Hillsdale County residents learned about the lives of former Hillsdalians during walk-throughs of historical downtown.
The Hillsdale County Historical Society hosted walks to celebrate the 150 year anniversary of Hillsdale’s founding 1869. The walk touched on a variety of elements of Hillsdale’s early history including various structural fires and Hillsdale’s very own opera house.
The Hillsdale County Historical Society’s JoAnne Miller led the historical walks on three separate occasions. The idea for the walk came from a historical society board meeting. Miller and fellow board members wanted to do something to celebrate the sesquicentennial.
The walks began with a brief, introductory powerpoint presentation at the Mitchell Research Center. During the powerpoint, Miller explained that Hillsdale’s history really started with the Erie Canal.
“I feel that it’s really important to start with the Erie Canal. Because we need to know how this got settled. If anybody’s thinking, they’re thinking ‘Appalachian Mountains? How did we get here?’ You don’t get wagons over even low mountains like that,” Miller said.
After her presentation, Miller guided the group through downtown and spoke of different historical events as the crew dove deeper into the city’s past.
She told of how Hillsdale became the county seat, various other historical interest stories, and of how Broad Street got its name. Broad Street is 99 feet wide instead of the typical 66 feet.
One story that caught the attention of the attendees was that of the old jail.
Lora Glei-Dietz has lived in Hillsdale her whole life. She said she remembered the old jail, and, in her mind’s eye, it was pink. Glei-Dietz said she went on the walk to spend time with friends and to hear Miller speak.
“JoAnne is fantastic at history. It’s just fun,” she said.
Valerie White, who has worked in Hillsdale since 1996, said she also came on the walk because she knew how good Miller was at retelling Hillsdale’s history.
“I thought it would be kind of cool to hear what she has to say about different buildings and stuff like that,” White said.
White worked in the prosecutor’s office at the Hillsdale County Courthouse.
“I’d always check out the old buildings and hear stories from old attorney’s and stuff about the court building, old jail, and stuff like that,” White said.
When putting together the talk, Miller didn’t focus on any one theme or time period in Hillsdale’s history. She said she just wanted to reach some people with the town’s story.
“If one person showed up, it was worthwhile,” Miller said.