By Riley James
The Meridian Times Staff Reporter
OKEMOS — Finding a historical village in Michigan is pretty uncommon, but not for Meridian Township. The Meridian Historical Village in Okemos “was established as a private non-profit organization in 1974,” according to their website.
Because this village has been around for so many years, it has had a positive impact on the community from education to attraction of tourists through their events.
“[The Meridian Historical Village] protects and preserves the local history. We have an archive, and we have all sorts of resources here that can help not just students but community members also,” said Jane Rose, the executive director of the historical village. “As a history geek, I have to say that it is so critical, in my opinion, that people understand that things weren’t always the way they are now.”
The Meridian Historical Village is a jewel that is quite unique in this area, according to Rose.
“[Having a historical village in Michigan] is quite unusual, and ours is unique … We rescued these buildings; they were all moved from other locations with a goal to rescue our heritage,” said Rose.
Although there are not many historical villages, there are some in other small communities in Michigan, and also bigger ones in cities like Flint.
“Very few communities see the value in [historic villages], so that makes it more distinctly unique,” said Roger Rosentreter, assistant professor in the MSU history department and former editor of Michigan History Magazine.
“Preserving the past has a value. Architecturally, we have a tendency in this country to replace old buildings. So if we are able to bring these buildings together, and remind the present and the future of things that have passed by, then there is great value in that,” Rosentreter said. “Certainly it is a value to remember the past.”
Rosentreter also thinks the Meridian Historical Village adds local character and shows its appreciation of the past beyond the fact that they are preserving buildings.
The Meridian Historical Village is a popular place for schools to visit. According to Rose, about 100 schools per year from all over Michigan come to visit the Meridian Historical Village.
“[The Meridian Historical Village] is a resource for education. We work with about 3,000 students per year, 42 percent of which come from outside of Ingham County,” said Rose.
The Meridian Historical Village is much cheaper than other historical villages in Michigan, which is why they get so many schools coming to visit.
“We intentionally keep our prices low, so that we can work with a lot of schools. We have a lot of exciting programs that we put together for the schools including something called ‘the big history lesson,’ where the schools come for multiple days,” said Rose. “They might come anywhere from three to five days in a row and spend their day here. They will learn about history, but they will also do chores so they will actually get a flavor of what it was like to be a child back in the nineteenth century.”
The Meridian Historical Village hosts different events throughout the year to get people involved and attract tourists. Some of the events include: Tourist in Your Own Town, Meridian Heritage Festival, and Christmas in the Village.
“We have several events per year that bring people in to the community. And any time you are bringing people into the community, they are investing, whether it’s stopping for lunch before they leave or shopping in our stores,” said Rose.
Although schools and tourists are a big part of the population that visits the Meridian Historical Village, local residents also take time to explore the village.
“I’ve only been to the [Meridian] Historical Village two times, but I think it is a great aspect to the community,” said Alex Skinner, a resident of Meridian Township. “I went there during the [Meridian Heritage Festival] a couple years ago, and it was a lot of fun.”
Even though the village is primarily self-funded, they do receive some help from the township and parks and rec.
“We do get support from the township in terms of helping out whenever they can. Of course the property itself is the responsibility of parks and recreation, and so it is their crew that comes through and does all the mowing and the snowplowing and so on…[Parks and rec] do help out with some of our maintenance costs as they are able to. They have been very supportive, both the township and parks and recreation commissions,” said Rose.
The Meridian Historical Village is also partners with the Meridian Garden Club, who takes care of all the gardens at the village and has put in hundreds of hours doing so.
“We view it as a partnership. We support the township and the township supports us,” said Rose.
The Meridian Historical Village only has two paid employees, and everyone else that works there are volunteers. According to Rose, they rely very heavily on the enthusiasm of their volunteers.
Those who work at the Meridian Historical Village are always in a state of flux.
“We are always looking for new and wonderful ideas that we can implement in a realistic manner given the fact that we are so dependent on volunteers,” said Rose.
The Meridian Historical Village is located at 5151 Marsh Road in Okemos, and the tour season begins on May 7.