Sometimes one needs look no further than their own town for a top-notch historical site—even when it’s a smallish city in the middle of Michigan. This is especially true for me when I look in my “backyard” at the gem that is the Castle Museum of Saginaw County History. Growing up, I thought that the stone French chateau-esque building with its turrets and gargoyles was something out of a fairy-tale. Truth be told, I still do. Walking through its stately interior makes me feel regal. It is a fitting home for the historical riches within.
History: The Castle Museum not only holds historical artifacts that tell the county’s story, but the building is also a piece of history. Dedicated on July 3, 1898, this post office served Saginaw as a beautiful center for communication and community. In the French Renaissance Revival style, William Aiken designed it as an ode to the early French settlers of the area. Over the years, it continued to serve the city in a civic fashion. When it faced the wrecking ball in 1970, Saginawians rallied for its preservation. They succeeded and the building was transferred to the County of Saginaw. For decades now, the Castle has served the people of Saginaw by telling their stories, educating them, safeguarding their artifacts, and preserving their past.
Some of My Favorite Exhibits:
- Revealing Our Buried Past—through arrows, spearheads, and other artifacts the story of the first people to the area is uncovered.
- Our Foundations: Origins of Saginaw County—this exhibit tells the tale of the signing of the Treaty of Saginaw in 1819 when more than 6 million acres of Native American land were ceded to the United States.
- Lumbering in Saginaw—walk around a replica tree, see what a lumberjack’s bunk would have looked like, explore log marks, and learn all about lumbering and the pivotal role this industry played in the area.
- Mining for Prosperity—the Saginaw Valley employed more than 1700 coal miners during its heyday in the early 1900s. Visitors can walk through a replica coal shaft and experience how dark, eerie, and dangerous it was to work in the mines while learning more about the labor involved in this trade.
- Geared for Production—this engaging exhibit shows how Saginaw developed a thriving automobile industry after the lumber boom ended.
- Streets of Saginaw—various former businesses are brought to life including a jewelry store, a huckster wagon, Morley Brothers merchandise, and more. I love seeing decades of commerce history in Saginaw.
- There are many permanent and temporary exhibits that bring the past to life at the Castle Museum. One can learn about commerce (like the Goodridge Brothers photographic studio), culture, Saginaw society, the former post office housed in the building (and how supervisors could keep an eye on postal workers from a catwalk viewpoint), and numerous other historical moments which describe the diverse people and region of Saginaw County.
- The Saginaw County Sports Hall of Fame, honoring the great women and men athletes of the area, has its home in the museum.
- The History Machine (a rad looking van that reminds me of the Mystery Machine from Scooby Doo) travels around the area allowing an education specialist to take exhibits to schools and other facilities.
- The Castle Museum offers a robust calendar of events for all ages that include lunch and learn presentations, activities, book clubs, and other cultural programs.
- An in-house archaeologist with a team of volunteers perform digs around the area and document, analyze, and record archaeological materials for the Castle Museum’s collection.
- An interactive website brings the museum to people virtually so you can check it out from your home if you can’t visit in person: https://www.castlemuseum.org/athome or you can read about specific artifacts and other museum news at https://www.castlemuseum.org/news
Cost: $1 for adults, 50¢ for children.
Location: 500 Federal Avenue, Saginaw, MI 48607
The next time you’re in Saginaw, take some time to visit this historic gem in its downtown. It’s a vital part of the community that consistently presents engaging exhibits and programs for its visitors and well worth your time.
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