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AASLH/MMA 2016 Tour Spotlight: Woodward Avenue: A Road From the Past, A Path to the Future

by Leslie Pielack, Director of the Birmingham Historical Museum, Birmingham, MI on

Woodward Avenue. The iconic highway that is Michigan’s Main Street has centuries-old origins that precede the coming of pioneer settlers to the Michigan Territory in the early 19th century. A former Native American path called the Saginaw Trail, this important route led past what is now Pontiac, through Flint, and on to Saginaw, where the fish and game were so abundant that the native Ojibwe people had established large summer camps for hundreds of years.

On Wednesday, September 14 from 8:30am-1pm, attendees of the AASLH/MMA 2016 Annual Meeting in Detroit will have the chance to attend a unique guided tour of this “All American Road” and its sites of interest. Tickets are only $35 and can be purchased when you register for the Annual Meeting. More information on tours can be found in the Preliminary Program.

 

Woodward-Wisner House, Pontiac, MI

Woodward-Wisner House, Pontiac, MI

 

What we now call Woodward (and beyond Pontiac, Dixie Highway) also led the way to early settlements in the wilderness of territorial Michigan. As Michigan built its major industries during the 19th and 20th centuries, Woodward Avenue functioned as a transportation corridor, moving people and goods between Detroit and the interior. From animal carts to railroads and from carriages to automobiles, the communities along the former Saginaw Trail have become intertwined with the economic development of southeast Michigan. The boom-and-bust nature of these cycles of growth and their various incarnations make  the Woodward corridor a linear museum. However, traditional museums, historians, preservationists, and planners are entering an era that challenges us to find new, creative ways to present the narrative to provide this rich and essential context. To accomplish that, history telling has to expand beyond traditional approaches.

 

Fall at Pine Grove

Fall at Pine Grove

 

This unique program will take the concept of bus tour to a higher level. Participants will experience moving through time along the Woodward Corridor, a ‘museum without walls,’ from ancient times to the present. The path of the original Saginaw Trail will pass residential, civic, recreational and manufacturing sites that represent its cultural and economic changes including iconic religious and civic architecture, the great Boston-Edison residential district, Henry Ford’s Highland Park factory, Palmer Park, the Detroit Zoo, and the renowned Art Deco Shrine of the Little Flower Catholic Church.

 

 

Birmingham Historical Museum  Native American Tree Exhibit

Birmingham Historical Museum Native American Tree Exhibit

 

The ties of Woodward Avenue to the early auto industry will be illustrated by bedroom communities and country retreat architecture before once again leading through transportation industrial heritage in Pontiac. Local historian Carol Egbo and preservation architect Ron Campbell will share their knowledge of the area and its history along the way. Two stops at distinctly different local museums will be included:

  • The Birmingham Museum is a municipally operated small museum that has adopted a fresh look at its local heritage and culture. It currently features a popular exhibition reflecting Birmingham’s homage to the Saginaw Trail with a rare display of Native American wayfinding along the trail. Known also for the most significant public collection of rock ‘n’ roll’s iconic CREEM Magazine in the country, it also features a display that re-creates the magazine’s Birmingham offices.  Museum Director Leslie Pielack will share her perspectives of the challenges and advantages of re-branding and meeting the needs of a quickly changing public audience.
  • The Pinegrove Museum and Governor Wisner Mansion in Pontiac is a historic site operated by the Oakland County Pioneer and Historical Society (organized in 1874). It includes the mid-19th century home of Moses Wisner, local vernacular buildings, and an important research library collection.  This private museum has also renewed itself through in depth strategic planning and a re-birth of its mission and approach to sustainability. Former society President Mike West will discuss the re-energizing of this private, volunteer-dependent local history organization, and how Pinegrove is using its local history to incorporate best practices successfully.

Participants will also have opportunities to interact with each other and tour leaders regarding their own institutional challenges and how they are evolving with the changing times to help tell history in new and engaging ways.

Register for the Annual Meeting

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