While paying homage to the man considered to be Michigan’s greatest writer, it’s worth noting that the organization behind the Little Traverse History Museum has been around longer than Ernest Hemingway himself.
The Little Traverse Historical Society was founded in 1905. Through the years, these local historians collected hundreds of artifacts and over 6,000 scanned photographs of the region, all of which led to the opening of the museum in 1971.
Still going strong today, the museum offers windows into the roots, growth, and culture of Petoskey, Harbor Springs, Bay View, and Walloon Lake. It’s the perfect fall destination to team up with a leaf-peeping drive before it closes for the season in October.
And it’s your last chance to see the museum’s Hemingway exhibit - run by a true Hemingway expert - before it departs at the end of September.
Did we mention that you also get to visit an historic train depot at the same time?
“The depot building that now houses the museum was built in 1892 by the Chicago and West Michigan Railroad company,” says Mike Federspiel, the Historical Society’s executive director.
That depot would eventually be taken over by the Pere Marquette Railroad and then later the C&O Railroad. Yet, by the 1960s, trains were no longer running to Petoskey’s waterfront, and there were plans afoot to destroy the station.
“The LTHS stepped in, bought the building and surrounding land, and forged a deal with the city that turned the building over to the city with the Historical Society having ongoing use of it for the museum,” Federspiel says.
The transformation took approximately two years, and in 1971, the Little Traverse History Museum was opened to the public.
PIGEONS TO HEMINGWAY
Located on the sidewalk path in Petoskey’s Waterfront Park, the museum features permanent exhibits, including Native Americans, lumbering, and passenger pigeons, the latter of which is Federspiel’s favorite.
“Not many people know about how the pigeons were hunted into extinction, and that their last nesting area was the Little Traverse region,” he says. “We have two display cases and a large, hand-painted mural that tell the story, and an extremely rare actual passenger pigeon that was preserved by a taxidermist.”
Elsewhere in the museum the exhibit, Hemingway’s Michigan Story, details the writer’s personal and literary ties to Northern Michigan. Federspiel, who has a background as a history professor, has also served as the Michigan Hemingway Society’s president since 2001, and has authored a book on Hemingway. So the expertise that he brought to the exhibit itself really shows.
“Our Hemingway exhibit has been especially popular,” he says. “In June, over 300 scholars attended the International Hemingway Society’s conference in Petoskey, and that generated a great deal of local and tourist interest in Hemingway.”
Both locals and tourists are part of what keep Federspiel enthused about his work. The interest from new and out-of-town visitors, as well as the feedback that he gets, are just one part of what make his job rewarding. As far as the locals go, he welcomes residents who take the time to learn more about their town. And the efforts of his own team right at the museum is something that he especially appreciates.
“There are two things I like best about my job. The first is working with people - we have a talented core of volunteers that make it possible to run the museum, and I learn something new every day from the people I work with and meet.”
The second, he says, is simple - sharing the area’s history.
“Knowing the past gives an important context for the present, and it’s great when someone realizes how interesting and useful the past can be.”
The Little Traverse History Museum is located at 100 Depot Court in Petoskey’s Bayfront Park, telephone 231-347-2620. They are open M-F 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturdays 1 p.m.-4 p.m., and are closed Sundays. The museum will close for the season in October.