By LORAINE ANDERSON
TRAVERSE CITY — The Historical Society of Michigan had never held its annual state conference here before, so Traverse City had a lot to show — and tell — the 250 people who attended the 137th yearly gathering over the weekend.
For some, the conference started on Friday with a morning walking tour through Traverse City's historic neighborhoods, followed by another one in the afternoon through the 64-acre Village at Grand Traverse Commons redevelopment of the old Northern Michigan Asylum buildings that opened in 1885 and shut down in 1989.
Walkers saw everything from paint peeling on the plaster walls of one-time patient rooms to a modern and colorful mix of apartments, retail stores, restaurants and even a bocce ball court where the old laundry building used to be.
The conference ended Sunday morning for those who stayed through after a walking tour of historic downtown Traverse City.
On Saturday, registrants had some difficult choices to make. Which three of the 12 presentations did they want to attend during the concurrent morning and afternoon sessions?
Society director Larry Wagenaar said that was the common complaint he fielded.
"But I love that," he said. "It means we're doing our job."
The history buffet of presentations on Saturday included everything from preservation of lighthouses, Fishtown and Port Oneida to the Civil War, and the ecological history of Grand Traverse Bay. Other topics included Cottages, Camps and Rustic Retreats, cherries and grapes and branding for small history museums, too.
History was even on the menu at lunch and dinner.
Ray Minervini Sr., developer of the massive Village at Grand Traverse Commons, gave the keynote address at Friday's opening banquet. The topic: historic placemaking.
Chris Doyal, president of the Grand Traverse Bay Underwater Preserve, showed a video of sonar scans and exploratory dives of shipwrecks in the bay after Saturday's lunch. He said zebra mussels encrust most of the bay wrecks, except those in shallow water. The mussels are not the only invasive species divers see.
"You're never alone when you dive in the bay," he said. "There's always a school of round gobies following you."
He said historical records indicate 29 ships sunk in the bay, but Doyal and others believe there may be many more. The most unusual finds have been an old Ford Pinto, refrigerator and horse wagon. Most discoveries have come through local knowledge, he said.
Tables of history books for sale line the main hallway outside the presentation rooms. Vendors included Michigan State University Press, Wayne State University Press and Arbutus Press, based in Traverse City.
Traverse City filmmaker Rich Brauer, president of Brauer Productions, talked about filmmaking in Michigan in the keynote talk at the closing banquet Saturday night at the Holiday Inn.