AFTER the FLOOD • Midland Attempts to Salvage Artwork & Historical Artifacts


    icon Jun 03, 2020
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Early Friday morning, May 22, Midland Center for the Arts facilities staff were able to enter the Doan History Center and Heritage Park to assess the flood damage caused by the catastrophic collapse of the Edenville Dam and the failure of the Sanford Lake Dam. 

TerriTrotter, President & CEO and Julie Johnson, Director of Museums, toured the facility to get a first-hand look at the damage. They reviewed plans for immediate clean-up and rescue of artifacts. The damage at the facility affects the work of the Midland County Historical Society, an organizational entity operating under the auspices of Midland Center for the Arts. 

“Our initial review of the historic campus reveals some hope after a gloomy few days for Midland County,” explains Trotter.  “The flood waters have caused damage to the facilities, with mud and debris scattered throughout the Midland County history museums. But structurally, the buildings have withstood devastation and many of the archives remain dry. Our biggest concern is for the thousands of papers, artifacts and photographs that celebrate our rich history in Midland County, and most of those valued treasurers are safe.”

“We are still assessing everything and don’t have the big picture yet, but definitely the most impacted building and recovery efforts have been focused upon the Doan History Center, which received archival damage. We think that 20 to 45% of the archives and/ or artifacts have some sort of water damage. Some were completely water-logged and some only had damage on the edges.”

Water submerged the basement of the 1874 Victorian Bradley Home, emerging through the ground floor level by one inch. The Herbert H. Dow Museum appears virtually unscathed other than water in the basement and on the floors. The Carriage House, Brine Well and Blacksmith Shop damage have yet to be fully assessed.  However, the facilities staff has pumped water out of the buildings and engaged efforts to dry, cool and fan these historical structures prior to restoration. More than 20 water pumps and 20 industrial-size fans are being utilized in buildings throughout the campus.

“Our mitigation efforts within the archives and Heritage Park, including the historic Bradley Home, Carriage House, Blacksmith Shop, and Herbert H. Dow Museum, were geared toward the 2017 flood level, if not higher, “ noted Jake Huss, Historical Programs & Exhibitions Manager. “The 1874 Victorian Bradley Home was prepared for the 1986 flood level. However, this situation is unprecedented, and water filled the basement and even slightly damaged the ground floor of the Historic Bradley Home, which has never happened before.” 

Despite being at a higher elevation, the Doan History Center, where most of the Midland County Historical Society archives are stored, took in an estimated 24 inches of water throughout the facility. The exhibits were not damaged, other than water and mud on the floors. A portion of the archives, however, have sustained significant damage. 

“Records and files kept on the lowest shelves of the archive storage area were subjected to quite a bit of water,” noted Crystal Laudeman, archivist. “However, our colleagues at Saginaw Valley State University’s Marshall Fredericks Sculpture Museum have provided immediate access to their freezer storage to help preserve wet artifacts, a process which prevents mold and other water damage. After freezing, we will coordinate with other agencies to freeze dry the paperwork, which intensifies the drying process and more successfully restores delicate items. The situation is concerning, but because the Doan Center is well above the river, the situation is manageable and we anticipate that we will be able to restore many of the soaked documents.”

“The damage is varied from item-to-item,” adds Trotter, “and once restored they are not going to be perfect like before, however we can recover a number of items - especially the very important ones. There is a range of value with each of them, so we will first concentrate on salvaging the most valuable items. Some items such as period furniture that was damaged we have alternative ways to obtain other pieces that can replace them - they won’t be identical, but will be from the same period.”

As for artwork in the Midland Center for the Art’s gallery, Trotter says the art collections were not damaged, which is good news; however the history collection did take a hit.  “The big building at the MCFTA took water in one of the lower levels,” she explains, “and we did have some records stored down there, but not anything serious.”

Trotter says she has not heard how much damage was sustained at the Dow Home & Studio, but notes that the Dow Library did have extension damage, losing as many as 800 books.

“It has been an emotional and trying week for many residents of Midland County and our staff at Midland Center for the Arts and the Midland County Historical Society,” said Julie Johnson.  “We have received countless nationwide inquiries and offers to assist from volunteers, cultural organizations, community members and donors about our facilities and archives. The dedication and passion for preserving our rich history is strong and we will be able to navigate this devastating flood because of the many people who are committed to our success.”

Center staff are coordinating with Central Michigan University’s Museum Studies program to assist with the preservation of 3-dimensional objects, focusing on the historic Bradley Home. As the Center moves from rescue to restoration, they will also be collaborating with experts from Michigan Museum Association and Michigan Archivists Society, and others from around the nation. The Center has also gratefully accepted assistance from Smithsonian-trained historic preservation and restoration specialist, Jared Yax, Collections Curator from the Tri-Cities Historical Museum.

“Folks have been concerned and worried, and have been asking for ways to assist,” said Jake Huss. “Some of the work right now requires high levels of expertise and training. However, a lot of the work is simply labor – carrying, lifting, labeling. If people are interested, they should be able to sign up through the Midland Historical Society Facebook page. In addition, we urge those who would like to help us to donate at the Center’s website, at”

Midland Center for the Arts is accepting donations to support the Historical Society’s cleanup, assessment, rescue and restoration efforts. For more information or to make a gift, visit  

If you have donated an artifact to the Midland Historical Society Archive and are concerned about its status, please do not contact the Society at this time. Once they have an ability to assess the full extent of the issues, Crystal Laudeman will be reaching out to the donors of items that have been affected. They urge patience during this time and  will be developing updates that will appear on an ongoing basis on their website and on the Midland Historical Society Facebook page.

When asked how long she thinks it will take to make the Center operational again, Trotter said she has no idea. “Obviously, we are not the only organization or place to get hit by this flood, so it will take a few more days to figure out what’s needed. Hopefully, getting the main building restored won’t take a terribly long time, but the Doan Center will take some time. Unfortunately, we haven’t able to assess the overall cost of these damages yet.”

When asked what the most challenging component in dealing with this tragedy is, Trotter says its figuring how to focus on each issue.  “Before these floods we weren’t in crisis mode and were in the process of making excting plans for the future.  Because we are a hands-on museum and theatre in the midst of a global pandemic, all we’ve been seeing tell us not much touring will be happening for us to put on stage even if we could, which is okay. Essentially, everything about our business model stopped when COVID-19 hit, so we’ve been dealing about how to react to that and I’ve been knee deep into it.”

“And then this flood hit and suddenly we had to shift to a different crisis,” she continues. “This was augmented because the flooding was so extensive and devastating out of what we would have expected from a flood, with the dams breaking and our archive collection being hit.  For me its been a challenge to maintain focus on the most important thing of the moment, which is dealing with our damaged archive, and then looking forward to becoming operational.  I think I’ll be juggling that for the immediate future.”

When asked what has been her biggest realization while navigating her way through these challenging ordeals, Trotter says her biggest inspiration has been the generosity and commitment from the people of Midland and beyond.  “Having gone through this flood on top of COVID-19, I’ve been inspired by the willingness of people to jump in and help. To see community leaders and members of our staff usually in the box office or working on a computer literally pulling out nasty drywall and lugging heavy water-logged books out the door was truly humbling - and on a Memorial Day Weekend no less!”

“I’ve never been so inspired by peoples’ willingness to step up and help - not to mention their dedication to this museum. It’s amazing to see - people all over the country are reaching out to help.”


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