The Early Years
In order to create public interest in the new Society, a contest was held to locate the oldest living resident of Battle Creek, the oldest person then living anywhere who was born in town and the person who could claim the longest continuous residence. To celebrate the first anniversary of the organization, the mid-winter meeting of the State Historical Society was held here in 1917, marking Michigan's 80th birthday as a state.
Reminiscences of older residents and sketches of life in early Battle Creek were presented at the Society's meetings. Curator James H. Brown collected a series of lantern slides of "old time views" of Battle Creek for the Society archives and attempts were made to collect artifacts from pioneer days.
From the beginning, a primary mission of the Society was to develop a museum of Battle Creek history. The commitment to this mission continues to the present day, as members of the Historical Society work with other institutions and volunteers to create a community museum.
Following the death of E. C. Hinman, industrialist E.C. Nichols was elected president. During the 1920s meeting of the Society were held "at irregular intervals" and many of the original members died. There was, however, a close relationship with the Three-Quarter Century Club, founded by the Historical Society at the urging of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg. The Club, open to residents 75 years old and over, claimed over 200 members in 1924, with a combined age of 23,000 years.
Dr. Kellogg became president of the Historical Society upon the death of E.C. Nichols in 1927. For the next several years the Society concentrated on planning the city-wide activities for the week-long Centennial Celebration in 1931.
Following the Centennial, Historical Society activities diminished and the organization did not formally reassemble for several years. During this hiatus Edward Brigham, Sr. and his son Edward, Jr. sponsored meetings of the Battle Creek Historical and Geological Society at the Kingman Museum. Individual historians continued their work, including Berenice Lowe who wrote her Tales of Battle Creek in the 1960s.
The Kimball House
Care of the Kimball House remained the primary focus of the organization until the1980s when the Society began expanding its interest in Battle Creek's history in general. The Pioneer Cabin was donated to the Society and moved to Leila Arboretum in 1980. Three years later, reflecting the broadening of its mission, the name of the organization was changed to the "Historical Society of Battle Creek." Educational and outreach programs continued to increase during the decade. In 1988 Diane Beckley was hired as the first full-time director to coordinate activities and to expand the role of the Society in the community.
This expansion took several forms. Increasingly, the Society cooperated with other local groups in presenting historically related activities, including the Vintage Home Tour and Preservation Month events. The first Christmas Candlelight Stroll was held in 1989. The historic Shepard House on Riverside Drive was acquired in 1990. The house was never actively used by the Society and in 2008 was sold to a private buyer who intends to restore the property.
By 1992 the administrative offices and archives had outgrown the space available in the Kimball House and were moved downtown to the Michigan National Bank building. When that structure was demolished in 1993, the offices and archives moved to the Fieldstone Center, 165 N. Washington. The administrative offices were moved to the Riverwalk Centre in 1999, along with the Sojourner Truth Institute of Battle Creek. In 2002 the offices were relocated to Kellogg Cereal City USA at 171 West Michigan Avenue; two years later the offices and archives were once again consolidated at the Fieldstone Center.
At the end of the anniversary year members of the committee determined that their work was not over. In April 1998 the Sojourner Truth Institute was founded to perpetuate Truth’s legacy within the community of Battle Creek and around the nation. The Institute’s first major project was the erection of the Sojourner Truth monument, designed by artist Tina Allen, which was dedicated in September 1999. The Institute was also instrumental in working with Lorraine Johnson-Coleman to develop the “Freedom Saga” heritage tourism program in 1999 and 2000.
Recognizing a common purpose and shared mission, the Historical Society of Battle Creek and the Sojourner Truth Institute of Battle Creek merged in 1999 to create Heritage Battle Creek.