When it comes to history, Michigan offers up unique experiences and historic sites like no other.
Cars, music and breakfast cereal share state heritage with figures like President Gerald Ford and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth, providing planners with plenty of options for fascinating off-site activities and venues.
Henry Ford’s legacy was made of more than cars; it was built on the ability to think outside the box and try new ideas. It’s fitting that the Motor City attraction that bears his name incorporates his innovative spirit. The Henry Ford complex includes the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, Greenfield Village and the Ford Rouge Factory Tour. The museum and living history village do more than simply showcase history, they allow visitors to experience it, according to Deanna Majchrzak, media relations manager for the Detroit Metro CVB.
“You can sit in the Rosa Parks bus, see the chair Abraham Lincoln was sitting in when he was assassinated, see the JFK limousine and thousands of other artifacts that have shaped history at the museum,” she said. “In the Village, you can ride in a Model T, meet Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers, and explore more than 80 historic structures, from Henry Ford’s birthplace to Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park Lab.”
History doesn’t have to be from the early 20th century to be fascinating. Currently, the museum offers a hands-on, interactive look behind the science of Pixar, one of the most successful animation studios in the world. The Henry Ford also offers a staggering number of event options and programming for groups.
The protected land of Sleeping Bear Dunes ties together many threads of the area’s history. From maritime and agricultural history to the Native American heritage of the area, including the legend of Sleeping Bear herself, the lakeshore is an excellent place to soak up the true flavor of Michigan.
“It’s one of America’s most beautiful places,” said Jenny Jenness, public relations and media manager for Traverse City Tourism. “There are 64 miles of beaches, coves, islands and hills on the west coast of the Leelanau Peninsula, and groups can hike, swim, explore and enjoy the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.”
Groups can also tour the South Manitou Island Lighthouse, organize a Dune Climb team-building event, request a park ranger guided tour, and even enjoy winter with snowshoeing and Nordic skiing.
Beyond the roar of engines, there’s another sound Detroit made famous: the melodies of Motown. The Motown Museum encompasses four buildings along West Grand Boulevard, including Hitsville U.S.A. and Studio A, where musical legends like the Four Tops, The Jackson 5 and The Supremes were born. Touring through the museum is a special treat for music lovers, according to Deanna Majchrzak.
“You can stand in the same spot as Motown greats did when they performed their hits,” she said.
All tours are guided and groups can also see founder Berry Gordy’s upstairs apartment along with other artifacts of the area. Small to midsize groups can even rent the museum for events.
The facility also recently announced plans for a $50 million expansion augmenting the museum’s footprint into a 50,000-square-foot attraction with cutting-edge interactive exhibits, a performance theater, recording studios and meeting space.
The Lakeshore Museum Center oversees several historical experiences in the Muskegon area, including Michigan’s Historic Park. The living-history park offers an interactive walking tour where visitors can converse with interpreters from various points in the state’s history, including Native Americans from the 1650s, an 18th century fur trader and early settlers from the 1830s. Attendees can get hands-on with crafts and take home candles that they make themselves.
Another branch of the Museum Center includes the Hackley & Hume Historic Site, named after local lumber barons. The homes are a must-see, according to Bernadette Benkert, sales executive for Visit Muskegon.
“Docents greet your bus and take the group on a walk through our lumber baron’s history,” she said. “From the highly crafted house that our founding father Charles Hackley lived in to the home of his partner Thomas Hume, the wood work is truly amazing, as are the stained glass windows.”
The two houses are grand examples of Victorian architecture and interior design, and tours can be part of a larger group itinerary that includes guided tours of Hackley Park and other sites, according to Benkert.
“We love sharing our rich history with groups and telling the story of where we have been to where we are going,” she said. “We even play trivia games on some of the tours, giving prizes to those who may know the answers, or play “I spy” with the group as they search for the ‘Watch Us Go’ logo located throughout Muskegon County.”
Battle Creek is the birthplace of breakfast cereal, so it’s no surprise to see sites dedicated to cereal magnates C.W. Post and W.K. Kellogg. But the town was also the last home of activist and abolitionist Sojourner Truth as well. Groups can see several of Battle Creek’s monuments and sites by contacting the Battle Creek CVB and arranging a guided tour of the area.
The tour includes statues of Post and Truth in Monument Park and another monument to the Underground Railroad. Also in the park are the Kellogg House and the Kingman Museum, a local community landmark that features a natural history museum and planetarium.
After touring through history, attendees can visit FireKeepers Hotel Casino for top-notch entertainment at the event center or try their luck in the casino itself, which features 70 hand-dealt table games and nearly 3,000 slot and video poker games.
Gerald Ford’s presidency stands out in history, so it seems appropriate that the 38th president’s official Library and Museum follows suit. The Presidential Library is located in Ann Arbor and represents an amazing archive of information from Ford’s administration, including Watergate, the Cold War and America’s domestic and foreign political landscape of the mid-1970s.
The Museum, however, is located in Grand Rapids, and features exhibits and artifacts from President Ford’s life before, during and after the White House, including a fascinating display of gifts the president and first lady received from heads of state.
Both locations open a unique window into the country’s past as well as offer programming, family-friendly events, book signings and lectures. Event and meeting space is available for groups at both sites.
Military history is also a large part of Michigan’s heritage, and one of the most compelling examples is the USS Silversides Submarine Museum. This Gato-class sub was one of World War II’s most decorated vessels of its kind, and now the USS Silversides honors those who served.
Groups can do more than just take a tour. They can also spend the night and get a true feel for what life was like aboard a submarine, from walking the decks to sleeping in tight quarters. The submarine can accommodate up to 72 attendees for an overnight event, and the adjacent USCGC McLane, a Coast Guard cutter, can accommodate 38 more, giving midsize groups a chance to live a bit of American history.
For those who think riverboats only belong to the South, the Michigan Princess will prove them wrong. In the 1800s, riverboats were common on larger rivers, including the Grand River in Michigan.
The Michigan Princess, a replica of a Victorian-era riverboat, brings that maritime history back to life with three decks that can accommodate up to 300 people for lunch, dinner or a simple pleasure cruise.
Attendees can tour the wheelhouse and meet the captain, watch the paddle wheels churn from the Stern Wheel Room, hit the dance floor or just enjoy the incredible view of the river.
CVB Contact Information
Ann Arbor Area CVB
Battle Creek/Calhoun County Visitors Bureau
Detroit Metro CVB
Experience Grand Rapids CVB
Greater Lansing CVB
Muskegon County CVB
Traverse City Tourism