Traverse City Record-Eagle


December 15, 2013

Historian fills niches of local history

TRAVERSE CITY — History is where you find it.

Local historian Richard Fidler sees it everywhere – in the woods, along the bay, on a manhole cover in the downtown alley behind Vortruba’s or the prismatic glass of a local jeweler’s front window.

The retired Traverse City junior high biology teacher turned local historian published his fourth soft-cover book this year — “Traverse City, Michigan: A Historical Narrative, 1850-2013.”

He wrote it because he saw a need for an updated look at local history that brings readers to the present, he said. The last book that did that, he said, was “Queen City of the North,” written in 1988 by the late Larry Wakefield and published by Horizon Books.

“When I write, I look for a niche in local history that hasn’t been filled,” he said.

He has found enough nooks and crannies in Traverse City’s past to fill his three previous books: “Glimpses of Grand Traverse Past: Reflections on a Local History” in 2008, “Who We Were, What We Did” in 2009,” and “Gateways to Grand Traverse Past in 2011.”

Each chapter in the first three books are individual essays that focus on one area of local history. Several focused on the poor, women, labor, dissent and pollution in the Boardman River along the city’s waterfront during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Others reflected Fidler’s background in science, his lifelong reading habit, sense of humor, insatiable curiosity about diverse subjects — botany, natural history, social justice, community values, art and architecture, artesian wells and social changes wrought by technology.

He’s written about Traverse City’s great flood in 1898 when Kids Creek overflowed after loggers cut hillside forests on the city’s west side, the coming of electricity, street lights and automobiles.

Tongue in cheek, he pokes fun at eccentricities of Traverse City’s past, for instance, local campaigns to eradicate rats, sparrows, poplars and ragweed.

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