Preserving Local History: A Community Affair

Preserving archaeological and architectural history in the midst of budget constraints and fast

construction deadlines is not an easy feat, but it is an important one. It takes activism and

dedication to ensure our community’s history continues to thrive for generations to come.

The campus of The Orchard Lake Schools, which includes St. Mary’s Preparatory, SS. Cyril &

Methodius Seminary, and The Polish Mission, is located along Orchard Lake, at a site that, from

1877 1908,

was the location of the Michigan Military Academy. Orchard Lake Schools is on the

U.S. National Register of Historic Places and one of the buildings of historic significance on the

campus is called the Galeria. Once the dining hall of the Michigan Military Academy, today, the

Galeria is the central chapel on campus and houses a permanent art collection.

As The Polish Mission has a need for more building space, a project to expand the historic

Galeria is planned. Community organizations, Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society

(GWBHS), and Detroit Center for Public Archaeology (DCPA) have come together with The

Polish Mission to preserve the archaeological history in advance of the new construction.

“We applaud The Polish Mission as it works to expand its programming and building space

while honoring the traditions and architecture of the past,” explained Gina Gregory, President of

GWBHS. “We look forward to seeing the Galeria building expansion project unfold.”

In this particular project, it was identified that The Polish Mission’s need for Galeria grounds

expansion was important, but before construction begins, GWBHS and DCPA are coming

together to perform archaeological research on the east side of the building to document and

preserve any historically significant finds.

This sort of preservation is becoming an important trend. “During my time on the Board of

Preservation Detroit, it became very clear that the historic preservation tax credits for residential

and commercial properties brought increased revenue into communities and greatly enhanced

resident’s lives,” said Liam Collins of Detroit Center for Public Archaeology. “Archaeologists

were a major part in helping research and establish the eligibility of properties for preservation

development, just like with The Polish Mission project.”

In addition to the importance of sharing community history by preserving architecture, public

archaeology is another aspect that allows the public to get involved and discover the lost history

of their families and communities. Teaching the public the importance and fun of archaeology,

and getting them involved in their own digs, is why GWBHS and DCPA have put together a

series of workshops for tweens and adults.

“We don’t own the past; we are merely stewards of what remains for those who will come after

us,” Collins said. “During these ‘taste of archaeology’ classes, we use handson

activities to

explore not only archaeology, but the life ways of the earlier people archaeologists study. What

makes us different is we focus on archaeology that is literally happening in YOUR backyard.”