Museum Tour: Historical Museum of the Three Cities in Grand Haven

GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) – With a goal of collecting and preserving local history, the Tri-Cities Historical Museum has something for everyone with thousands of pieces in its archives and hands-on activities for kids.

“We started out at a downtown train depot and then moved to our current location, the historic Akeley Building,” said Erica Layton, Executive Director.

The two-story building at 200 Washington Ave. near S. 2nd Street, was built in downtown Grand Haven in the 1870s. The Tri-Cities Historical Museum tells the stories of Grand Haven, Grand Haven Township, Spring Lake, Spring Lake Township and Ferrysburg.

“We go all the way back to the first humans and look at the Native Americans — the Native Americans for the area — and take that through some of the early fur traders and explorers, early pioneers…” Layton said.

The museum transports guests to modern times with items donated by parishioners.

“We have our period rooms, so you can go to a log cabin…we have our general store, the Ekkens store, our Bastian (and) Blessings soda fountain up front on the second floor, which is really cool,” she said.

Since the museum is located in Coast Guard City, USA, there is an exhibition about the Coast Guard in addition to the Coast Guard Festival.

When visiting the museum, younger guests can borrow a family explorer’s bag that makes the museum a little more kid-friendly with handy items, crafts, and more. There’s also an activity room on the second floor for kids who need to step back and play.

Layton said all elementary schools in the Tri-Cities interact with the museum in some way during the school year, either virtually or in person.

Students who visit the museum tend to love the horse on display, Layton said.

“It has an actual ponytail and the kids keep tugging at it and they end up tearing their hair out. We have to replace the horsetail every few months,” she laughs. “We actually have a horse tail dealer that we get our horsetail from because the kids won’t leave him alone.”

In addition to the permanent exhibitions, the museum shows different exhibits depending on the season.

“The exhibit that’s on now is ‘This Just In’, which celebrates three years of items that people have donated to the museum. It’s really a behind-the-scenes look at what that process looks like,” Layton said.

Guests get a glimpse of how an item makes its way from your home to behind glass in a museum. Items on display include the first COVID-19 vaccine vial given to Ottawa County, photos of a man who was born and raised in the area who died fighting in Vietnam, and a Purple Heart medal.

Heading into Halloween, the museum displays Victorian decorations to celebrate the spooky season.

In addition to the Washington Avenue location, the museum has a second location called the Community Archives and Research Center at 100 172nd Ave. south of Comstock Street.

“We house more than 70,000 three-dimensional objects there that we can’t display in the downtown museum,” she said.

The items stored at CARC have been donated by community members over the years.

“The community has been generous enough to give us treasures from local history, old shops and family heirlooms, and we are able to store these three-dimensional objects and photographic archives offsite at the Archives and Research Center,” said Layton.

In addition to arranging appointments to view the inventory stored in the CARC, the museum offers an online database. To browse the different articles, click here.

The museum is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Extended summer hours are offered from Memorial Day through Labor Day. For more information, see Museum website.

*Editor’s note: This article is part of a Series exploring small community museums in West Michigan. More articles will be published on in the coming weeks. Museum Tour: Historical Museum of the Three Cities in Grand Haven

Dais Johnston

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