Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 14, 2013

Preserving local history

BY LORAINE ANDERSON
landerson@record-eagle.com

---- — MESICK — In many ways, the Mesick Area Historical Museum is this Wexford County village’s attic.

Here resides a sleigh once pulled by horses, a relic telephone switchboard, an antique pump organ, a small press with tiny type used by the local undertaker in the 1930s and 1940s to print obituary cards and copies of old Mesick Sun-Pioneer newspaper pages laminated in plastic.

It’s also a gathering place for people who treasure old sepia-toned photographs, cream separators, quilts, a Singer sewing machine, pioneer farming and logging era relics and the stories that often accompany them.

Museum president Deborah Kohn of Traverse City and some 15-20 rotating volunteers spend many Saturdays here from May through September to showcase some aspect of local history — toys from the past, the nearby Hodenpyl Dam and North Country Trail, local churches, neighboring places Harrietta and its fish hatchery, Buckley, Yuma, and Sherman.

“It’s important to preserve the heritage of the people who have lived here,” Kohn said.

About 400-450 people visit the museum a year, according to museum guest book entries. A common question that Deborah Kohn and other volunteers often field is, “How did Mesick get its name?”

It’s not much of a mystery.

The village is named for its first settlers — homesteaders Howard and Ellenor Mesick, who came from New York state to farm 160 acres. A surveyor offered to plat their land for two lots in 1880.

The Mesick home, along what is today Clark Street, became a stagecoach way station. Howard started a sawmill and a general store, too.

Kohn grew up in Mesick and graduated from high school in 1961. She attended Northwestern Michigan College and then Central Michigan University where she earned her teaching degree. She taught third and fourth grades at Traverse Heights Elementary School from 1966-1994.

Her mother, Grace Kohn, longtime Mesick school teacher and elementary school principal, headed up the village’s 1989-1990 centennial celebration committee and fundraising for it.

The museum was Grace’s dream and the centennial’s child.

The centennial committee had money left over and invested it in the hopes of one day constructing a museum to house the many artifacts donated and displayed during the centennial.

In 2003, the group of volunteers formed a non-profit and purchased the former Sandy Mac’s Restaurant building downtown in 2003, renovated and deeded it to the village for $1 with the option of running it.

The museum opened in 2005. The committee still pays electricity, insurance, water and most of the maintenance costs.

Grace Kohn died in 2003 before her dream for a village museum came true, but she died knowing it was in the works, said her daughter, who decided to follow her mother’s footsteps.

“I value the history of the community where I grew up,” Deborah Kohn said. “I want to be able to share this information with future generations. I’m carrying on because of my love of history.”

People also are welcome to come in and read the large history notebooks the museum has assembled about Mesick and the Mesick family, the dam and surrounding towns, she said.

“There’s always a chair there waiting for somebody,” Kohn said.

Special annual events scheduled this year include a garage sale on July 20 and the old car show on Aug. 16, and the Oct. 5 Cider Fest, made with the museum’s cider press. All will take place at the museum parking lot.

The Mesick Area Historical Museum, 117 Mesick Avenue, is open Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m . from May through September, or by appointment. For more information, visit www.mesickmuseum.com or its Facebook page.