The Detroit Historical Museum has been a city stalwart for decades, though not a terribly exciting one. Until, that is, a massive 2012 fund-raising campaign coupled with a new financial strategy brought the facility squarely into the 21st century. Now, interactive exhibits and lively displays (think fun stuff like a Kid Rock music studio!) are bringing visitors back downtown.
Set in Midtown adjacent to several other museums, the museum is a free, fun bouncing-off point for all ages. The most popular exhibit is the Streets of Detroit, a string of recreated turn-of-the-20th-century businesses on a cobblestone street. It’s also an engaging chronology of Detroit’s history with dark points included, but in a gentle way. As museum director Bob Bury says, “Sometimes we just have to play things out to see how history writes itself.”
Things are certainly well-played here, where walls of sports memorabilia, Underground Railroad vignettes and somber videos detailing the Detroit riots all meld together seamlessly. Within these rooms, visitors can learn about Lionel Trains, Motown records and the Detroit Tigers. There are also small-scale tributes to locally manufactured treats like Sanders Fudge, Faygo Pop and Better-made potato chips. Outside the unassuming square building, the Legends Plaza holds a nice fountain and a terrace surrounded by handprints of famous Detroiters, like football player Barry Sanders and Mayor Dave Bing. All in all, the museum is a sweet love letter to a town that doesn’t get much positive publicity. That in itself makes it worth a visit.