Community collaboration examines Gilded Age

By: Linda Shepard | Rochester Post | Published March 15, 2017

File photo by Donna Agusti


ROCHESTER HILLS — A community collaboration program aims to unite local resources for a unique look at one historical topic: the Gilded Age.

“The Rochester area has a wealth of information and programs,” said Mary Eberline, who founded Smart Towns with Frank Cardimen. “We figured out a way to bring all these together.”

Smart Towns is a collaborative program linking Meadow Brook Hall, Oakland University, Rochester College, the Rochester Hills Museum and the Rochester Hills Public Library.

“They are all in the education business,” Eberline said.

An upcoming series of lectures, presentations and courses will introduce participants to all aspects of the Gilded Age. The lectures will be presented by experts in their respective fields of study.

The Gilded Age — which spanned the 1870s to about 1900 — parallels modern times in regard to economics and the arts, Eberline said.

“The Civil War had ended, the rich were getting richer, and the poor were getting poorer,” she said. “The arts were flourishing.” 

She describes the period as a time when ruthless robber barons ruled the rapidly growing country, and waves of immigrants arrived at America’s shores. Railroads opened the west, while Native Americans saw a federal land grab and hostilities.

During the Gilded Age, scientific and industrial advancement rapidly expanded, creating a new American aesthetic and putting the country on the world map as an economic power, she said. Author Mark Twain described the country’s efforts to justify its growth by using gold paint and “gilding” the truth to hide serious social problems.

Cardimen, a former faculty member at Oakland University, said Smart Towns is not the first collaboration between himself and Eberline.

“She and I have been partners for years,” he said. “We did a lot of fundraising for the new barn at the (Rochester Hills) Museum, and we were looking for a new project. Mary came up with the Smart Towns concept.”

He describes Smart Towns as community education on an academic level.

“The Rochester area is maturing, and there is a need,” he said. “There wasn’t anything out there like this type of lifetime learning.”

Smart Towns programs are offered from April through November at all partner locations, including Meadow Brook Hall, Oakland University, Rochester College, the Rochester Hills Museum at Van Hoosen Farm and the Rochester Hills Public Library.

For a complete Smart Towns schedule, visit