In this post we are taking you inside our archives to look at some of the most beautiful artifacts in our collections - small, handmade quill boxes. These unique Native American objects are still made today by the local Odawa people and have a rich cultural tradition that dates back centuries.

Quill boxes are constructed using birch bark, sweet grass and porcupine quills. Traditionally, the Odawa used birch bark for making boxes and baskets because its natural antibacterial properties made it perfect for storing food. Porcupine quills were harvested from animals hunted for food. Nowadays they are gathered from animals killed on the roadways. When moistened, the quills become highly pliable and easy to work with and can also be dyed. 

What began as a simple and effective means of storing food became an art form at the turn of the century as the Odawa created thousands of these quill-decorated boxes for the tourist industry. Today the art is still highly sought after and admired. The Historical Society has several quill-decorated objects in our collections including the items pictured below. You can view these and other objects in our online collections database on our website. You can also visit the National Endowment for the Humanities site to read about renowned local quill artist Yvonne Walker Keshick. 

Stay tuned! We will be installing a new exhibit about Native American art, culture and traditions at the Harbor Springs History Museum this summer. Do you have quill boxes or other Native American artwork you’d be interested in seeing in our upcoming exhibit? Please contact Mary Cummings at (231) 526-9771 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with any inquires. 

Be sure to "like" us on Facebook and check out our website for updates on the exhibit and other events at HSAHS.

1997.011.74 2 Square Bark and Quill Box 3 web  1997.011.68 Floral Quill Box 2 WEB  1997.011.3 Quill Art Box 1 web

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You've survived Black Friday and Cyber Monday and now the Harbor Springs Area Historical Society invites you to join an international movement connecting nonprofits like us to donors like you - it's #GivingTuesday! The official #GivingTuesday website describes this unique holiday as "a global day dedicated to giving back" when "charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students around the world will come together for one common purpose: to celebrate giving and to give." This December 2, 2014 is #GivingTuesday and we wanted to take a moment to encourage you to give to the Historical Society on this special day.

We've partnered with Network for Good to make your donation go even further. For one day only, December 2, Network for Good will match a percentage of any donation you make to the Historical Society! This is a great way to make your dollar go even further while supporting history's home in Harbor Springs. Click the button below to donate today! Please feel free to donate after December 2 as well, every donation helps!



Why donate?

The Harbor Springs Area Historical Society is a private nonprofit that relies on your generosity to sustain our efforts. With your support in 2014 we have shared stories both large and small, old and new with thousands of people.

We told the story of the passenger pigeon—once the most abundant bird in North America and now extinct. Through a national movement called Project Passenger Pigeon, we developed a special exhibit focused entirely on this bird.

During our popular Harbor History Talk series, we reached back in time to share stories of the NM, the Northern Michigan sloop, for its 80th anniversary and tapped our feet to the tunes of the Beach Boys while learning about clubs Manitou and Ponytail.

We celebrated stories through special events too including Shay Days (which honored inventor Ephraim Shay), our second annual Blessing of the Fleet and Summer White Party on Harbor Springs' historic waterfront and our tour of the Little Traverse Lighthouse.

Won't you consider making a donation to the Historical Society on this unique day of giving?

If you've already given this year, know that we sincerely appreciate your support. Thank you!

3 MrsHunt IMG 5072  Canim Bridge 1 web  2014 HSAHS 5626

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Despite the very wet weather throughout the day Saturday, October 4 the Harbor Springs Area Historical Society's Little Traverse Lighthouse Tour was a big success. In fact, the cloudy, drizzly weather was actually a perfect teaching moment for Terry Pepper, the Executive Director of the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association. Terry was on hand during the tour and described how the day was a great example of "thick weather," or weather where early sailors would have needed help from lighthouses and fog signals to navigate. There's nothing like learning new historical lingo while dashing through a downpour!

The Historical Society's tour of the Little Traverse Lighthouse sold out almost a month ago and we were thrilled to welcome over 300 guests to tour the lighthouse. The Harbor Point Association generously allows the Historical Society to do these tours and we are extremely grateful to be able to take people through the building and to show off all the hard work the association's Lighthouse Committee has put into the site. We would also like to thank our sponsors who helped make this tour possible: Abent Pest Control, Gurney's Bottle Shop, Lauer Pest Control, Stafford's Hospitality, Tom's Mom's Cookies, Harbor Springs IGA and the Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau. 

Enjoy some snapshots of the event below. Be sure to sign up for our email newsletter to be the first to hear about other events and programs at the Historical Society. 

2014 Lighthouse 3983 web   2014 Lighthouse 4048 web  2014 Lighthouse 7596 web

Above left: Docent Tim Tippett and guest Delyte DeLong in their rain gear. Delyte was a resident of the lighthouse in the late 1950s when her then husband Norm Ruessman was stationed there. 

Above middle: The fog signal building and the Little Traverse Lighthouse.

Above right: A bus full of Lighthouse Tour volunteers. Between room monitors, docents, registration desk workers and more we had over 180 hours of volunteer time donated to this event. We couldn't have done it without our amazing volunteers! Thank you.

2014 Lighthouse 4055 web  2014 Lighthouse 7609 web  2014 Lighthouse 4064 web

Above left: When the lighthouse was decommissioned by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1963 the government sold the house back to the Harbor Point Association. The government then bought a smaller chunk of land near the lighthouse and erected this metal frame and light to replace the lighthouse.

Above center: This oil house was reconstructed on the original foundation in 2011. It was originally used to house the flammable kerosene needed to light the lamp in the tower.

Above right: Beautiful green shutters on the lighthouse.

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 Are you a life-long learner? Are you always on the lookout for new opportunities for growth?

The Harbor Springs Area Historical Society’s Board of Trustees and staff like to consider ourselves life-long learners. In this spirit we periodically hold training sessions to help us be the best stewards of Harbor Springs’ unique history. Recently, on August 11, the board and staff gathered for one of these sessions led by Pam Evans of the NorthSky Nonprofit Network.

The session highlighted new ways for the board and staff to tackle strategic planning, fundraising, educational outreach and more. From our morning session with Pam, we identified a short list of action items that the board will tackle when we’re back at the board table next week.

We were able to bring Pam to work with our board through funding from the Petoskey-Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation. With their support, we continue to grow as an organization and look forward to putting our new knowledge to work.



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"History is not just something that happened long ago and far away. History happens to all of us all the time. Local history brings history home, it touches your life, the life of your family, your neighborhood, your community."

-       Thomas J. Noel

The Harbor Springs Area Historical Society is thrilled to have been visited by a number of school groups this winter, from second to eighth grade! As the quote above suggests, connecting students to our local history, to their history, engages them in a way that textbooks often don't.

All of us here at the Historical Society are stewards of the history of this community and sharing that with local kids is an important part of our mission. We wanted to share a few moments from these school visits with you.

We have worked most closely with the fourth grade classes from Shay Elementary. Back in March they toured the museum and were given a special history lesson about inventor Ephraim Shay from Mr. Shay himself (portrayed by our costumed actor). The kids loved meeting Mr. Shay and bombarded him with all sorts of questions about his work on geared locomotives and about his time in Harbor Springs. The students then walked down to Mr. Shay's house, the Hexagon House, and got a tour of the building. 

 IMG 8568 web IMG 8576 

The fourth grade classes were also treated to a special tour of the LIttle Traverse Lighthouse on Harbor Point. Not only did the students get to explore the lighthouse and its grounds but they also learned what life was like around 1900, exploring novel concepts like outdoor bathrooms and oil lamps.

As the fog rolled in off the harbor, the children got to see first hand how important the lighthouse and fog bell were for navigating ships. They also learned more about keeper Elizabeth Whitney Williams (portrayed by HSAHS staff member Beth Sylak) who was on hand to answer questions like "why are your sleeves so puffy?" and talk about William's life as a female lighthouse keeper. Despite a sudden downpour, the students had a great time. Thanks again to our dedicated volunteers and to the Harbor Point Association for making this local learning experience possible.

HSAHS Lighthouse Gorney 2709 HSAHS libbie fogbell HSAHS Lighthouse Kowalski 2762

Most recently, the second grade classes from Blackbird elementary toured the museum. Our invaluable volunteers Jan McDonald and Linda Leavitt led the students through our Local History and Discovery galleries at the museum. Shortly after their visit the students sent thank you notes and pictures to us at the museum, and we couldn't resist sharing some. Their notes are part of what makes giving these tours so worthwhile. 

David Letter             Fishing Picture 


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Exhibit Hours

Friday & Saturday
11:00 am to 3:00 pm

Office Hours

Tuesday - Friday
9:00 am to 5:00 pm

January 1, 2020

Museum Address

349 E. Main Street
    Harbor Springs, MI 49740

(231) 526-9771

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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