Southgate Historical Society pieces together past

Photo by James Mitchell

Southgate Historical Society President and Vice President David and Kay Warren review some of the many maps contained within the museum. Long before the city charter of 1958, the land of Southgate hosted an agricultural community.

Sunday Times Newspapers

SOUTHGATE — Computers will certainly help the effort, but it seems appropriate that continued growth of the Southgate Historical Society’s community archives will likely be done the old-fashioned way — by word of mouth spread across the generations.

People may not be aware that the city’s history long predates the relatively recent 1958 charter that defined a municipality. Within the Southgate Historical Museum, 14120 Dix-Toledo Road, maps illustrate the changes made over the decades … and centuries.

“I love maps,” Historical Society President David Warren said. “They say a lot.”

Stories told recall a largely agricultural community, of large farms owned by some of the original settlers. Families from Germany and Prussia plowed mid-1800s fields on property now hosting Southgate High School. There was no “downtown” in Southgate, society Vice President Kay Warren said, as Wyandotte was a carriage ride away for Main Street shopping. As late as 1876, 16 families farmed the tracts that now comprise Southgate, and as the community grew, a school district’s boundaries were drawn based on creeks, not roads.

Keeping track of the memories is the mission of the Historical Society, with an emphasis now on converting papers and photos to digital format, and expanding the search to capture the city’s history.

“History is in the documentation,” Warren said, citing a recent visit from a graduate of Southgate High School’s class of 1967, in possession of several years worth of school newsletters for the society to scan and copy. Warren said that class photos and school yearbooks are among the top items sought by curious visitors.

Other contemporary donations can be found in the military room, side-by-side with the history of a nation. Uniforms and artifacts represent two World Wars, conflicts in Southeast Asia, and a modern set of fatigues recently worn in Afghanistan. Three West Point cadets are represented, as are the 11 young Southgate men who were killed in Vietnam. Warren said the society hopes to partner with military groups and reach out to veterans with stories or photos to share.

The large family home-turned-museum — relocated from it farmland home in 1994 — hosts a variety of treasures and, depending upon a visitor’s age, oddities. Warren said that younger schoolchildren are as fascinated by something called a “phone booth” as more experienced guests are with a vintage 1960 television, the Philco “space-age” special.

Historical hunting in Southgate is a multi-faceted effort: The society is responsible for the lion’s share of the museum’s efforts and collection, while the city-appointed Historical Commission contributes the balance.

Warren said the society is open to working with school groups, geneologists in search of family origins, military groups or other interested participants. The society is administered by a board of 10, with about 40 active members. The museum is open from 1 to 4 p.m. Thursdays, and the society can be reached at 734-258-7430 or by email at

(James Mitchell can be reached at