Sports in Southwest Michigan: Work and Play Where We Live and Stay
Sports in Southwest Michigan takes visitors back to the late nineteenth century, when the sports craze started with baseball. Following the Civil War’s end in 1865, a wave of industrialization swept across the newly reunited nation. Industrial reforms allowed workers more free time and the health benefits of physical activity were becoming widely recognized. Troops played baseball in Civil War camps and veterans returning home spread its popularity, setting baseball on a course to becoming America’s national pastime. Industries began sponsoring baseball teams, offering players “day jobs” so that they could play ball at night. This phenomenon was mentioned in the 1989 movie, Field of Dreams.
The popularity of sports quickly took hold in southwest Michigan. St. Joseph’s Auto Specialties Company (Ausco) formed its own baseball team which won the 1946 National Semi-Pro championship. Other businesses sponsored athletic teams, from bowling clubs to golf leagues. Historic sporting events have taken place here. In 1920, boxing’s World Heavyweight Champion Jack Dempsey defended his title in Benton Harbor. Today, Harbor Shores hosts the Senior PGA Championship. Geography has shaped sporting activities: our proximity to the water allows for maritime sports, our hills create challenging golf courses, and our four seasons provide opportunities for sports ranging from vintage baseball to ice hockey. The development of local industry will be explored through sports and recreation, as many area companies, such as Whirlpool, Auto Specialties, and Benton Harbor Malleable, sponsored sporting activities and encouraged employees to participate.
Sports in Southwest Michigan offers something for all ages. Children can try an early version of basketball, which was first played by throwing a soccer ball into a peach basket. A reproduction House of David baseball bus, complete with beards, offers a fun photo opportunity. Golf, cheer and football are among the other fun hands-on activities. A number of rare artifacts are on display, including autographs from sports legends, vintage baseball uniforms from the Auscos and the House of David, and the jersey worn by Joique Bell when he played football for Benton Harbor High School.
School sports are a major part of the exhibit. Southwest Michigan schools hold several state titles, and athletes from the area have played for the NBA, NFL, and MLB. Many local athletes, coaches and athletic directors have shared their stories and highlights from these interviews will be playing in the exhibit. Beyond baseball, football and basketball, sports with a history in the area, such as judo and horseracing, are explored. Emphasizing the opportunities opened up by Title IX legislation, several female athletes are highlighted, as well as the role of the local YWCA. Athletics also played a role in opening doors for minorities throughout society.
The Big Three: Boat and Shipbuilding in Benton Harbor and St. Joseph
Located in our Research Library, this exhibit features images from collections that were recently donated to the Heritage Museum. These photographs came to the museum in poor condition and the Heritage Museum’s staff spent five months carefully restoring them for preservation, research and display. The exhibit tells the story of the boatbuilding industry in the twin cities and includes the 1897 Truscott boat that was acquired by the Museum in the early 2000s.
Lighting the Way: Fresnel Lenses from St. Joseph’s Lighthouses
Fresnel lenses dramatically improved maritime safety and saved countless lives. Before their invention, lights were equipped with several oil lamps and mirrored reflectors. Invented in 1822 by French physicist Augustin Fresnel, these new lenses projected light nearly 20 miles across the horizon.
St. Joseph is the only community in Michigan to have preserved two of its own Fresnel lenses. The United States Coast Guard removed one of the historical lenses in 2003 and the other in 2012, replacing them with solar-powered, modern optics. Through an agreement to restore and display the Fresnel lenses, the Heritage Museum received both on long-term loan.
Take Me Back: Photographs of the Twin Cities from the 1950s
The photographs featured in this exhibit were taken by skilled amateur photographer J. Sherwin Murphy. Murphy hailed from St. Joseph and was a member of the Twin City Camera Club. His photos give us look at what life was like in Benton Harbor and St. Joseph during the 1950s.
In Style: 50 Years of the Heritage Museum’s Fashion Collection
From decorative handbags to designer hats, this exhibit features the fashions of the 1910s through the 1950s. Worn by local women, the items in this exhibit are icons from each era. In Style is located in the Shepard Hall cases on the Main Level.