The Mitchell Research Center pre­serves Hills­dale’s history. Hannah Cote | Col­legian

The local history of small-town Hillsdale is full of unex­pected arti­facts and stories that have been passed on from gen­er­ation to gen­er­ation, but the true feat is found in the preser­vation of this priceless history accom­plished by the Mitchell Research Center in downtown Hillsdale.

The MRC, located next to Hillsdale’s public library on Manning Street, is the his­torical home to thou­sands of records, maps, news­papers, family his­tories, year­books, and other arti­facts from Hillsdale and the sur­rounding counties.

Charles and Harriet Mitchell willed their house, which was built in 1868, to the city after Charles Mitchell’s death in 1989. After Harriet Mitchell’s death in 1906, a two-year ren­o­vation process began and the home trans­formed into the Mitchell Public Library, fol­lowed by a cel­e­bration and grand opening gala in 1908.

The MPL catered to many dif­ferent aspects of the com­munity, pro­viding the city with a men’s club room, a women’s audi­torium, a children’s room for musical recitals, and even a ballroom tucked away in the third floor. The ballroom, nick­named “The Loft,” created a perfect space for dances, card nights, and local parties where jazz bands per­formed on stage.

The MPL served the com­munity in various ways for 95 years, and vol­un­teers that would later run the entire house as the MRC formed a group during its years as a library, starting research work within one room of the library. Even­tually, the building was exclu­sively operated by the MRC.

Cel­e­brating its 40th anniversary this year, the research center began in 1979 in the Louise Hawkes His­torical room inside the library, titled through a contest for the naming of the room. Since the MPL was a fully oper­ating library, the research group was only able to work out of the one room, and it did so up until the Hillsdale Public Library opened in 2003. The library fully replaced the MPL, opening up the building for the sole use of the MRC.

Janis Reister, current accession chairman and trea­surer of the MRC, began her work there in 1997, before the HPL opened and vol­un­teered during their time in the Hawkes room. The work the group com­pleted up until full acces­si­bility of the house was tedious due to the lack of space and storage.

“If you wanted to make a copy of some­thing, you had to bring your stuff all the way down­stairs and copy it and then take it back upstairs,” Janis Reister said. But after the HPL’s opening in 2003, the MRC was given the entire Mitchell building by the city. Their work was no longer crammed into one room, and they had two whole floors to organize their work.

The expansion in space allowed room for immense growth in the amount of work the MRC was able to do.

“We’ve gone from 75 dona­tions a year to over 100 per year,”  Janis Reister said. “And it’s not just one item at a time. Most people will come in after cleaning their grandma’s house and they bring in three or four boxes of stuff.”

Because of this growth, the current vol­un­teers at the MRC are busier than ever. The MRC’s annual cal­endar was released at the Hillsdale County Fair thanks to Debbie Reister, Janis Riester’s daughter and com­mu­ni­ca­tions coor­di­nator. The cal­endar, “Hillsdale County Township Pio­neers,” fea­tures pic­tures and spot­lights of cen­tennial farms in and around Hillsdale, con­tributing to the his­torical research the center con­tinues to uphold.

“It was very fun because we got to work with all the gen­er­a­tions,” Debbie Reister said. “We would work with many dif­ferent people and they would bring their stories and pic­tures.”

The MRC’s quar­terly newsletters showcase many local his­torical high­lights of Hillsdale, but one of the MRC’s most recent focal points is their project of dig­i­tizing every­thing within the center. The MRC uses a museum standard system called PassPerfect to scan and identify all of their doc­u­ments, orga­nizing all of the infor­mation right inside their com­puter system for easy acces­si­bility.

Throughout all the doc­u­ments they have already dig­i­tally archived, the vol­un­teers have “cap­tioned as much as they can so that people would be able to know exactly what they’re looking up,” in the system, Debbie Reister said.

Along with the center’s steps toward mod­ern­izing its systems and research, it has big plans for the future. The vol­un­teers hope to raise enough money for ren­o­vation of the center, including con­structing an ele­vator which would allow easier access to the ballroom for the center’s vis­itors.

The MRC may be improving the process of their research and preser­vation of history, but their original mission of indexing and com­piling nec­essary research has stayed true to their intended purpose. The MRC takes in all dif­ferent kinds of history, including mil­itary records, high school year­books, baseball uni­forms, hats, doll­houses, arrow­heads, and various other objects that many would be willing to throw out.

After 40 years of service, as its slogan states, the MRC remains the place in Hillsdale “Where Your Family History Lives On.”