Monday, September 30, 2013

Local attractions: Covington Historical Museum

Yesterday I finally got around to checking out one of the other museums in Baraga County, the Covington Township Historical Museum located -- where else? -- in Covington. It's housed in the former township hall, a building that dates back to the early 1930s. They were holding their annual end of the season fall festival; they won't be open again until next summer except by appointment. As a person who thinks a lot about the National Register of Historic Places, I walked into the building and thought, holy cow, why isn't this place listed?! Other than stuffing the museum into it, I don't think the building's changed a whole lot since its original construction.
There have been some minor modifications to the building, but nothing major. The biggest change to the interior was the addition of the balcony along one side after the museum was established in the late 1990s. It was built to provide additional exhibit space, but is the type of modification that falls into the "adaptive re-use" category and no one really cares about anyway. The National Register gate keepers obsess about exterior appearances; having an unchanged interior is basically a bonus. Of course, the building isn't going to remain eligible much longer: township supervisors plan to do vinyl siding and replacement windows in fiscal year 2014. No doubt the window replacement job will include blocking a few off, too, in the name of energy efficiency. The historical society itself seems split on the issue: one fellow told me he'd really like to see the building listed and is opposed to the window replacement as currently planned; another member said she doesn't care as long because what counts is what's in the building and not what it looks like on the outside. An understandable sentiment, although not one I necessarily agree with. I did tell her that vinyl is really poor choice for a lot of reasons -- if they're going to do new siding, they need to go with a material that doesn't burn -- but in the end, it's up to the township board. They still own the building. 
In any case, on the main floor under the balcony the Covington Historical Society has set up spaces with specific themes: there's a workshop space with various tools on display, an office/school space, and a kitchen/dining space. There is the usual incredible clutter, the embarrassment of riches, many small local museums suffer from: people give you things so you feel obligated to display it all, which results in a space that doesn't really represent any specific era and can be a little confusing. The stove top shown above, for example has at least three meat grinders, two different types of irons, an old lunch pail, a double boiler, and a meatball maker all kind of jumbled together. A professional curator would probably suggest some selective editing was in order. On the other hand, most of the items are tagged: they have labels with the item's name and where it came from, i.e., "Donated by . . . ." People with roots in the Covington area can walk in and go, wow, there's my grandmother's rolling pin. We do something similar at the museum in Baraga, but it was pretty clear the Covington folks have a much better handle on inventory and keeping track of who gave what than we do. I was more than a tad envious of their organizational skills. 
I am moderately astounded I didn't spot the strange green thing when I was taking photographs; it's pretty bizarre as a partial object. Is it a lamp? An objet d'art? Who knows. . . but it looks like it should glow in the dark.  
Up on the balcony, the space is also organized loosely by themes. There's a nursery space, a living room, an area devoted to sports, and a space that is primarily bridal: there were multiple wedding gowns spanning about 80 years of Covington history. The oldest dress appeared to be a flower girl's dress from the 1920s; the oldest bridal gown was from 1940. 
The Covington museum is also blessed with a full basement. The building has a high foundation, so there's good natural light. They have a number of large items displayed down there, including the laundry equipment shown above. I have a minor quibble with the display: I'd have set it up in chronological order so you could see the progression from the copper boiler on the stove to wash tubs on a stand with a wringer to that amazing wringer washer with attached rinse tub to the more modern wringer to a 1990s washer, but maybe that's just my OCD kicking in. 
There is also, of course, a display of logging tools that includes these ancient power saws. Once again a little bit of museum envy crept in. Our county museum has a zillion buck saws and cross cut saws, but no one has seen fit (yet!) to donate a decent antique chain saw. Then again, we don't have one of these either:
The Covington museum is open seasonally, June through September, and is located one block west of US-141 in downtown Covington, Michigan. 


  1. Nan,
    Where is that from Qwinn or Marquette?


  2. It's about 75 miles west of Gwinn, or about a 90 minute drive.

  3. Sarge, follow M-28 west from Marquette to US-141 to Covington.


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