Gina Gregory, the president of the Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society, inspects one of the items in the Orchard Lake Museum Aug. 7.

Gina Gregory, the president of the Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society, inspects one of the items in the Orchard Lake Museum Aug. 7.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society celebrates 45 years

Group prepares for event at Orchard Lake Museum Sept. 8

By: Andy Kozlowski | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published August 8, 2019


WEST BLOOMFIELD — A group dedicated to preserving the history of West Bloomfield, Orchard Lake, Sylvan Lake and Keego Harbor is now celebrating a historical milestone of its own, marking 45 years since the group first formed.

The Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society will hold a special event 1-4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 8, at the Orchard Lake Museum, located at 3951 Orchard Lake Road, Suite 1, at the corner of Long Lake Road, in West Bloomfield Township. Admission to the 45th anniversary celebration is free for members of the GWBHS and costs $2 for nonmembers.

Expect refreshments such as Boston coolers and brown cows, history mysteries to solve, indoor and outdoor games — including a mini-arcade for the children — photo opportunities where guests of all ages can wear vintage clothing, volunteers demonstrating the grindstone that farmers used to sharpen tools and the spinning wheel for creating wool-based products, and the top 50 songs of 1974 — which is the year when community members founded the GWBHS.

“Activities will appeal to children of all ages,” said Gina Gregory, the society’s president. “We hope that our community comes to celebrate our unique local history and the 45-year success of this volunteer organization. We have a richer life when we have a deeper understanding of our past.”

Originally called the Orchard Lake Scenic and Historical Society, the group changed its name to the GWBHS to better reflect its focus on the four communities of West Bloomfield, Orchard Lake, Sylvan Lake and Keego Harbor — the homes of its founding members. The group was started on Jan. 28, 1974, by about 50 residents who met at Abbott Middle School on Orchard Lake Road in Orchard Lake to discuss the preservation of the area’s local history and natural beauty. The name change came four years later, in 1978.

The group elected the Rev. Walter J. Ziemba as president and Mel Rycus as vice president. Other original members of the board included Secretary Frances Gadd, Treasurer Doris Bonneville, and Trustees Gen. Frederick S. Strong Jr., Rita Spitery, Dr. R. Garvelink, Agnes Patterson and Sam Stephan, the youngest member at age 13.

The first board set out to research the history of the Michigan Military Academy, Apple Island, Our Lady of Refuge Parish, Orchard Lake Community Presbyterian Church, the city of Orchard Lake, and the subdivisions of Roger’s Grove and Shady Beach.

The nonprofit GWBHS has continued to host a large event annually. Between 1974 and 1981, there were annual Fourth of July picnics. In 1982, the focus shifted to tours of Apple Island, offered on one weekend each year.

This year saw the installation of a boulder monument on the island in Orchard Lake with a plaque marking Apple Island’s addition to the National Register of Historic Places, a list maintained by the U.S. Department of the Interior to track historical archaeological sites across the country. The island was added to the list last year. Since 1980, more than 7,500 second graders in the West Bloomfield School District have gone on tours of Apple Island, led by volunteer docents with the GWBHS. Around 2,500 kindergarteners have also attended.

Documenting the history of each school in the West Bloomfield School District has been another initiative of the GWBHS as part of its “Our School History” project, for which colorful panels depicting each school’s story were created and placed in each building in 2016.

The museum itself came about in 1987, when the city of Orchard Lake offered the space in what was its former City Hall. The museum hosts an open house 1-4 p.m. on the second Sunday of each month.

The history of the site is a long one: In 1854, a structure was built there as the Orchard Lake House, later named the Orchard Lake Hotel, then razed and replaced in 1938 with the current structure, which housed Orchard Lake City Hall until the new City Hall was constructed in 1987 and the old building was granted to the GWBHS.

The museum collects, preserves and researches items dating back to early Native American habitation through to today. Among its artifacts is a dugout cedar canoe that is similar to the boats constructed and used by local Native Americans in the past. The GWBHS has offered programs highlighting various social and historical periods from the 1800s to the present, with a focus on the diverse communities in the metro Detroit area.

Carol Fink, the secretary for the GWBHS, said that the wealth of knowledge stored at the museum helps residents to better contextualize and appreciate the area they call home.

“Our museum hosts a meeting place where people can learn and appreciate the heritage of their community,” Fink said. “The more you know about the history of your community, the better equipped you are to live and enjoy the future.”

For more information about the Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society, visit