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25 Years for the Depot Museum

depot upside downBy Sue Moore

“It better not have any plastic in it, or lattice work,” says Bonnie Holmes when she refers to any changes in the Depot Museum or on the grounds of the Historic Village.

Those words can put fear into the heart of those who might want to take a shortcut on any of the buildings in the Historic Village. That includes all the work going on to celebrate the 25 years of history gathered at the Depot Museum and outbuildings in the Village.

What has grown from a gleam in a few people’s eyes to an imposing collection of historic items about Vicksburg and its environs will be celebrated on Sunday, June 14 from 1 to 3 p.m. at 300 N. Richardson Street. A walking tour of the print shop, village garage, Strong school, farmhouse and township hall will feature docents telling the story of each building. A short program of recognition for those who have made contributions big and small to the success of the museum will take place at 2 p.m., with punch and finger food to accompany, Holmes reported.

Holmes has been integral to the work going on in the museum over the last 25 years. Several others have helped to carry the torch for saving historical artifacts that describe the Vicksburg School District over a time period that encompasses 1890 to 1932, primarily Maggie Snyder and her collection committee.

Holmes says it all began with a request from Fred Rapp, a world-renowned botanist and ornithologist who lived in Vicksburg. He wanted to give his huge collection to a museum in the community. “But Vicksburg wasn’t quite ready for that in the 50s, so it went to Western Michigan College’s archives and the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary.”

There were others who saw the need to squirrel away some important memorabilia, she notes. That included Eddie Newkirk who championed the depot as a special place to house some of his collection of historical artifacts. Esther Rasmussen, was close behind with a basement full of wonderful goodies that to this day have been archived and housed in what is now the Express Office and displayed in several of the other buildings.

Bonnie Holmes recounts the early years of the Depot Museum.

A big step forward came when the Vicksburg Historical Society was formed in 1967 by Rasmussen and Newkirk, along with Gordon Daniels, Warren Lawrence, Meredith Clark and Roberta Davis. In 1973, with the publication of Water Over the Dam; Vicksburg Then and Now by Grace Molineaux, Lawrence began corresponding with the Canadian Northern railroad to acquire the property; the railroad had ceased passenger service on the line. It took 10 years and volumes of correspondence. The deed was finally transferred to the Village of Vicksburg for $1 in 1983.

What to do with a decrepit station? It had been allowed to deteriorate to the point where it might not be salvageable. That’s when Jim Bach, the building and trades instructor in the Vicksburg School system requested the opportunity to restore the building as part of his classroom teaching. Bach and his students had to tear it apart and put it all back together in order to save it, taking over two years in the process.

When the doors were opened for a dedication ceremony on June 2, 1990, Holmes, Snyder and Kathy Bach took over. Right after the ribbon cutting, Bonnie recalls going inside to help clean the bathrooms and sweep the cement floor. But they were open for business.

Their first display was a set of flags, loaned from the Kalamazoo Museum. “It wasn’t much, but it was a beginning,” she says. “We had so much stuff that was stored in locations all over Vicksburg that we could bring out. We were determined to launch five displays a year. We lugged the materials from the third floor of the Old El where much of our things were stored, and then lugged them back up the stairs again. We were much younger then!”

By 1995, that gleam in the three ladies’ eyes turned into a proposal to the Vicksburg Village Council to create an Historic Village, where several buildings could hold permanent displays of the collection—and not incidentally to relieve the laborers of carrying things up and down those long stairways.

“If you build it they will come,” was the group’s philosophy. Members put out a donation jar that Holmes seeded with some of her own pennies. She remembers what it was like when they emptied the jar at times to put the money in the bank. It was a special day when they could start an endowment using the money from the donation jar, just over $5,000, with the Kalamazoo Foundation.

Build it they have. Lots of volunteers from the community have taken part in seeing the dream come to fruition. First the Express Office, so they could have ready access to the collection that was building up steam (there are now over 10,000 pieces to track in the database).

Numerous grants from the Vicksburg Foundation have been instrumental in furthering the goal of building the village to the size it is today. The Foundation has supported the restoration of the Depot and the building of most everything that has been moved or erected in the Historic Village.

The future is bright for further development, Holmes says. That gleam comes back when she talks about a doctor’s office to house many artifacts that are still in storage. She has always wanted an opera house to resurrect what was once a shining star in Vicksburg with actors from afar, playing here.

“If it takes a while, it takes a while,” Holmes concludes, since she has seen her dream come true, not once but many times over, for the Depot Museum and the Vicksburg Historical Society.

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