When the first known historical society was organized on August 16, 1878, in Branch County, they declared their goal to be, “The collecting and preserving of historical biographical or other information in relation to Branch County”. They went by the name of The Pioneer Society, and you were required to have resided in Branch County for a minimum of thirty years in order to be a member. Needless-to-say, they were seeking the participation of the very early settlers who had purchased government land, cleared their ground and built their own log cabins. There was no hidden meaning to their intent when they said, Pioneer Society.
The Pioneer group was active until 1892 when they fell silent until the end of 1896. An unprecedented loss of the settler era members took a toll on the vitalization of the group to function. Again, they went silent from mid-1897 until February of 1901. The officers elected to restart the organization at that meeting were active only until May of that year when they held their last meeting.
Any historical society activity between 1901 and 1958 remains a mystery to date. In 1958 a celebration was being held at a state roadside park in Bronson for the purpose of installing a new historical marker commemorating the Chicago Road. Several people signed up during that event with the intention of relaunching an active historical society in the county.
Activity for the revitalized organization commencing in 1959 centered around preparation for the 1961 Coldwater centennial. The group erected a Michigan Historical Commission marker in the northeast section of the 4-Corners Park celebrating Coldwater’s heritage. Members of the society organized and put together a 128-page book entitled “Greater Coldwater Centennial”. Also, they organized the placement of a time capsule in the northwest section of the city park to be opened on February 27, 2011.
Once the focus of the centennial had expired the group lost momentum. Their last project was a historical artifact show in an open downtown store building at 72-74 W. Chicago Street. Following the summer long event, the group fell silent.
In the early 1970s, there was a growing enthusiasm and vigor to celebrate all things historical with the upcoming 200th birthday of our country in 1976. Preservationists came out of the woodwork, inspired to see our national history polished and put on display across the country. This held true in the County of Branch as well.
On October 27, 1972, a reorganizational meeting was held in the Branch County Bank community room at 28 W. Chicago street. Over thirty people from Coldwater, Bronson, and Quincy participated in the meeting, and with the reactivation of the historical society. Officers were elected in February 1973, and in March, it was incorporated as a non-profit organization.
In February 1974 the newly revitalized society entered into a purchase agreement for the architecturally significant Wing family home at 27 S. Jefferson Street. The property was purchased from the granddaughter of Lucius M. Wing, Benita Adaline (Wing) Kershaw. At the time, Adaline Kershaw, sold the home, including furnishings and personal family artifacts, to the society for a price of $24,970. Her wish was that the home and content would be utilized to establish a museum with the goal of preservation of local history. The new Branch County Historical Society and its leadership faithfully followed that cause.
In November 1979 the Michigan History Division marker was erected on the property and was dedicated formally on May 18, 1980. The society as been actively involved with numerous activities from that original organization point and forward to present. The museum has been the recipient of several donations from county families seeking a safe place to preserve significant family heirlooms for viewing by the public.
For visitors to the Wing House Museum, one of the most interesting aspects is recognizing the evolution of the home over the many decades during which it served as a home for the Wing family. The 2nd Empire Victorian home was built in 1875 by the Chandler family and sold by their daughter-in-law in 1882 to Lucius Wing. Over the years, architectural changes have introduced different period designs into the home, such as an ‘Arts & Craft’ period dining room or the easily identifiable 1950s green fixtured bathroom.
Two years ago, the main entrance steps were completely rebuilt while saving and incorporating all the original accessory hardware and end pieces from Lucius Wing’s original steps addition. This year, 2018, we replaced the Pearl Street side entrance steps of concrete with a wooden set that mimics the original wooden steps of 1875. We commenced scrapping the exterior of the museum in the fall of 2018 and will be repainting the building in the early spring of 2019.
Today, the Wing House Museum served as the headquarters of the Branch County Historical Society. It is open monthly from April to November with guided tours. Private group and family tours can be scheduled. The museum can also be rented for group meals, giving an organization a unique and special event getaway.
David McDonald ©