MotorCities National Heritage Area
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MotorCities 20th Anniversary Button 20 at 20

25 MotorCities Champions 

 

John Dingell 

In his 60 years of service in the U.S. Congress, Dingell championed influential legislation to support all sectors. He authored and co-sponsored the Automobile National Heritage Act in 1998 to create what is now the MotorCities National Heritage Area. Dingell retired in 2014, and in 2015, he was the inaugural recipient of the MotorCities Milestone Award, recognizing all of his contributions.
Since the creation of the heritage area, Dingell was always its most vocal advocate, imploring the organization to work to tell the story of the region and its people. He passed away in 2019.
 

Donn Werling

Automotive pioneers like Ford, Chrysler, Buick, Durant and the Dodge brothers were central to the concept of recognizing automotive history across the region. Donn Werling, former director of Fair Lane, the Home of Clara and Henry Ford, saw the importance of intertwining the story of this historic residence with other institutions like The Henry Ford, Meadow Brook Hall and the Edsel & Eleanor Ford House (now Ford House). It was that collaboration that brought light to the concept that the story of the region's auto history is shared across many communities and all of these icons of the past have a role in that story.

Werling took that concept and helped lead the efforts to establish the Henry Ford Heritage Trail, which expanded to the establishing of MotorCities. When Werling retired in 2002, he was honored with a MotorCities Cornerstone Award, having been so instrumental in jump-starting the National Heritage Area.

Deb Locke-Daniel

Deb Locke-Daniel was Executive Director of the (then) Ypsilanti Area Convention & Visitors Bureau (YACVB) and also chair of the MotorCities board at a most critical time. When she assumed the seat in 2013, the original legislation that funded the heritage area was set to expire in 2014, so she spent countless hours working with the board and office team on the strategy to get reauthorized. Thanks to the understanding and support of the YACVB, she was able to devote the time necessary to be the driving force behind the reauthorization. In her remaining time, she also supported a three-year strategic plan for MotorCities before retiring from the YACVB (now branded as Ypsi Real, part of Destination Ann Arbor) in 2016.

Jack Miller

Hudson automobiles were sold at Miller Motors in Ypsilanti starting in 1929. Jack Miller was the son of the owner and began working for his father in the 1950s. Miller Motors became the home of the Ypsilanti Auto Heritage Museum, while still operating as the last Hudson dealership and parts dealer. In the 1990s, MotorCities offered the opportunity to move Ypsilanti's auto story to the forefront. It was Miller's enthusiasm that galvanized the Ypsilanti auto community to make sure that the story was not overlooked as one of the true "Motor Cities" of Michigan. Miller was curator of the museum until retirement, and died on December 28, 2020 at the age of 82. 

Ed Bagale 

The concept of the MotorCities National Heritage Area had started (as most do) with a group of concerned and active community partners. However, there was a need for someone to connect those efforts across the public and private sector. Ed Bagale was that connective tissue, given his role as Vice Chancellor at the University of Michigan - Dearborn. The key to partnership is getting people in the room to get them talking and then keeping them talking until something great happens. Bagale served as MotorCities' first Board President and remained on the Board until he retired in 2014. He passed away in 2017.
 

Constance Bodurow  

It is romantic to say that a group of people rallied together to launch our National Heritage Area. However, there was tremendous amount of work organizing and planning to deliver on the vision of the founders. As MotorCities' first executive director, Bodurow had the task of orchestrating the partnership through the process of discovering what it was going to be and how it would ultimately fulfill its mission. Hundreds of meetings led to the creation of the general management plan, a document containing all of MotorCities' hopes and dreams. Working with the founders and board members and building a staff to execute the plan all came under her tenure. She had to live, eat and sleep it to make sure things worked. After 25 years, it looks like the time was well spent. 

Bob Kreipke

MotorCities has been so fortunate to have strong board leadership since its inception. Bob Kreipke continued that lineage as Chair of our Board of Directors from 2015 to 2019. Having spent 40 years with Ford, the last decade+ as their Corporate Historian, Bob has an immeasurable appreciation for history. When it comes to MotorCities, Kreipke would tell you that we are in a unique position. Though our auto companies represent more than a century of heritage, the companies are often limited to looking at what is new and next in order to support next year's model. MotorCities can celebrate that heritage, embrace those histories and weave them together as a neutral voice. In retirement, Bob is driven by the opportunity to share those stories to a new generation by making MotorCities stronger and more relevant everyday.  

Senator Carl Levin

Senator Levin stood as a giant in the U.S. Senate for 36 years. Having worked in an auto factory, he appreciated the power of the industry and the pride of its people. It was a no-brainer in 1998 to support the movement to establish the National Heritage Area, but perhaps his largest contribution came in one of his last acts in office. In 2014, when the original funding authorization for MotorCities had expired, it was Levin who championed extending it, allowing our organization to survive. He retired at the end of that term in 2015. The next year, in 2016, Senator Levin became the second recipient of the MotorCities Milestone Award for all of his support and contributions. He died in 2021 at the age of 87.

Sandra Clark

When MotorCities was being created, there was a lot of talk about Detroit as the "Motor City," however, it was Sandra Clark who said that the story is so much bigger. In her role as Director of the Michigan History Center, Clark added the true statewide perspective. There are elements of the auto story that reach from Michigan's Upper Peninsula to its southern border, and all of those stories should be told. Her leadership was critical in receiving the state's endorsement in order to move up to consideration for the heritage area. Clark went on to serve as chair of the MotorCities Board of Directors and continues to advocate for the state's auto history. 

Christian Overland

It feels like the MotorCities National Heritage Area and Overland grew together. He started as an eager intern at the Henry Ford Museum and worked hard every day for 20 years to rise to Executive Vice President and Chief Historian. But if you ask Overland, that ascent was only viable because of all of the people and partners he was touched by along the way. Working with MotorCities provided a unique opportunity to expand the reach of The Henry Ford and tell the story of Michigan's automotive heritage across the globe. In 2018, Overland left The Henry Ford to take the position of Director of the Wisconsin Historical Society.


 

25 MotorCities Programs 

Wayside Exhibit Program

MotorCities National Heritage Area covers 10,000 square miles, touching parts of 16 counties and 1 Canadian province. The story is even broader, touching every element of communities from its roads to its homes and people. The wayside exhibit program seeks to tell the stories of the people, places and ideas that made these communities and our region great. The project started with a grant from the Michigan Department of Transportation via the Federal Highway Administration. The project was truly driven by the people of these local communities who dug deep into their archives and treasure troves of memories to immortalize their stories. Since 2008, we have installed 270 of these interpretive exhibits around the heritage area, and there is no end in sight. Learn more here.

The Creation of the MakingTracks Website

The auto industry provided a new opportunity for those who lived in Michigan, as well as those who traveled from near and far. MakingTracks.org looks back at the African American experience in the auto industry. This culture represented the migration of workers and families to the Motor Cities. Their work was hard, and their paths were not smooth. The website talks about adjustment to the north; the climate in their communities and treatment at their jobs. It also highlights the triumphs and tragedies of a people who contributed to building the auto industry.

The Flint Vehicle City Arches
 
In 1899, a series of arches was erected down Flint's main street, Saginaw St. This installation was touted as the first to bring electrical lighting to a main street in the country. In 1905, the "Vehicle City" moniker was added to one of the arches to pay homage to the many modes of transportation being produced in the city. Whether it was carriages, bicycles, cars, buses or trucks, Flint could lay claim to them all. The arches were removed in 1919, and in 2002, a group of citizens launched the plan to resurrect the arches as they appeared a century ago. MotorCities was proud to support the effort with funds from its grant program. The first arches returned in 2003, and the last of the 11 arches were installed in 2008 during the General Motors Centennial. Pictured below in conjunction with this weekend's annual Back to the Bricks event, the arches stand today as a statement that there are many motor cities around the region, but there is only one "Vehicle City" and that is Flint, Michigan.
 
The "Community Heart of REO" Mural in Lansing
 
It is not often that a brand makes it to 100 years, but Oldsmobile reached that milestone in 2004. Its namesake, Ransom Olds, called Lansing home, so it was only appropriate that the community marked the occasion with a mural in tribute to Ransom and his impact on the Lansing community. The mural was painted in the aptly named "REO Town" section of the city. In 2014, after 10 years of wear and tear, the community again rallied to update the mural to tell even more of the REO story and it was reinstalled on the south wall of Lansing's Impression 5 Science Center in 2018.
 
The Gilmore Garage Works Program
 
From some people's perspectives, cars provide pure utility. They get you from one place to another. Sometimes classic cars provide entertainment or recreation as a nice weekend hobby. In the case of Gilmore Garage Works, cars provided invaluable life lessons. In 2012, MotorCities supported a grant to the Gilmore Car Museum to connect at-risk, Kalamazoo-area high school students with local mentors as they worked together on classic automobiles (pictured above). The incentive was that you needed to remain enrolled in school in order to continue in the after-school vehicle restoration program. What the students learned about body repair and internal combustion engines paled in comparison to what they learned from auto engineers and professionals from their community who showed them a world of possibilities. The program continues to be a success and now includes recently graduated students now acting as professional mentors.
 
The "Year of the Car" Commemoration in 2008
 
1908 was quite a year in the auto industry. Little did they know that the car that changed the world and the largest auto manufacturer in the world would both burst onto the scene a mere few days apart. In 2008, MotorCities spent a year recognizing the iconic Ford Model T as the car that put the world on wheels, as well as celebrating the centennial of General Motors as they looked forward through the lens of GM Next. There were lectures, student contests, books and special events to commemorate a year that should never be forgotten.
 
 
The Land Information Access Association survey project and the General Management Plan
 
After the heritage area was established in 1998, there was a need to assess the assets. MotorCities worked with the Land Information Access Association (LIAA), and after hundreds of meeting hours, a small army of dedicated enthusiasts worked to survey more than 1,000 auto and labor heritage sites across the region. These museums, homes, factories, union halls, cemeteries and landmarks constituted the pieces of the mosiac that would make up MotorCities.
 
Then came the task of how to approach managing activity across the 10,000 square miles. Over a series of community meetings and hundreds of hours of work by the small but dutiful staff, a guiding document was created. The organization's general management plan was approved by the Secretary of the Interior in 2002. It represented the blueprint of what the Automobile National Heritage Area would be and the goals and aspirations for all of the things that it could become.
 
"Second Shift"
 
In the mid-1990s, just as General Motors was celebrating 100 years of Oldsmobile, there came the news that, after the final year of production of the Olds Alero in 2004, there would be "no more product" for the production facility in Lansing. The "Second Shift" documentary picks up the story from there. The film follows first-hand accounts from the leaders in the community and industry to chronicle the unlikely result that saw the Lansing community pivot from loosing its auto plant to build three new facilities which continue to produce GM products to this day. Learn more about the project at http://www.secondshiftfilm.com/.
 
"Building the Engine"
 
With the growth of the young auto industry, there came the need to address the rights of the workers and community that the industry supports. The story of the labor movement has seen many twists and turns over the years. It is important that we take a look back at the past to bring focus to the future. In 2017, MotorCities and the Michigan Labor History Society worked together to present "Building the Engine: Auto and Labor, 1932-1937," a year-long recognition of the seminal auto labor moments from those years. Those events, including the 1932 Ford Hunger March, the formation of UAW in 1935, the Flint Sit-down Strike in 1936-37 and the Lansing Labor Holiday in June 1937 were all examined through lectures, tours, events, exhibits, and articles chronicling the triumph and tragedies of those years and what we are still learning from them today.
 
Autopalooza
 
Auto heritage tourism represents a huge portion of the annual economic impact attributed to the MotorCities National Heritage Area. More than the economic impact, major automotive events represent the cultural magnetism of our region. Visitors travel to the region throughout the year for tent pole events like the North American International Auto Show, Autorama, Back to the Bricks and the Woodward Dream Cruise. Beginning in 2007, MotorCities partnered with the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau (now Visit Detroit) to unite these automotive event partners with an outreach program called Autopalooza. The program brought these events together to share best practices and engage in joint marketing to shine an even brighter light on the region. It connected visitors of one event to the opportunity to visit other communities and events later in the season. Over its 10 years, Autopalooza drove thousands of visitors to our region and improved the awareness, support and cohesion of these events -- allowing all to rise together. 

Ford Piquette Plant Museum
 

One of the things that draws visitors to the MotorCities National Heritage Area is the authenticity of the historic resources. There is no place in the world with a higher concentration of automotive and labor sites. One site that truly reflects the efforts of the heritage area is the Ford Piquette Plant Museum. This is the first factory that Henry Ford built for the Ford Motor Company. It is the birthplace of the famed Model T, the vehicle credited with making auto ownership an affordable reality in the early 20th century. Over the years, MotorCities has supported projects like its master planning, facade restoration, roof repair and fire suppression system. All of these projects assure that this National Historic Landmark is there for the tens of thousands who visit each year from around the globe. They relish standing in the same space where ideas and innovation changed the world.

Michigan Auto Heritage Day

 

In 2014, MotorCities launched Michigan Auto Heritage Day. This day has also featured the annual MotorCities Awards of Excellence, which recognize outstanding auto-related projects from across the region that have excelled in heritage tourism, preservation or education. The launch of the special day also marked the creation of the Michigan Legislative Automotive Caucus. It is difficult not to find a person who is not touched by the auto industry in Michigan, so it is not hard to understand why this caucus makes sense to a legislature that boasts more than a century of automotive history.


Highland Recreation Area


Though we work at it everyday, it is difficult to frame how influential the auto industry has been on our culture and way of life. Just one example is our concept of recreation. The advancement of cars necessitated roads, and roads connected cities and people. The ability to travel with relative ease allowed those who were now making a fair income to drive their new automobiles to places that would have otherwise entailed many hours of travel. The idea of road trips and weekend getaways was far more attainable. Edsel Ford, son of Henry Ford, was able to have a second "getaway" home called Haven Hill in what is now White Lake. This land is now part of the State of Michigan's Highland Recreation Area, having been donated by Eleanor Ford. The property entailed a number of buildings (garage, barn, lodge house, etc.). Though some of those structures have been lost or compromised, there is still a story of an auto magnate and his family sitting by the fire in the lodge or their children running through the trails. The Friends of Highland Recreation Area endeavor to tell that story. Over the years, MotorCities has supported multiple grants to restore and repair parts of the property, as well as installing interpretive signage throughout. Visitors today can stand where Edsel Ford's lodge stood and think back to how he and his family took a little break at what he called his "nerve retreat."

 

Packard Proving Grounds

It is difficult to imagine a time when icons like Chevrolet, Buick, Chrysler, Olds, Dodge, Ford and Leland were all working to find their place in this relatively new automotive industry. Whether it was cost, style, audience or craftsmanship, they were all contemporaries who were fighting to distinguish themselves from their competition. One name that stood out and became synonymous with luxury and reliability was Packard. The company began manufacturing in 1899. With the Packard Plant in Detroit undergoing demolition now, the only vestige of the Packard Motor Car Company that remains is its proving grounds in Shelby Township. Not to be overlooked was the need for these auto companies to test their innovations in a controlled, yet real world setting. Originally, this 560-acre site was the place where Packard would test their vehicles for reliability and comfort in order to ensure buyer satisfaction. Today, the Packard Motor Car Foundation operates 14 acres of the original property, which was gifted by Ford Motor Company. This portion of land includes the remaining historic structures (lodge, engineering building, garage, hangar), and MotorCities has supported grants for restoration or renovation of many of those structures. It is easy to stand in the garage and imagine the work that went into calibrating the highest quality. If you ever question the quality of a Packard, as their ads stated, simply "Ask the man who owns one."

 

MotorCities Kidz/Stephen Yokich Education Program

The story of the automotive industry has touched many generations. It has built communities and allowed families to flourish. The appreciation for the accomplishments of auto and labor must be passed along so as not to be forgotten. That was the exact intent in 2002 when the UAW began their support of MotorCities' educational programming. The educational outreach was aptly titled the Stephen Yokich Education Program, in honor of the former UAW President who had recently passed away. The goal was to bring these stories of ideas, innovation, social change, triumph and tragedy to schools across the region. After the first wave of schools engaged, the program expanded to a web-based curriculum called MotorCities KidZ, which served to inspire a new generation of auto enthusiasts. 

 

The Cherry Hill Village Center in Canton

Every preservation project begins at a different point and may launch with different motivations. Some are emergency intercessions that literally make the difference between saving a building and letting it crumble. Others are an opportunity to reclaim a piece of history that may have lost its luster. In the case of the Cherry Hill Village Center in Canton, the motivation was to restore an original Henry Ford Village Industry site to its former prominence. In 2012, the Partnership for the Arts & Humanities acquired the Cherry Hill factory, one of Ford's famed factories, where he didn't just develop the production facility, but the entire surrounding area. There would often be schools and homes built near these factories to accommodate children and families. In the case of Cherry Hill, Ford purchased the dormitory for disabled veterans working at the factory, which supplied parts to the larger Willow Run Plant. We are proud to have supported multiple grants over the years from master planning to window replacements. The Partnership has restored the factory and dormitory building with the purpose of providing services and programming for veterans again.

 

The Passport Program

Passport seekers travel the country from Alaska to the Everglades and from Niagara Falls to Pearl Harbor, collecting stamps and making memories. Since 2004, passport seekers have also been able to visit many of the sites around our heritage area to receive a coveted stamp the same as what would be available at any other National Park Service site. For a number of years, our MotorCities attractions offering a stamp have been collected in their own book form. It is a great honor to be recognized on a national level for the stories of the people, places and ideas that put the world on wheels. Visitors travel from near and far for the authentic auto heritage experience. For many visitors, these places are at the heart of our story and being official sites on the NPS passport listing makes them all the more alluring.

The National Park Service Centennial
 
As a National Heritage Area, we are in a unique position to have the autonomy of a stand-alone nonprofit organization, while also being supported as a part of the programming of the National Park Service. At no time did this relationship shine more than in 2016 when the Park Service celebrated its centennial. This year-long observance launched the nationwide "Find Your Park" campaign. Throughout the year, there were special activities around MotorCities like the premier of the National Parks 3D film at the Michigan Science Center; the Every Kid in a Park program bringing thousands of students to discover their public lands; and the culminating celebration of parks at The Henry Ford to swear in a new generation of NPS Junior Rangers. However, our biggest project was the "Find Your Road Trip" booklet which was circulated across the state. The booklet connected visitors to attractions within the heritage area, but it also challenged them to visit other NPS sites across Michigan to receive recognition from the governor. That project received the National Park Service Director's Partnership Award for the statewide collaboration in connecting people to parks and public spaces.
 
MotorCities' Highway Signs
 
In November and December 2019, drivers around Michigan started noticing something new along the highways -- those familiar brown National Park Service signs with a message welcoming them to the MotorCities National Heritage Area! The first nine signs were installed in November and December 2019 and were the culmination of many years of work with the Michigan Department of Transportation. An additional five signs were added in the Spring of 2020 to bring the total to 14! The signs (pictured below) had an immediate and significant impact on awareness of MotorCities, based upon visits to our website and social media platforms during 2020 and 2021. For example, pageviews on the MotorCities.org website doubled in 2020 and increased another 50 percent in 2021. MotorCities is seeking funding for a second phase of highway signs that would double the current number in the years to come.
 

Fort Street Bridge Interpretive Park 

On October 22, 2020, a group of community partners known as the Fort-Rouge Gateway Partnership (FRoG), along with government officials including Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, the Friends of the Rouge (FOTR) and funders, cut the ribbon and opened the new Fort Street Bridge Interpretive Park, located at the foot of the new Fort Street Bridge in southwest Detroit. On March 7, 1932, during the Great Depression, auto workers organized a march from Detroit to the Ford Rouge Factory in Dearborn. Known as the Ford Hunger March, the event was one of the most significant events leading to the creation of the United Auto Workers union. Five protesting workers were killed in a clash with Ford security and Dearborn Police. The park, which culminated years of work by MotorCities and the FRoG partnership, ensures that the history of the Hunger March, the significance of the original bridge and its importance to the region is now recognized.

MotorCities At Home/MotorCities On The Road

In the Fall of 2019, MotorCities launched a Speakers Bureau, a resource for groups around the region to learn more about us and automotive history. The idea was to book presentations for groups like libraries, local historical societies and others for in-person experiences. 

And then in March 2020, the pandemic happened.

Suddenly, all of the momentum generated by the launch came to a screeching halt, and the first wave of scheduled presentations had to be cancelled or postponed. In May, MotorCities At Home was launched, a way to share the same Speakers Bureau presentations – but virtually via Zoom. In 2020, 10 of these presentations were offered with an average of 50 to 100 guests for each session. 

Since then, an additional 15 presentations have taken place, and the series was rebranded in the Fall of 2022 as MotorCities On The Road after the pandemic to facilitate evolving to do both in-person and virtual programs. Each session is now broadcasted via Facebook Live and posted for anytime viewing on MotorCities’ YouTube channel. 

 

Sloan Museum of Discovery

In July of 2022, the new Sloan Museum of Discovery opened to the public after a five-year $30 million reinvention. The new Museum combined elements of the previous Sloan Museum, including Flint’s history and the story of the birth of General Motors, with an interactive, more STEM-focused set of galleries and experiences. MotorCities played its part in the reinvention process, providing a grant in support of a new permanent exhibit on the construction of I-475 and its positive and negative effects on the Flint community.

 

Junior Ranger
 
Patterned after programs found at our National Parks, MotorCities launched its own Junior Ranger program in June 2022, geared toward helping kids explore the National Heritage Area, the place that put the world on wheels. For instance, kids can click on links on the MotorCities website to take fun virtual tours of all of the places that have made and continue to make this region the automotive capital of the world. In addition, kids can complete activities in developmentally appropriate subjects that match their interests. Based on their age, if they complete between two and four activities, they will become an official MotorCities Junior Ranger and can earn a badge and certificate.