The Chelsea Area Historical Society was founded in 1974, and incorporated as a Michigan non-profit 501(c)(3) organization in 1981. Since its beginning, CAHS has been a vital part of the Chelsea community by contributing to community events like the Chelsea Community Fair and anniversary celebrations, such as the 175th anniversary; by providing historic tours, antique appraisal shows, and local history programs; by assisting area businesses and residents in their historic research; and by collecting and displaying Chelsea’s rich heritage. CAHS has also researched and purchased two Michigan State Historic Markers for Chelsea – one for the Welfare Building and the other for the 1880 Chelsea Train Depot.
Since its founding, CAHS has been a nomadic organization, meeting in various locations including the McKune Memorial Library and members’ homes. Between 1988 and 2006, was kept alive by a handful of members. The society’s collection of artifacts manuscripts, and materials were kept in the west end of the Chelsea Depot. Monthly membership meetings and a small museum were maintained in the depot. The Chelsea Depot Association offered display space for historical collections, and visitors began appearing increasingly more frequent on Saturdays to play with an elaborate train set, view displays in glass showcases and study the antique clothing displayed on mannequins, and ask Chelsea history questions.
In 2006, a renewed interest in the organization took hold, and the Gourmet Chocolate Cafe on North Main Street offered display and storage space, bringing new life to the historical society. Our membership began growing, our monthly meetings featured educational and informative programs. With newly purchased computers, scanners and printers, we began digitizing manuscripts and photography. “History Bits” the new official newsletter of CAHS purlished three times a year. Community outreach began in earnest.
In May 2010, without a home for our heritage identified, CAHS had to move the museum artifacts and collections into storage, and monthly membership meetings and public history programs were again held at the Chelsea Depot. Then in the fall of 2010, thanks to the generosity of Lynda Collins, we were able to lease the Archie Wilkinson House on Old US-12 where our collections have expanded significantly. During our stay there, we:
- Completed two tours of the Oak Grove Cemetery with booklets for visitors.
- Created a walking tour of downtown Chelsea and launched another booklet project.
- Produced the 175th anniversary commemorative book.
- Quadrupled our collections of artifacts and photographs.
- Worked with local educators to incorporate Chelsea history into school curricula.
- Maintained regular weekly museum hours.
- Coordinated research and interview projects with the McKune Memorial Library.
- Adopted the Monitors, a history-minded baseball team.
- And began establishing a regional reputation. Thanks to the generosity of Howdy Holmes, the Purple Rose Theater, and other downtown businesses, we mounted a display of “Industry and Arts in Chelsea” at the Washtenaw County Historical Society in the Summer of 2010.
Today, CAHS continues to be a vital part of the Chelsea community. We are researching significant citizens of Chelsea’s past and are collecting, identifying, and digitally archiving collections of photographs. Additionally, since 2010, we have had an ongoing collaboration with North Creek Elementary School to enhance the education of Chelsea history to our 2nd graders by creating an in-the-classroom presentation. CAHS continues to offer free public history programs to members and community residents alike in the Chelsea Depot and the Chelsea District Library. We have been contributing to the erection of historical markers in downtown, produced walking tour booklets for the Chelsea Community Hospital’s walking path and for the Oak Grove Cemetery.
In 2015 we faced our greatest challenge and found permanent quarters for our collections. Our members shared an ambitious dream for the future. Our goal is to be a contributing force in the development and growth of Chelsea as a vibrant city and great place to live. To that end, we now have a building in the downtown area to establish a permanent home for the organization’s offices and rich collection of area historical artifacts.