• 25
    Apr
    Posted in:
    When Michigan Signs and History Perfectly Intersect

    Regional publications are celebrating Michigan signs in two interesting ways this week. In Kalamazoo, city officials and Pottawatomi tribe members unveiled signs to commemorate a local reservation while MyNorth.com celebrated vintage roadside signs in the Upper Peninsula. While the stories are not directly related, they show just how special Michigan’s history is and how we can experience it through something as simple as a sign.


    Chief Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish’s Reservation

    A recent article for MLive begins with a map of Kalamazoo. The image flips between showing the boundaries of a Native American reservation and the same area present day. The reservation, created for Chief Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish of the Pottawatomi, spans nine square miles that include part of Western Michigan University. The reason this image is so striking is because this piece of land is an important part of the area’s history, and the city is finally taking steps to commemorate it.

    The reservation has a dark past. It was created in 1821 but reclaimed by the US six years later in an effort to relocate Native Americans to northern Indiana and Kansas. The Kalamazoo Reservation Public Education Committee wants to bring more accuracy and awareness to this history while also celebrating the heritage of this tribe, also known as the Gun Lake tribe. To do this, they are placing signs throughout Kalamazoo along the former boundaries of the reservation.

    The signs were designed by the committee, which includes members of the Gun Lake tribe’s council as well as representatives from various local organizations. On Monday, their first sign was unveiled.

    Kalamazoo Michigan Signs

    Image of Arcadia Park in Kalamazoo by Michigan Municipal League via Flickr


    Super Yooper Signs

    Meanwhile, in the Upper Peninsula, Michigan signs of a different sort are being celebrated. In a brief article put out by MyNorth.com, the website’s art director, Gail Snable, shared her thoughts on old signs she’s seen along US 2 in the UP. The signs call back to a time when letters had to be hand-carved and colors were chosen based on available paint.

    A fascinating component of Snable’s piece is her relationship with Michigan signs. She writes that one of her summer jobs between semesters at Kendall College was working for a sign business. The business, which as since dissolved, specialized in routed redwood signs as well as traditional painted ones.

    In explaining her nostalgia for this job, Snable said the following:

    “We did everything from large golf course orders to signage for locals’ cabins. This is where my fascination with vintage signs came to be.”

    This seems to be an important part of her past, and the beautiful signs she’s found in the UP harken back to an era of artisanal signage in our state. In order to respect fair use, we aren’t able to share her photos, but we recommend you check them out here; each image deserves to be put on a postcard.

    UP Michigan

    Image of the UP by Ray Dumas via Flickr


    The Importance of Michigan Signs

    While the stories in Kalamazoo and the UP are different, they both illustrate the connection between Michigan signs and the places they’re seen. Kalamazoo’s signs honor history and educate new generations about Native Americans. The signs in the UP evoke youth in some and remind viewers that our state is full of natural splendor and travel-worthy destinations. Detroit has its signs too: ghost signs, banners, billboards, and plaques. The next time you’re exploring Detroit, remember that our city’s past can be seen through signs too.


    Featured image of Kalamazoo by Michigan Municipal League via Flickr
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