About The Project


I have made a hobby out of collecting old postcards and pictures of Bangor and it has made me somewhat of a history buff. It amazes me how much our town has changed in the past 100 years, and yet there is so much that has remained the same. We are fortunate to have had the Bangor Reflector and the Bangor Advance (see our short history).  These are two great little hometown newspapers. There were many historic articles and pictures published in the Advance over the years, helping us remember our past.

We were also fortunate to have had photographers like Will Funk and David Lewis, to whom our book is dedicated. Will Funk took many pictures around town in the late 1800's and early 1900's. If we had half of the photos and postcards he made, we would have an unbelievable archive. David Lewis concentrated most of his time strictly to postcards. Mr. Lewis' camera took many of our pictures. Photos like those taken by these two gentlemen are what books like ours are made of. There was never a single compilation of pictures however, until the Arts Council put together the Centennial issue in 1977. This was a great effort to show Bangor's past and an inspiration to me to do it on an even greater scale.

My friend Bev McLarty and I talked for two or three years about putting together a pictorial history of Bangor. In the fall of 1999 we decided it was time. In November we invited several people whom we thought would have an interest in the project to attend an organizational meeting. We laid out preliminary plans and a schedule to have a book in one to two years. Pretty ambitious plans! I mentioned we could possibly collect as many as 1500 to 2000 pictures if we really went looking. This drew several skeptical chuckles. As luck and hard work would have it, that guess was right on track.  We have collected over 2300 pictures; maybe 5% of those are duplicates.

All proceeds from the sale of the book will be given back to the Bangor Historical Society to help preserve the history of Bangor. The ultimate goal would be to acquire enough money to start a museum. If we could sell only 10,000 copies we could build a great museum. I think I hear chuckles again. Who knows?  Hard work, a little luck and we could have a location to preserve Bangor's past to be enjoyed by all.  Ambitious plans again, but we have to set goals.

Our start up process was intense. We had press releases in the Benton Harbor Herald-Paladium, South Haven Tribune, and the Kalamazoo Gazette. Fliers were sent out with the annual Alumni Association letter. The Reminder Shoppers Guide here in town, printed an on-going ad about our project, and small posters were placed in store windows around town. We made a noble attempt to reach as many people as possible right here in the community.

Despite all of this, our response was low. We had to go looking. In January 2000 I started calling anyone who had a past with Bangor. Calls were made from coast to coast, boarder to boarder and everywhere in between. Our response this time was more upbeat. People thought the idea was great and all wanted a copy of the book when it was finished. I really believed everyone would bend over backward to help make this project a success.  All I asked for was a half hour of time to search for items of interest and I would do the rest.  My offer was, "you find them and I will look through them if you don't have the time."  However, I learned people have a life and looking for pictures from the past was not at the top of their list. This was and still remains the most frustrating part of the project.  There is a thin line between being persistent and being obnoxious. I try not to cross that line. Often I have to call the same people several times. Unless they say they have nothing, I make a follow-up call a few days or weeks later. You cannot believe how hard it is to contact a person more than a couple of times. Persistence often pays off. Unfortunately, only about one out of ten or fifteen phone calls ever produced a picture.  I made a pledge when I started this project.  I would not leave a rock unturned.  Finding the rock is one thing and turning it over is entirely another. 

I made several trips to different libraries, archives and museums. The state archives in Lansing had photos from a collection used to publish postcards. The state library in Lansing and the Bently Historical Library at the University of Michigan had what turned out to be one of our most significant finds. Insurance companies hired the Sanborn Map Co. to map entire towns to help determine insurance rates for customers. Stores and streets were drawn to scale and often named for identification. These maps were produced in 1893, 1899, 1909, 1918, 1932 and 1944. The Burton Historical Library in the Detroit Public Library had several postcards and photos used by the Detroit Free Press. The Van Buren County Historical Society in Hartford had some great pictures donated to the museum by people who had the good sense to send items where interested persons could enjoy them.

Most of the Bangor Reflectors and Bangor Advances are on microfilm in the library. These are wonderful history books of the community and they are right at your fingertips for your enjoyment.  Searching through eighty years of old newspapers on a screen is a very tedious task. Although I had some help with research, staying with our goal to have a book in one year would mean we probably would not complete our study of these two papers. I felt it was more important to finish research before coming out with a publication, thus pushing our goal back maybe two or three years.

As pictures started coming in, I was totally amazed by what I was seeing. There are certain landmarks in any town people always recognize. There were times I could not identify a picture until I located a landmark. I was going back in history and seeing how our community had changed. Like all small communities, change is a product of progress and communities feel they must progress or fail. Bangor is no exception to this rule. The kindergarten building by the old high school, the Charles Cross home, the Bangor Products building, etc., are examples of change and progress. Fire had also taken its toll on the community. The old lumber mill, the Standard Coil or Ford Garage building, the Sherrod block next to the Karsten Drug Store, the Sun Theater, and Miller's Opera House were all destroyed by fire just to name a few.

This book will not necessarily be a complete history of Bangor. It is a pictorial history. We want people to see how our town has looked and changed. Of course, history plays a important part in the book and we have made a noble attempt to accurately record events and landmarks to show what part they have played in our community's history. It is unfortunate someone did not take up this project thirty years ago. The pictures that were known to exist and have since disappeared, make research disappointing. Looking at the Bangor Advance, many photos of Bangor's past were published. We were unable to locate many of them. I believe there is still a wealth of information and photos that still remains in homes and attics right here in town, as well as all over the country. Eventually they will be cleaned out and probably discarded by unknowing family members as insignificant trash. A seven year old little girl who was the niece of Mildred Broadwell and granddaughter of William Broadwell, once owner of the lumber yard, pulled a handful of postcards out of a trash heap while her family was cleaning out her deceased aunts home. Several of those cards were very unique. I do not want to think about what has been thrown in the dumpster or burned up in fires over the years.

I think we often failed to explain to people just how important photo albums were to our project. Personal snap shots taken around town have a background that can be very interesting and important.  I had people come to me more than a couple of times, who said they "have nothing" and at a later point in time said, "Look what I found."  The pictures are there.  We just have to take the time to look for them.  Not many people can remember what they have not seen in decades.  We can only hope this book and web site will inspire people to take notice of old photos and memorabilia and donate them to the Bangor Historical Society, or allow us to copy them before they are once again buried in the back of a closet or attic.  

To the people who took time to locate and send their pictures and memorabilia to us, I say "Thank you." I can not stress the fact that the most important aspect of this project is the willingness of people to become involved in finding pictures. To each and every one of you, this will be your book.  My persistent calls probably drove many of these people to their family albums just to shut me up and get rid of me. It has always been my goal to produce something positive in an often negative world for our little town. I feel this is a very important project that everyone who enjoys looking at old photos or who has a past with Bangor, will enjoy.

If you have participated and given pictures or memorabilia, again I say "Thank you." If you have something that may be of interest to us, we would appreciate hearing from you.  Please, if you have old photo albums, boxes or trunks, etc., that have pictures from the early 1960's back, take time to look through them and help be a part of history before it is too late.

I hope you will enjoy our web site and book. Become involved and be a part of history. Thank you.

Bob Emmert