A book reviews the Detroit Historical Society

The book “100 Years of the Detroit Historical Society” is available from Wayne State University Press.



GROSSE POINTE WOODS — The Detroit Historical Society celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2021, but while it had spent the past century carefully preserving the city’s history, it hadn’t done the same cataloging as its own.

Former DHS Senior Curator Joel Stone set out to change that by researching and writing the book “100 Years of the Detroit Historical Society,” published by Wayne State University Press. The book documents the various phases of the Detroit Historical Society’s history and its changing role, highlighting the group’s successes but not fearing its failures. It has served as the premier DHS account since 1952.

“That’s the problem with all historical societies: they pay attention to all the history around them, except their own,” Stone said.

Today, the DHS oversees the Detroit Historical Museum and the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, the latter located in Belle Isle.

Since its inception, the DHS has included many prominent Grosse Pointers among its board members, so it’s only fitting that Stone will give a presentation on the book at 7:30 p.m. on April 20 at the Cook School, next to the Pointe Woods Town Hall. parking complex at 20025 Mack Plaza Drive. The free lecture – Stone’s first on this book in the Pointes – is part of the Grosse Pointe Historical Society’s free lecture series by Dr. Frank Bicknell.

Stone said he discovered “so many great stories” while researching the book.

“I wanted it to be a relatively user-friendly read and something that was accessible not only to someone interested in museums, but also someone interested in Detroit,” Stone said. “It was like writing a family story.”

For about 15 years, Stone served as Senior Curator of the Detroit Historical Society, a position from which he retired in June 2021. He is now Curator Emeritus.

Almost nothing remains of DHS’ earliest history. For this, Stone said he relied on a book by Gracie Krum, who served as secretary to the DHS board and took meeting minutes from 1921 to 1948. Krum was the only woman with what was then an all-male organization. From these minutes she compiled an early DHS history which was published in 1952. Stone said he could not find Krum’s minutes of these meetings or his notes, only the book.

Other resources he used for his book included a monthly newsletter that chronicled DHS activity from 1948 to 1967, as well as pamphlets, interviews, newspaper articles, and other materials. One of those interviews was with Cynthia Young, who had worked for DHS since 1955 and served as curator of social history at the Detroit Historical Museum for nearly 30 years. Stone said Young died last year, aged 89, but was able to speak with her and learn more about the band’s early years as well as more recent ones.

“I was able to pull together a lot of stuff to put this story together,” Stone said.

Stone has lived in Bloomfield Township for about 15 years, but he grew up in Grosse Pointe Woods and previously lived in Grosse Pointe Park and Detroit’s East English Village.

He spent around 20 years as a graphic designer and salesman — work that included creating graphics for museum exhibits — before he started working for DHS, but Stone said he’s always had a passion for history. , even getting a master’s degree in history.

“My parents had dragged me and my brother and sister to museums in 40 of the 50 states by the time I was out of high school, so museums were in my blood,” Stone said.

Stone edited several books, including “Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies”, and also wrote “Floating Palaces of the Great Lakes”.

“If you’re interested in the history of Detroit, I hope (the book) fills in another piece of the puzzle of the rich history that we have,” Stone said. “For our staff and board, I hope this gives them a playbook that shows what we did right and what we did wrong.”

Historian Arthur Woodford, whose numerous books including one on the history of Grosse Pointe Shores, praised “100 years of the Detroit Historical Society”.

“In this well-written and well-researched account, author Joel Stone tells the story of the founding and growth of the Detroit Historical Society,” Woodward wrote in a blurb for the book. “It’s the story of 100 years and of the leadership DHS has given and the impact it has demonstrated for the preservation and interpretation of our city’s history.”

Larry J. Wagenaar, executive director and CEO of the Michigan Historical Society, also felt Stone’s book was significant.

“The Detroit Historical Society has been preserving and sharing the city’s history for over a century,” Wagenaar wrote. “Joel Stone does an excellent job of guiding the reader through the incredible ups and downs of this important Detroit institution and the pivotal role it has played in Motor City history.”

Stone said he wanted his book to be something of a guide for DHS museums in the future as well. Museums today are interactive and serve as gathering places for special events like weddings, and they are also becoming more representative of the communities they serve by embracing diversity.

“Museums have changed so much over the past 20 years,” Stone said. “They started out as these cabinets of curiosities or rock chambers. But the stone rooms are no longer sold.

The book also recognizes the many organizations that have played vital roles in supporting DHS and continue to do so.

No registration is required for the Bicknell Conference. For those unable to attend in person, the presentation will be recorded and uploaded to the Grosse Pointe Historical Society YouTube channel within a week of the conference. For more information, visit gphistorical.org. Stone will sign copies of her book for anyone who brings one to the conference, but will not have books available for purchase.

“100 Years of the Detroit Historical Society” is available online and at select local bookstores, or it can be purchased online from Wayne State University Press by visiting wsupress.wayne.edu/books/detail/100-years-detroit- historical-society .


Angela C. Hale