HARRISON TOWNSHIP — Tucker, Ballard, Conger, Campau, and, of course, Harrison. They are all familiar names associated with a region of Macomb County once called Belvidere and today referred to as Boat City U.S.A.
Harrison Township, named after former president William Henry Harrison in 1827, has a long history and a longer family tree, and both can be explored inside the old township hall building that re-opened on June 8 as the Harrison Township Historical Museum.
The grand opening was attended by the area’s elected officials and longtime residents, now members of the Harrison Township Historical Commission, a group that spent the last 11 years refurbishing the decades-old, one-room building on Townhall Street.
“This couldn’t have been done without volunteers and a lot of fundraisers,” said Linda Karczewski, chairperson of the commission. “It really is a labor of love.”
The small, white building, which can be found adjacent to the township’s current administrative offices at the corner of L’Anse Creuse and Townhall, is filled to near capacity with hundreds of historical artifacts and photographs.
Karczewski said while much of the items were donated by longtime residents, like a real Native American arrowhead that one resident found as a child at Lake St. Clair Metropark, some items, like an authentic moccasin and an antique sled, were found under the floorboards and tucked in the attic of the building itself. A large amount of the photos and historical documents came from township historian Marie Ling-McDougal, author of “Images of America Harrison Township” through Arcadia Publishing.
The museum will be open from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. the third Wednesday of every month for tours by calling Karczewski at (586) 463-1754. And once school resumes in the fall, the commission plans to open more regularly to accommodate educational field trips.
Township Supervisor Kenneth Verkest, a lifelong resident of the township along with his father and grandfather, said what’s inside the museum proves that Harrison Township has just as rich and fascinating a history as Mount Clemens and Detroit.
“The gambling history, the old rum runners; we’ve got our own stories,” he said.
Verkest added that the museum likely wouldn’t be open without the passion of the many volunteers who worked to make it what it is today.
“This is an example of how volunteers in our township provide another great service to the residents,” he said, referring also to local volunteer-run amenities like the public library and the beautification commission. “It’s a great facility (the museum) and I hope folks come out and take a look at it.”
Karczewski said in additional to the commission’s volunteers, members of the Harrison Township Fire Department also aided in the completion of the museum.
Kevin DeJaeghere with Firefighters Union 1737 said he and four other firefighters volunteered their skills, labor and funds to construct the steps leading into the museum at the rear of the building.
“All they had was a concrete block to get inside the back, so when we found out they needed some help, we got right to work,” said DeJaeghere, adding that the fire department, which has two stations in the 26,000-resident township, also volunteers at local schools and organizes a host of events throughout the year, all geared toward improving Harrison and bringing additional services to those who live there.
Karczewski said even the volunteers have a long history with the township, including member Robert Ballard, 90.
Ballard Street where Tucker Park and the Tucker Senior Center are located is named after Ballard’s family. His father, George Ballard and his mother, who passed in 2001 at 101, was Alga Ballard (nee Campau), and their parents were some of the original settlers and farmers in the area.
“I remember me and my brother delivering newspapers up and down North River and South River,” said Ballard during the museum grand opening, sitting next to old photographs of his mother. “I’ve seen how these homes have grown from summer cottages to what they are today.”
In addition to the hundreds of old black and white photographs on display at the museum, visitors will also be able to view color images of the work done over the years to the museum’s interior and exterior.
Karczewski said the museum isn’t even close to being 100 percent complete. That’s because she’s continually on the lookout for more historical items and photographs to add to the museum. She currently has a particular interest in photographs that depict a house in its original state that can be compared to what it looks like today.
“Because without a past, there is no future,” she said.
The Harrison Township Historical Museum is located at 38355 Townhall Street. For more information, schedule a tour or to donate, call Linda Karczewski at (586) 463-1754. The Harrison Township Historical Commission meets at 7 p.m. every third Wednesday of the month, with the exception of December.
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