The Troy Historical Society and Troy Historic Village celebrate 50 years

The Troy Historic Village is a collection of ten carefully restored historic buildings that were built during the early days of the City of Troy – then Troy Township – along with a collection of nineteenth- and earlier twentieth-century artifacts with a charming Village Green.
Some of the buildings date back as far back as the 1830s, hearkening back to the area's earliest pioneers. And none of these buildings would have survived until today if it hadn't been for the establishment of the Troy Historical Society in 1966, initiating a public-private partnership that has been evolving over the last 50 years.
"The Historical Society started as this small group of people concerned with preserving Troy's history and heritage as it started to grow after it became a city in 1955," explains Troy Historical Society Executive Director Loraine Campbell. "The saw that heritage disappearing building by building as the city grew."
In 1968, the Caswell House – a blend of Georgian and Greek Revival architecture styles built in 1832 – was slated to be torn down so a church could be built on the property. The Historical Society viewed it as an important part of Troy's pioneer heritage and wanted to preserve it, so they approached the City with an offer: if they could raise the money to move the building, could they move it to the area behind the old Township Hall (which had already been gifted to them)?
The City was willing to strike the deal, the Historical Society got the house donated and raised the money to move it, and thus began a 50 year "move it or lose it" partnership between the Society and the City – whenever a building that historians felt had significance was slated to be demolished to make way for a new office building or suburb, they would acquire the building through donation or purchase and raise the money to move it to their growing site clustered around the old Township Hall.
"It's not the federal standard of historic preservation, but this created a cultural center where all of the buildings could be treated as an artifact exhibit and teaching site," says Campbell. "It is accessible and affordable. [We get school kids from all over Southeastern Michigan.] That really that became the bread and butter of our organization – the general programing with school groups, hands-on learning where kids use all their senses to plant seeds, shuck corn, make butter, dip candles. They assume the names of pioneer children and get their hands dirty. Their learning is reinforced with hands-on activities."
Campbell says the Society is constantly looking at how they can become more sustainable, looking beyond Troy and even beyond Oakland County to attract visitors and school groups interested in becoming immersed in history.
"Troy is our reference point and mailing address, but our region is now truly a seven-county Southeastern Michigan region," she explains. "Thirty percent of our schoolchildren come from areas like Macomb, Almont, and Lapeer. We want to reach out to Genesee County. We're now doing outreach programming for schools that don’t have the financial ability to come to us, so we bring hands-on learning to them. We got a grant to visit thirty Title 1 classrooms in cities like Pontiac, Madison Heights, and Troy, and got rave reviews from them. The sky is the limit in terms of outreach; we're only limited by our capacity to seek out financial support from sponsors and foundations."
Educational programming built the reputation of the Troy Historic Village and became its legacy. For decades, the Historical Society functioned as a support group to raise money while the City itself owned the buildings and administered the Village with City employees.
Until 2011.
Still reeling from the recession and housing market collapse, the City of Troy was forced to aggressively reexamine its budget and make some tough operational decisions. In every budget plan option proposed, the Village would be closed.
The Historical Society wouldn't let that happen.
"We looked at a number of options to administer the Village through a strategic alliance between the Historical Society and the City," says Campbell. "We had never had an employee or run a business; we were always a project-driven and social organization with less than 300 members. I cannot tell you the amount of energy and commitment and on-the-ground fast learning that this organization put itself to. I went to being a Historical Society employee and we just knuckled down and worked like heck the next five years and turned it around."
The Society's operational agreement with the City was for five years, which they just closed out this year. This year also happens to be the 50th anniversary of the Troy Historical Society, and they have now entered a new 10-year agreement with the City.
"We rebuilt the staff and expanded the programming. It was truly a turning of the page. The Historical Society evolved into a very efficient nonprofit business," Campbell says. "We still have a strong partnership with the City and [have tremendous support from people like Oakland County Commissioner Wade Fleming]. This is the beginning of the next 50 years."
They recently held an event called Embracing Excellence, at which they presented their first-ever History Maker awards, honoring people who, through their personal efforts and leadership, have helped build vibrant and creative communities in areas like art and culture, education, business and philanthropy, and environmental stewardship.
Honorees included Clara Blankenship, who was single-handedly responsible for establishing the excellent Troy Public Library, recognized posthumously for her history-changing contributions to Troy's cultural legacy; and businessman Sam Frankel, who shaped the Big Beaver corridor with developments like the Sheffield Office Park and Somerset Mall, Inn, Plaza, and Park Apartments, was also awarded posthumously for his substantial philanthropic contributions in arts, culture, education, and medicine.
On August 18, the Historical Society will celebrate its 50th birthday, recognizing their volunteers with a great feast and music. The celebration is open to all.