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One of Dearborn’s landmark institutions, the Dearborn Historical Museum, 915 S. Brady St., celebrated a major milestone on Oct. 14 – its 70th anniversary.
Over these past 70 years, the Museum has remained an institution rooted in teaching the intricate and compelling history of the city, while still maintaining robust ties to the community by offering a myriad of relevant and beneficial exhibits, events and programming.

“The museum field is evolving,” said Assistant Curator Paul Talpos. “In 1950, it was very much focused on the preservation of history: the buildings, the artifacts. Now, it’s about working with people and offering the local community something. You can have these great buildings and artifacts, but you also have to have people who are engaging with you.”

Acting Chief Curator Jack Tate agreed. He explained that the Museum strives to create relevant all-ages programming to engage with residents, such as their monthly lecture series, annual Teddy Bear Picnic, Victorian Christmas and more. Earlier this year, the Museum dedicated a rose garden to Dearborn’s Rosie the Riveters, honoring the contributions working women made during the WWII years.

Even through COVID-19 shutdowns and restrictions earlier this year, the Museum was able to find meaningful ways to connect with city residents by placing many of its resources online.

To keep connected with the community during the shutdown, the Museum added a variety of initiatives to their website, including offering free access to their quarterly publication called The Dearborn Historian, and uploading a variety of kid-friendly activities like coloring book pages and virtual scavenger hunts.

“We revamped our website and added whole new resources,” said Talpos. “We created new online exhibits on topics like medical history in Dearborn, the mayors of Dearborn, and high schools in Dearborn.

“We dove headfirst into social media to bring information about the city to residents,” added Tate.

While Museum buildings were closed, they shifted much of their normal programming to YouTube, such as Teddy Bear Crafts and historical video series covering topics such as the history of Henry Ford and the Model T.

“It wasn’t a substitute for being in the museum, but we really are proud of what we were able to accomplish,” said Talpos.

The Museum first opened its doors on Oct. 14, 1950 during an event called the “Cavalcade of Dearborn”—a three-day occasion consisting of a parade and a pageant that told the story of Dearborn’s roots as a farming community to its evolution as a major city. The event drew over 30,000 onlookers, including then-governor of Michigan, G. Mennen Williams.

Today, the Historical Museum is composed of three major buildings: the McFadden-Ross House, the Commandant’s Quarters and the Gardner House.

The Commandant’s Quarters, which is Dearborn’s oldest building still in its original location, remains furnished as it was in the 19th century, and hosts exhibits about Dearborn’s military history. The McFadden-Ross House hosts tours, has several rotating exhibitions, serves as a gathering space for numerous local groups, and contains the Museum’s archives for the City of Dearborn.

Finally, the Museum’s Gardner House, a pioneer-style home that is one of Dearborn’s oldest surviving houses, serves at the site for its Pioneer School Program, which hosts about 1,500 second-grade students every year.

In addition to providing captivating and valuable programming for residents, the Historical Museum also regularly partners with local organizations, groups, businesses, and other museums to maintain community ties. Tate points out that the Historical Museum has partnered with the Henry Ford Museum, the Arab American National Museum, and other civic groups to produce meaningful exhibits.

In addition, Talpos explained that they work regularly with the nonprofit organization the Museum Guild of Dearborn, which has a membership of about 23 community groups with interests ranging from gardening to genealogy.

“We’re the venue for all these different groups every week and they help the museum with little projects,” he said. “It’s good for us to build connections with people who love history.”

Tate and Talpos expressed that it is somewhat unusual for small, local, municipally-based museums such as the Dearborn Historical Museum to remain open for as long as they have. They credit their success to its early start, the consistent support of city funders, and a community that is proud to live within a city steeped in interesting history.

“Being started back in 1950 is a bit ahead of the curve for local historical societies,” explained Talpos. “Everyone who is in Dearborn identifies it as a history-rich city, and in the 1950s, they had the initiative to get it started.”

Both Tate and Talpos feel that keeping this connection to local history is vitally important, and the Historical Museum works hard to meet that need.

“It gives you more of a sense of being if you know the history of the area, the people who came before, and the people who made the city what it is today,” said Tate. “I think a lot of people want to know that, and we provide that service to them."

“Dearborn is much more than your average American city. It believes in its past,” added Talpos. “We view it as our job to interpret that history and let people know what Dearborn has come from and how we’re proud to be where it is today.”

To celebrate the Museum’s 70th anniversary, the Historical Museum is hosting a month-long fundraiser in November that will culminate in a birthday party on during the Spring of 2021 at the Commandant’s Quarters, 21950 Michigan Ave.

Those who donate at least $35 will be invited to a party that will take place in the Spring of 2021; those who donate $70 will be entered into a raffle to win prizes; and those who donate $300 or more will be honored on the Museum’s website, and will receive an invitation to a VIP reception at the Museum once they are able to host one. A more concrete date for both the party and the VIP reception will be announced later.

The major sponsors of the Spring 2021 event are Les Stanford Chevrolet Cadillac and AAA – The Auto Club Group, who are joined by some of the sponsors of the original 1950 Cavalcade, including Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9885 “Bova” and Corrigan Moving Systems. Humana is also a sponsor.

Donations will be used to improve and restore the Museum’s buildings, and to fund the many free and low-cost events the Museum puts on year-round.

For more information about the Historical Museum and its 70th anniversary fundraiser, please visit thedhm.com.

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