2017-01-29 / Insight

IMLAY CITY HISTORICAL MUSEUM

Commission working on new display
BY PHIL FOLEY
810-452-2616 • pfoley@mihomepaper.com


Since the Imlay City Historical Museum was once the town’s train station it naturally has a substantial railroad collection. Top left, Imlay City Historical Commission members Larry Flegal, Carla Jepsen and Marilyn Swihart discuss plans for new displays at the Imlay City Historical Museum. 
Photo by Phil Foley Since the Imlay City Historical Museum was once the town’s train station it naturally has a substantial railroad collection. Top left, Imlay City Historical Commission members Larry Flegal, Carla Jepsen and Marilyn Swihart discuss plans for new displays at the Imlay City Historical Museum. Photo by Phil Foley IMLAY CTY — The older Carl Demming gets the more he appreciates the importance of connecting “today with yesterday and the year before and way back.”

Demming, whose family roots are sunk in Imlay City back to the 1860s, is one of the 140 regular members of the Imlay City Historical Commission. He and a handful of other commissioners were busy Wednesday (Jan. 25) creating the museum’s latest display.

In April, just before the Imlay City Historical Museum’s season opener, historical commission members will get a sneak peek at the bedroom set local carpenter Hiram Wells made for Ed Palmer, Imlay City’s founder. “It’s one of the perks of membership,” said historical commission secretary Marilyn Swihart.

Over the last 47 years the commission has collected more than 30,000 artifacts ranging from photos of families and businesses to wooden water pipes that were put beneath the city’s streets 127 years ago. Historical commission members are busy photographing and cataloging each item in the collection and are about a third of the way through the task, Swihart said.

The museum’s latest acquisition was crafted by a man who survived the horrors of the Andersonville prisoner of war camp during the Civil War only to be blown up in the sinking of the paddle wheeler Sultana on the way home, but survived again when he landed on a floating bale of hay. Hiram Wells never shaved again and the museum has a photo of him, his beard stretching to his shoe tops.

The historical commission got its start in 1970 as the community was preparing to mark the centennial of its founding. When the centennial celebration wrapped up, the commission had collected a substantial amount of artifacts and had a large sum of money left over.

It was another eight years before the historical commission had a place to put everything. The Grand Trunk Railroad in 1971 abandoned the Imlay City Depot, which was built in 1927 and eventually sold the building to Imlay City, but leased the ground underneath it for 100 years. Swihart said the historical commission had tried to purchase the building, but the railroad would only sell to a municipality.

Swihart said the museum now gets about 1,000 visitors a year during its season, which runs from April to December. The museum is open from 1-4 p.m. Saturdays, but museum volunteers are there every Wednesday from 9 a.m. to noon working on projects and the museum is also open by appointment for groups.

Along with the train station, an adjacent Memorial Building holds old farm tools, remnants of the city’s theatre and other items. The museum also has a Grand Trunk caboose and dining car.

“We’ve got to keep places like this or we’ll lose them,” Demming said.

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