The Orchard Lake Museum recently reopened to the public after being closed for more than a year.

The Orchard Lake Museum recently reopened to the public after being closed for more than a year.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Orchard Lake Museum returns to in-person visits

By: Mark Vest | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published September 24, 2021

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WEST BLOOMFIELD — On Sept. 12, the Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society hosted its first in-person event in more than a year — the “Grand Reopening Open House” at the Orchard Lake Museum.

Prior to the reopening, the museum had been closed to the public since March of last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a press release from the GWBHS, the newly renovated museum has new interactive exhibits, with outdoor features including an archaeology dig box, a newly installed hand pump and a “carriage photo op.”

The galleries are designed for “optimum use with universal accessibility,” and “exhibits share our local history through professionally printed panels, new artifacts, and sensory experiences,” according to the press release.

Through at least the remainder of this year, the museum is expected to be open 1-4 p.m. on the first, second and fourth Sundays of each month, as well as the third Friday of the month, with no admission fee.

GWBHS Office and Activities Coordinator Cory Taylor said that the second Sunday will continue to be a themed open house.

Groups of 12 are allowed inside the museum at a time, with the visits limited to about 15 minutes per group.

Masks are required inside, and those who enter are expected to practice social distancing.

According to Taylor, disposable masks and hand sanitizer will be available.

As for renovations, changes to the museum had already begun to take place prior to its closing.

“The project began in January 2020 and grew in scope during the pandemic,” GWBHS President Gina Gregory stated in the press release. “We were able to more carefully update the museum and rethink exhibits. We’ve included more stories about greater West Bloomfield, with engaging exhibit elements and more artifacts.”

Taylor expanded on the society’s original intent.

“Our original plan was to basically paint and re-carpet, and then do some minor exhibit changes,” she said.  “We had just had our open house in March, and then, I believe, later that week was when everything shut down.”

The look of the museum over the course of the past year has changed even more than was originally expected.

“Throughout the last year, we had been making more and more plans,” Taylor said. “It wasn’t just painting and re-carpeting. In addition to those things, we also looked at all of our exhibit space and completely redesigned everything. … Most of the same stuff is coming back, but then we also brought some stuff up from the basement archive and put some more stuff out that gave more context to the history and the stories that we’re trying to tell.”

Carol Fink, who is the GWBHS’s corresponding secretary, provided further details about what people can expect to see at the museum.

“We have more interactive activities with a ‘two-seat’ Keego theater and ticket machine, animal furs, and a trolley coin change machine,” she stated in the release. “Outside exhibits include a demonstration water pump (and) doctor’s carriage.”

Those who like an orderly process might appreciate another change.

“We also made the exhibit space go in chronological order. So rather than having stuff in space as it fits, which is how it was, we have (a) chronological timeline order of the first people who were in the area — so, native people — and then moved into when people started coming up here for vacationing and creating the subdivisions, and when people purchased Apple Island,” Taylor said. “For the most part, it’s all chronological order. That’s how the gallery is set up now.”

After being shut down completely for a time, the GWBHS began offering virtual programming in August of last year.

“We were successful with virtual programming over the last year,” Taylor said. “If we need to, we’ll go back to virtual programming. That’s always an option, but we’re hoping that we can remain open.”

Taylor shared her perspective about the biggest differences between the current and the previous look of the museum.

“I think the biggest difference is the layout. We completely got rid of the display cases,” she said. “We’re utilizing the wall space and the floor space a lot better than we were before. … A lot (of) the volunteers had consultations with exhibit designers from Cranbrook Institute of Science, and we’ve used their expertise to help us hone our skills. I think that’s the biggest difference, is the way that we’re displaying artifacts is a lot more up-to-date.”

Despite all the challenges brought on as a result of the pandemic, there has been a bright spot for the museum.

“Nobody wanted to go through a pandemic, but I think it worked out well because we were able to do all these things that we had been wanting to do for years but never had time,” Taylor said.

Taylor described the current phase the GWBHS is in as “quite overwhelming” but exciting.

“I think the main thing for me is that the galleries aren’t just ours anymore,” she said. “We’re telling the stories of our communities, and we can finally share those stories and all of the hard work that the volunteers have put into upgrading the museum. … It’s a labor of love, and all of that, we could finally share with other community members who haven’t been back here in a year and a half. … I think that’s the biggest perk.”

Aside from in-person activities, the GWBHS is also still offering virtual programming.

To view a list of upcoming events, visit gwbhs.org.

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