Everyone has a story to tell. Your family may have lived here for generations, farming or running a business that benefits our community. Maybe you moved here for a job like teaching at Monroe High. The Monroe County Museum System has a vision for a new decade, a strategic plan that shares stories of the past and illuminates connections between the past, present and future.
Residents and travelers have the opportunity to experience history whether it be at the Territorial Park on the River Raisin, the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial or the museum on Monroe Street. One of the most popular resources for researchers is the archives and obituary files located at the museum. The online obituary search maintained by the museum staff and volunteers remains one of the most popular of the services provided by the museum. For over 80 years the museum has been collecting artifacts to preserve the stories of Monroe County. Visitors to the museum experience Monroe history in a variety of manners. School children may learn about the early Native Americans and fur trade, groups may come to hear speakers on a variety of topics. Programs are taken to senior centers and assisted living facilities. This past year, a variety of speakers have been virtual, touching people all over our country as well as international visitors.
Because of the millage passed in 2012, a historical projects fund was established. About $175,000 was granted for projects that impact all of Monroe County. Preservation of the Old Mill museum in Dundee, Ida backyard history, Airport schools history projects, Berlin Township historical marker, the Exeter Township barn relocation, the Milan historical Society preservation project are just a few of the areas that have been impacted by the funds from the millage. Millage funds have a direct impact on the economic development and growth of Monroe county.
I have been fortunate to be a volunteer at the museum. Before the millage was passed, the museum was in financial trouble and it looked as if it might shut down. Volunteers were helpful in running the educational programs. As a presenter at the museum for many school groups, I have been fortunate to see a child’s eyes light up when contemplating what was happening years in the past on the very site we were standing on. At the Territorial park, children contemplate a very different life than theirs, living by the river, helping with essential chores for survival. At the museum, looking out on Monroe St. they may think about the life that Libby Custer as a little girl lived right on the spot of the current museum and maybe they think even further back when the Native Americans would be planting the 3 sisters: corn, beans and squash.
You never know where a Monroe story will pop up. On January 20, 2021 Dr. Jill Biden, the first lady displayed the painting, “Landscape with Rainbow,” by Robert Duncanson, the first African American artist to be internationally known. In 1828, his family moved to Monroe, and he started as a house painter in the family business. His father was an emancipated slave from Virginia. His talent was apparent early and he advanced into portraits and then onto landscapes.
Robert was virtually self-taught. His family was not allowed to attend his art shows because of their race. Robert moved on from Monroe to advance his career but eventually came back to Detroit and was buried in Woodland Cemetery in Monroe. His grave stone was just redone and portrays a work of his art on it. The Monroe museum has an exhibit about Robert and his family.
The Monroe County museum system provides a sense of community and a place to celebrate our collective heritage. Our stories are preserved for the present and future. The museum system helps us learn from our ancestors, bring our community together, and educate future generations.
Mary Strevel is a member of Stronger Together Huddle, a group engaged in supporting and promoting the common good of all. She is on the the Board of trustees for the Monroe County museum system. She lives in Newport and is a retired teacher from Monroe High. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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