums, the Midland County Historical Society’s Heritage Park and the Sanford Museum, were both under several feet of water, putting their collections at risk of being destroyed. 

When the Michigan Museums Association (MMA) put out the call for help, the Tri-Cities Historical Museum sent its HEART-certified emergency responder Jared Yax along with three other curatorial staff to support the Midland team. More than 400 community volunteers and approximately 100 museum professionals from across the state participated in the rescue operation. Though the Midland sites had no formal disaster response plan, under the leadership of Yax, volunteers, professionals and public agencies were able to work together to rescue a vast majority of the affected collections. 


Being involved in the recovery of the Midland museum’s artifacts motivated TCHM’s curatorial and development staff to submit the application for funding support. Our mission is to ‘create connections to Tri-Cities history’, and that comes with a promise to protect, to the best of our capacity, the historical artifacts donated by members of our community. With this grant, we now have the materials and the know-how to respond quickly in the case of flood, fire, or other disaster, limiting the loss of treasured artifacts.

In May 2023, our team revisited flood-based recovery techniques with our own scenario. "Artifacts" donated by Love INC Upscale Resale Store helped us determine the best methods for wood, metal, glass, ceramic, textile, paper, and art. 

Safe handling of artifacts affected by a flood is critical, as is the protection of the individual recovering those artifacts. In the case of flood, mud, debris, chemicals, or other substances will cloud the water, making it difficult and potentially unsafe to work. Safety of staff always comes first.

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