Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Historical Museum of Bay County

We did not have a clear idea about what we wanted to see in Bay City yesterday when we headed out toward that city.  We did know that the USS Edson, a Naval destroyer launched in 1958, was making an arrival into the Saginaw Bay from Pennsylvania the same morning we planned to be there.  It is to become a part of the Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum.   My brother Wayne, a Navy veteran, wanted to see that event.  The ship has received commendations for its meritorious service during the Vietnam War.
After watching the gangplank lifted and attached to the ship, we drove into Bay City looking for a place to get some coffee.  We found a McDonald's restaurant, which just happened to be across from the historical museum.  Sometimes that is how we plan our days!  In some small cities I am a bit wary of their historical museums. Antiques and artifacts may be displayed in a very haphazard manner with little information provided.  That is not certainly the case for the Historical Museum of Bay County!   We spent a good part of our day there.  The first display, which caught my eye, is a collection of creamy yellow glassware called custard glass.  That was totally new to me.  The genuine article of this glass, first made in 1880 in England, was originally made with uranium salts.  Under ultra violet light the glassware has a greenish glow.
A large section of the museum is devoted to the history of the various industries of the Bay City area.  As with most of Michigan, lumber was the first commerce to bring income to the area.  When the pine trees for that industry became depleted, Michigan passed a Sugar Beet Act in 1897.  The state was willing to pay $4.00 per ton to farmers for beets containing 12% sugar.  German immigrant farmers had experience with growing that crop back in the old country.  The act was repealed in 1900, but it was the start of something big for Michigan.  I remember my mother (who grew up on a farm outside of Saginaw) mentioning that as a child she had to hoe weeds in their sugar beet fields.  Today sugar beets are grown in 18 counties in Michigan.  Maybe you have heard of Pioneer or Big Chief sugar, which are products of Michigan.   There is also information in the museum regarding the older buildings of Bay City.  We saw some of the Victorian palatial mansions of the lumbar barons as we drove into Bay City on Center Street.  Next to the museum is the city hall, which once housed the police department, jail and library besides the city offices.  Information provided at the museum said that it was built in 1895 in the Romanesque style.  It looks like a medieval castle, complete with an 85 foot tall clock tower.  I was very intrigued by the stone work of the building.  Unfortunately it is currently closed to the public, probably undergoing reconstruction.   I will contain the story of our day in Bay City in the next posting.

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