Rich In History — A Q&A with Patrick McKay

 To Patrick McKay, history is a living thing. As the supervisor of the Rochester Hills Museum at Van Hoosen Farm, Pat (as he likes to be called) manages one of Oakland County’s most accurate and engaging historical landmarks. The museum is located in Stoney Creek Village (listed in the National Register of Historic Places) on a 16-acre complex that originally belonged to the Taylor and Van Hoosen families. Buildings from the 1840s until today are presented on the grounds, including a restored 1927 dairy barn, the original Stoney Creek Schoolhouse (which dates back to 1848) and the 1850 Red House.

We caught up with McKay to find out what it’s like to run a 16-acre museum complex, that historical baseball team he helped organize (the Rochester Grangers, who play the gentleman’s game in the manner, custom and uniforms of 1860’s ball clubs) and why he works to preserve a truly original, still breathing piece of Oakland County’s history.

Q: What’s the biggest misconception that people have about your current job?

A: I think most people think I spend my time polishing antiques or engrossed in history books doing research.  Instead, my time is spent generating new business — meetings held at our site, school groups, after school programs, evening meetings, weekend events, and weddings — events that generate revenue and attendance and help us fulfill our mission.  For all programs, sponsors are sought and fundraising is going on at all times. In addition, the protection and maintenance of the buildings and grounds is ongoing to ensure that we protect our Nationally Registered historic site.

Q: What’s your favorite aspect of Rochester history that tends to go unnoticed?

A: That we have had great leadership when we needed it most from both men and women. I am impressed with those who stood up and made difficult decisions when our community needed it most and I’m impressed at the number of strong women leaders that have come from our community.

Q: What programming is coming up in late 2010 or 2011 that you are particularly excited about?

A: In November we will recognize Veteran’s Day with three different lectures during the month.  The talks will focus on Afghanistan, the invasion at Normandy and Civil War battlefield tactics.  Our community has a very talented citizen base who are willing to share their expertise and to help promote the Museum as an outstanding educational facility.  During December we will feature the Stoney Creek Model Railroad Club and their huge train layout and that will be supplemented with a talk and new book on Michigan railroad depots by architects Ron Campbell from Oakland County Planning and Jackie Hoist at THA Architects.  Plus Santa and Mrs. Claus make a day long visit and my favorite is an afternoon of old fashioned Christmas activities that gets better every year.

Q: Fall must be particularly beautiful at the Van Hoosen farm. What are some of your favorite events and activities this season?

A: Our Stonewall Pumpkin Festival was held recently that attracted 6,000 guests who carved pumpkins, enjoyed a day filled with activities and then returned at night to enjoy a spectacular lighting of pumpkins on our historic stonewalls.  Genisys Credit Union was our major sponsor and really helped us out.  The grounds are just beautiful in the fall and our full, fall wedding schedule recognizes the beauty of our site.  It’s hard to believe a site with magnificent trees, gazebo, creek, gardens, and rolling hills has been so perfectly created at our site — and it is a public park open to everyone!

Q: What made you want to work in museums? Have you always been this passionate about local history?

A: I have always been passionate about history, but my educational background was in parks and education.  The Museum has been a perfect combination of allowing me to be immersed with the local history story while preserving and operating a gorgeous park with a historic theme.  It is just the best job in the whole world!

Q: Tell me about how the Rochester Grangers began, and what you love about playing for the team.

A: The Rochester Grangers vintage base ball club started ten years ago as the Museum looked to expand our historical interpretation programming during the summer and to attract a broader audience to our site.  I was able to watch a match during the annual meeting of the Michigan Museum’s Association one fall and by the following spring I worked with a neighbor, Brad Pfeifer, and we recruited a full team of neighbors and friends to play a different kind of baseball — according to the rules of 1865.  I enjoy the ability to tell our community history from a different angle and to see how our history fell in line with the history of events on the national level.

Q: What’s the most important thing you learned about historic
renovation during the Van Hoosen project? Is there any other current
need for renovations at the museum?

A: Preserving a nationally registered historic building requires that your respect the building, the original builders and materials and the original uses of the building, while balancing that with current and future needs.  I learned never to cut corners — do the repairs right the first time and spend the extra effort and funds to replace and repair items authentically.  Real history happened here and I feel a strong obligation to respect the buildings that have been left to our community. Having a great architect – THA Architects from Flint and Jackie Hoist and Ron Campbell really was a lifesaver.  Their understanding of historic buildings made my life a lot easier.  We are looking at doing some building upgrades at the 1848 Stoney Creek Schoolhouse that we just received on September 1 as a donation from the Rochester Community Schools.  We have some funds raised but still need some help to restore it to our standards.  We also are raising funds to stabilize and adaptively reuse of the Van Hoosen Calf Barn as a year round collections/archive/exhibit facility and to allow us to accept the Congressional papers of former US Congressman William S. Broomfield.  Both are exciting projects that we hope to kick off by next year.

Q: Why should an Oakland County resident visit the Rochester Museum, if they’ve never been before?

A: The Rochester Hills Museum at Van Hoosen farm is an example of an early community found in the Midwest of the United States.  The surrounding Stoney Creek Village includes a schoolhouse, tavern, and farmhouses arranged in a square block.  The Museum site has buildings from the 1840s and they are beautifully restored and 16 acres of gardens and grounds bordered by Stoney Creek.  Our story revolves around a family that arrived in 1823 and stayed for five generations and it is a story of  a family’s love of their land, love of their community, and love of family.  The family was very philanthropic, took leadership positions, valued education and they still serve as excellent role models for all of us as we try to find our place and our legacy in our own lives.  It is a timeless story rooted in history.

Q: Outside of Rochester, which elements of Oakland County’s history are most interesting to you?

A: Transportation has always been the economic engine for our county and while we like to complain about road improvements today, the issue of transportation has always been a significant part of our County history.  From rivers, to canals, to light rail with the Interurban lines, railroads to expressways, bike paths, and roundabouts, transportation issues are fascinating to watch and to see how it has evolved.  It is the most important issue because it drives everything else that happens in the County — and has been for over 180 years. I’m curious to see how transportation issues move forward into the future.

Find out more about the Rochester Hills Museum at Van Hoosen Farm here.

All photos courtesy of Patrick McKay.