Fincher started the project as a hobby during the pan­demic.
Col­legian | Sean Callaghan

Assistant Pro­fessor of Classics Joshua Fincher has been toiling away at recre­ating a miniature model of 1890 Hillsdale. 

“A model is what allows people to see what all was there and see it all in con­junction,” he said. 

The story of the miniature display began with Fincher looking for a hobby in December of 2020 during the COVID-19 pan­demic. He said he wanted some­thing that was dis­tinct from teaching classics, but also included his love for 19th-century architecture. 

“It was some­thing that sounded fun and was a way for me to learn about Hillsdale,” he said. 

Fincher also said he wanted the project to help educate and inform the people about the archi­tec­tural history of the town.

“The model pro­vides the ability to present Hillsdale in a way that people can interact with when much of it is gone,” he said. 

According to Joanne Miller, a member of the Hillsdale His­torical Society, the model also created a great amount of attention during its exhi­bition at the county fair. 

As far as the interest the village elicited at the fair, I can say that it was a won­derful draw,” Miller said in an email. “In three dimen­sions, it brought to life many of the pic­tures people had seen of old Hillsdale. There were many vis­itors who looked into the display case as they passed by and then stopped dead and spent quite a bit of time finding spe­cific buildings. We can hardly wait to see how much more he has added next summer.” 

Fincher con­trasted the dif­ference in which the model presents the town’s archi­tec­tural history com­pared to photographs.

“His­torical infor­mation about archi­tecture is con­veyed through pho­tographs and pho­tographs are usually limited in what they portray,” he said. “You might see one building or two buildings. It’s hard for people to get a sense of how all the buildings on a block inter­acted together.”

Fincher said he wants the model to give a full view of the town, rather than a 2D view as seen in most pho­tographs. Only a handful of the original buildings in 1890 remain today, he said. 

Fincher gave the example of present-day H. J. Gelzer’s Fur­niture store, which was orig­i­nally an opera house with two more stories before their eventual demolition. 

“Small buildings are just as important as the main buildings in thinking how a town or archi­tec­tural ensemble works together,” Fincher said. 

The project also pro­vides a dif­ferent type of chal­lenge for Fincher who spends his weekends working on the model.

“It’s a dif­ferent way of thinking. It’s still logical, it’s still complex, but it’s fun. You have to solve and use geometry,” he said. “You have to think well in advance of how you’re going to con­struct a certain building.” 

In addition to Fincher’s desire to educate, he also wishes the model to be a source of inspi­ration to locals and stu­dents, he said.

“I really hope that people who have these buildings or who live here will hope­fully take pride in them, fix them up, and try to restore the dec­o­rative ele­ments that have been lost,” he said. 

Mitchell Research Center vol­unteer Carol Lackey said she also enjoyed Fincher’s work, given her extensive knowledge of the town’s architecture.

“His attention to detail, together with his enthu­siasm is indeed catching,” she said in an email. “His ability to con­struct on such a small, yet accurate scale is fascinating!”

Lackey also said she loves the way in which the project pro­vides an oppor­tunity for both the college and the town to work alongside each other.

“I believe this project helps bring the college and city closer together!” Lackey said.