WLD Exclusive: Night at the Museum helps tell the stories of Dexter’s amazing past

By James Olsen

Dan and Laura Waitz not only appreciate history but will soon be living it  – or at least living in it. The couple recently purchased the old Whipple house and plan to move in sometime next month. History is not only important to them but they want to pass along the significance of the past to their daughters, especially the history of their hometown.

“It’s important for them to know the heritage and what things used to be like when they didn’t have cell phones and washing machines,” said Dan Waitz, during last Friday’s Night at the Museum event.

“They had really weird, old things back then,” said Sophie Waitz, 10, who saw the difference between then and now first-hand during the third annual Night at the Museum, organized and held by the Dexter Historical Society. The event attracted more than 30 guests, including the Waitz family, on Friday, May 10. It was a memorable evening where guests got to enjoy an evening with fellow residents looking back on the history of the founding families of Dexter.

The old St. Andrew’s church seems an appropriate setting for the theme of The Family Bible. However, religion was not the focus of the evening’s presentation, but rather a chance for attendees to trace the lineage of the families and the historical buildings in town.

The family bibles on display are from the first families of Dexter, with the Wirt Dexter Bible, founding family, as the centerpiece. According to the Dexter Historical Society, these bibles served as logs of family records and memories including births, marriages, and deaths. In the 19th century, it was the woman’s duty to update these bibles with the newest information, which represented “the heart of the home.”

Groups of attendees gathered around the displays cheerfully reminiscing tales of the town. Their stories were told using specific names and details, no context required because in a small town everyone shares the same vibrant history.

Richard Ashley, volunteer train engineer (right), tells the stories of Dexter’s town history as depicted in the model train.

Many residents use the old, historic houses in town as landmark directions rather than using addresses. The old homes are referred to by the names of the old families that once lived there: The Honey house, the Crane house, or the Whipple house.

Most of the items on display at the museum are tied to the town in some way or another. Like a dollhouse in the middle of the main room that is modeled after one of the old homes in downtown Dexter.

Portrait of Judge Samuel William Dexter.

There are also artifacts like carriages, bicycles, and luggage from the turn of the century. Lighted glass cases displaying clothing worn by some of the first families and military uniforms of Dexter residents returning home from duty.

In the basement hangs farming tools and machinery as old as the town itself surrounding a working model train built by the former fire chief Keith Hoatlin.

The train set was donated by his family and preserves stories of events that occurred in Dexter. From the major factory fire, to humorous stories of the fire department responding to peculiar scenarios, the miniature model is indeed a piece of Dexter history.

The capabilities of modern technology make aspects of learning about our family history and staying connected easier. But there is something about the tangible artifacts held in the Dexter Museum that provide visitors with something immeasurable and otherwise unobtainable. “The museum is kind of a hidden gem,” said Laura Waitz, a self-proclaimed history buff. “It’s important to bring newness and appreciation to what once was.”

There is something about a small town where everybody knows one another that culminates so much history. If we don’t pass along the stories of our past they are doomed to be forgotten, swept away by time.

James Olsen is a regular contributor to WeLoveDexter

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