Kingman Museum's roots go deep into our community's past. The first collections were acquired during the Civil War. When Central or No. 1 Building of the Battle Creek Public Schools opened on April 10, 1871, it contained a large "museum room" where these collections were displayed.
As a high school student in 1871, Edward Morris Brigham helped his biology teacher and an interested custodian arrange a large rock, mineral, and fossil collection in the museum room of the high school, whetting his appetite for museum work. While completing his studies at the University of Michigan, Brigham joined several expeditions to the Amazon River region of South America. This is where he came into his own as a collector, explorer, and discover of rare species. It was here that he "discovered" and subsequently documented and published his findings on the rare hoatzin, a "four-footed" bird; the paper is still referenced by scholars today. Later in life, he also participated in other expeditions including Alaska and the Hawaiian Islands. During these expeditions, Brigham began to seriously build his private collection of cultural artifacts and fossils, which he eventually gave to Kingman Museum creating its core collection.
Meanwhile, the museum room was moved a couple of times but still remained in the high school. Then in 1904, the present Battle Creek Central High School was opened for occupancy and the museum collections were moved to the new facility. The museum was enlarged and became known as the Public School Museum.
In 1906, Mr. Brigham returned to Battle Creek to become the museum's first director, a position that he held until 1943. His private collection was incorporated in the museum's holdings and became the nucleus of the greatly enlarged Public School Museum. During his tenure as director, Brigham continued his expeditions, collecting and bringing back valuable artifacts for the community to view and study. At this time he also collected for some of the great museums in the United States: the Smithsonian Institution, American Museum of Natural History in New York, and the Field Museum in Chicago.
Brigham began planning for an educational campus during the 1920s. It was his vision that this campus would eventually house buildings for the fine arts, a natural history museum, music, and lectures. Brigham approached Emma C. Kingman with his plans for the museum. She donated the funds necessary to bring the museum's collection under one roof. This gift to the people of Battle Creek given in trust to the City of Battle Creek was in memory of Mrs. Kingman's late husband and state legislator, Senator A. C. Kingman. However, before the museum could be built, land had to be acquired. Early in the planning,Mrs. Leila Post Montgomery donated 72 acres to the City of Battle Creek for the future campus. Other prominent Battle Creek citizens, Mrs. Charles Kolb, W. I. Fell, and Burritt Hamilton, also gave gifts of land to the City. This property eventually became known as Leila Arboretum and between 1924 and 1930, a design from landscape architect T. Clifton Shepard was implemented. A. B. Chanel, a local architect who also designed many buildings in Battle Creek, designed the Kingman Memorial Museum of Natural History in 1931. In 1933, the Battle Creek Public School's museum collection was moved to the museum and opened to the public. Unfortunately, plans for the other buildings were halted during the Great Depression and to this day have not been realized.
Click here for larger views of pictures from the era of the museum's history.
The second director of Kingman Memorial Museum was Mr. Brigham's son, Edward Morris Brigham, Jr., who took the position in 1943 and held it until 1969. Like his father, Brigham, Jr. was an excellent collector and traveled around the world acquiring artifacts, some of which are very rare (e.g., the saber-tooth cat skeleton, from the original excavation at the LaBrea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, California, the Rector Collection of human embryos and fetuses, etc.).
Kingman Memorial Museum was one of the first public museums to be owned and operated by a public school system in the United States. This relationship was advantageous to both institutions for many years. However, due to financial conditions and some new state taxing laws, the Battle Creek School Board began withdrawing its financial support of the museum; this eventually caused the museum to lose accreditation by the American Association of Museums. Following the board resolution in 1997, a Task Force/Advisory Committee was formed to look for alternative housing for the collection. Subsequently, a group of concerned citizens formed the Kingman Initiative, an alliance with the Calhoun County Parks and Recreation and the Farm Bureau, which occupies an historic grain elevator. The County Parks and Recreation Department provided management for a short period of time, but withdrew involvement in August of 2000 and in October the School District closed the museum's doors to the public. On September 7, 2000, with the purpose of saving the museum and its collections, members of the Kingman Initiative formed a board of directors to govern a new organization to be called Kingman Museum, Incorporated. It was recognized as a Michigan corporation on October 31, 2000. They began the processes necessary to organize, attain non-profit status, acquire and preserve the Kingman Memorial Museum (including its exhibits, collections, assets, and facility), ensure its permanence, and to maintain it in the Battle Creek community.
On September 17, 2002, Kingman Museum, Inc. was made Successor Trustee of the museum building and its contents by the Calhoun County Probate Court. However, it wasn’t until April 2006 that conditions were met, and the Battle Creek Public Schools passed trusteeship of the collections to Kingman Museum, Inc.
On February 7, 2003, Kingman Museum, Inc. received the "determination letter" from the Internal Revenue Service verifying that KMI met the criteria to be an exempt organization; coincidentally, the doors to the "new" Kingman Museum were open to the public that same week. Today, Kingman Museum is open year round and has a staff of three full time professionals (CEO, Collections Manager, and Special Projects Manager), plus part-time gift shop manager, educator, and custodial person. Kingman Museum continues to grow and in FY2009 served over 26,000 people through the offering of group programs to pre-K and K-12 groups, serving the at-risk children of Battle Creek who participate in the 21st Century Community Learning Center programs, providing the general public with planetarium shows (8 shows per week), presenting two rotating exhibitions annually, and free monthly lectures for an adult audience, in addition to special annual programs such as Spooky Science Saturday and February Free Day. It prides itself on it collaborations with other art and cultural organizations and businesses throughout the county.
One of Kingman Museum's main goals is to become accredited by the American Association of Museums and to that end it has a number of projects underway. They include updating and documenting all policies and procedures, building IT capacity, creating and adopting plans to focus our growth and capacity building initiatives (strategic, marketing, fund development, etc.). Two years ago, it placed the care of its collection on high priority. A project to inventory and accession the entire collection is funded in part by a two-year grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), providing funding for two part-time positions: a collections intern and a data entry person. The significance of this project cannot be understated. First, the collection has never been completely inventoried or catalogued, so with this project we will establish both intellectual and physical control of the collection. Second, the collection contains items that do not meet our mission and, therefore, must be de-accessioned, or they have been so neglected that they risk deterioration beyond restoration efforts; with this project we will be able to make intelligent decisions on how to proceed. The project will wrap up in September 2009. Kingman Museum continues to seek funding from IMLS and other federal government entities to fund collections care as well as other major projects.
A second initiative now underway is the interior renovation of the building including the design and installation of new permanent exhibitions. In 2006, KM installed a new HVAC system with funding provided by the Clara Miner-Fuller Trust for the Benefit of Kingman Memorial Museum. KM recently renovated the planetarium room and installed state-of-the-art planetarium and sound systems. This, and a 17-title program library, was made possible by grants totaling $350,000 from the Guido A. & Elizabeth H. Binda Foundation and the Miller Foundation. Two grants from the Society for Exploration Geophysicists have made it possible for KM to forge ahead with the Earth Science installation on the lower level, completion pending additional funding. Future support from the City of Battle Creek, Department of Public Works, in the form of a museum size interactive water model for permanent display will complete the ground water portion of the exhibition and strengthen our partnership with the City.
In May 2009 Kingman Museum received $350,000 from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to renovate its mezzanine level and reinterpret the collections that will go into the area. New programming will accompany the exhibitions. The project is scheduled for completion in September 2010.
Kingman Museum has over 200 active volunteers who provide over 6,000 hours of services annually helping KM to meet is mission. They work as board and committee members, provide help with building and grounds maintenance, program delivery, office support, collections care, and more.