Saving History 1:1 Step at a Time!

In 2022, the Berrien County Historical Association is facing its biggest renovation to date – the BCHA archive and collection vaults.  Our museum is home to tens of thousands of pieces of Berrien County’s past and yet years of mismanagement and lack of care has created serious issues that are impacting our artifacts and our ability to preserve the area’s history.  In order to properly perseve our current collections and allow for continued growth in the future, it is time for our staff and volunteers to organize, rehome, and completely upgrade our two vaults.  By doing so we’re able to achieve the following goals:

  • Rehouse hundreds of artifacts for their safety and preservation, including textiles, glassware, tools, and more
  • Create a new organization system that allows staff to easily find artifacts or archival pieces for research and exhibition
  • Allow for our collections software to be updated with better accuracy
  • Create usable space for continued growth, allowing the BCHA to close gaps in our collections
  • Purchase much needed preservation materials such as a deep freezer chest for nitrate film storage

The cost of this project is estimated to be approximately $20,000.  To help us achieve this goal faster, The Upton Foundation has set a 10 for 10 challenge for the BCHA.  For every dollar we raise, the Upton Foundation will match 1:1 up to $10,000.  This means your donation goes farther and has a greater impact on this project!  With this money, the BCHA will be able to do the following:

  • Purchase new stationary and mobile storage shelves that allow for better use of the space (see here for sample shelving styles)
  • Purchase new humidity and temperature control systems to ensure the best environment for our vaults
  • Purchase a new deep freezer chest to safely store nitrate films in our collections, reducing risk of fire by 90%
  • Purchase a new hanging system for our blanket and quilt collection
  • Purchase new shelves to safely store furniture
  • Purchase new boxes for collections storage, with special focus on textiles and glassware to ensure their safety and minimize damage exposure
  • Purchase new paint to seal walls and floors, caulk to seal windows, and new UV blockers to cover the windows
  • Purchase a second copy of PastPerfect so staff and volunteers can work side-by-side to update our collections database

The BCHA will also use funds for materials needed to archive these projects, such as painting supplies.

When you give today, you’re helping us save yesterday’s story for tomorrow’s history lovers!

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The BCHA seeks to preserve the physical history of Berrien County through many objects, including but not limited to textiles, art, furniture and household goods, and more.  Our collections and archival vaults are home to pieces of the county’s history dating back more than two hundred years and helps to tell our story.  Guests have opportunities to explore and view these items through various physical and digital exhibits throughout the year.

At this time, we do not have digital access to our artifacts however as part of our long term preservation project, we hope to create an accessible online database that allows for researchers to view our collections from their home.

For those interested in using our collections and archives for research, in-person sessions are free and available by appointment only.  Copies and other related services are available for a small fee.  Parties interested in doing research but are unable to come on-site can pay an hourly fee to have one of our staff pull the information for you.  Preliminary research requests are always free.  

Parties interested in using our artifacts or archival pieces for media purposes should review our Image Reproduction Permission Form.  Questions about this form should be directed to our Curator at jmoga@berrienhistory.org

Researching with the BCHA

Researchers of all persuasions are welcomed to explore our collection and archival vaults on their own research journeys.  Whether you are a student looking for the perfect source for a research paper or an amateur historian looking to know more about your neighborhood, we’re here to help you where we can.  As a collecting institution, we have subject and time period gaps and therefore we may not have the information you are looking for.

All preliminary research reviews are free of charge and should be sent to info@berrienhistory.org.

If you are not local to the southwest Michigan region, our staff is able to conduct research sessions for you.  There is a fee associated with this service and it must be paid in full before we begin.  Our Schedule of Fees will help you plan your project’s budget.

Those local to us are welcomed to schedule an appointment to complete their research on-site at the Courthouse Square during our business hours Wednesday through Saturday.  There is no fee associated with this service, but photocopies and digital scans of items will incur charges.  Payments can be made via cash, check, credit card while on site.

Donating Artifacts to the BCHA

The Berrien County Historical Association accepts donations of artifacts and archival items to our collections.  Donations will be reviewed by the curator and director to determine if the donation will be accessioned into our collections.  This review is determined by our Collection Policy as set by the Board of Directors.

We review each donation individually with the following rubric and if the answer is no to four of these five questions, we will reject the donation, although exceptions may apply on a case-by-case basis.

  1. Does it have a direct connection to Berrien County or Southwest Michigan history?
  2. Does it help flesh out existing stories we tell or does it tell us a new story?
  3. Do we have the resources to care and maintain the item?
  4. Can we use this item or is it too damaged?
  5. Does the donor have restrictions?

To donate an item or items to our collections, please call 269-471-1202 to speak to our curator or contact him at jmoga@berrienhistory.org.  Items that are left on the property will be deemed abandoned and discarded without review.

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What we are looking for:

The BCHA has several gaps in our collections that we are looking to fill through your donation.

General History Subjects

  • Women
  • African American
  • Asian American
  • Native American*
  • Latinx American
  • LGTBQ+
  • Disability
  • Post-WW2

Subject Specific

  • Business (all sizes)
  • Recreation & Sports
  • Non-profits & Social Groups
  • Home front, WW2
  • Home front, WW1
  • Home front, Civil War
  • Pioneer & Frontier Life
  • Religious Groups
  • Arts & Crafts
  • Architecture
  • Legal & Law

Items

  • Diaries, Letters, Journals, and similar materials
  • Photos, postcards, and photo albums
  • Textiles & Costumes
  • Souvenirs & Promotional Items
  • Paper goods (i.e. brochures, catalogs, etc.)

*Must have proof it was obtained appropriately and legally

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What will not be accepted:

Because the BCHA has limited resources and space to support our collections and archives, we are not looking for the following items or accepting items under the following conditions.  Exceptions may apply, please see the bottom of the page.

Not Accepting

  • Military uniforms and memorabilia (1)
  • Munitions of any type (bombs, bullets, etc.)
  • Guns and weaponry (2)
  • Frames
  • Large furniture
  • Farming instruments
  • Tools
  • Large industrial items
  • Wagons, buggies, carts, or other vehicles
  • Boats or other maritime vehicles

Rejected Conditions

  • Rust or corrosion
  • Broken, torn, or damaged
  • Missing parts or pieces that inhibit storytelling
  • Dangerous elements such as poisons, radium, etc.
  • No clear provenience (ownership)

Exceptions

  • (1) Unless it pertains to underrepresented groups (see left) or to the Berrien Springs Light Guard
  • (2) Berrien Springs Light Guard or locally made examples