On the last Saturday in July, hundreds of Metro Detroiters will travel back in time, no fancy time machine necessary.
The Oakland County Pioneer and Historical Society’s Summer Social is an event that transports attendees as far back as the Civil War era. It’s a day packed with music, period costumes, patriotic speeches, even cannon booms. An annual event since the 1960s, the social is held on the site of the historical society
in Pontiac, also known as Pine Grove, a five-acre estate that is the former home of Michigan’s twelfth governor, Moses Wisner.
“There is a one-room schoolhouse on the grounds, and the carriage house is our office,” says Linda Porter, volunteer publicity coordinator for the OCPHS. “We have an extensive library and we are the second oldest historical society in the state.”
A self-funded entity, the society relies upon the Summer Social and an October dinner auction to raise the $70,000 budget needed to operate the historical home and grounds. The event typically attracts between 300 and 500 guests, depending upon the weather. This year's social will honor Pontiac’s bicentennial year.
At the Summer Social, participants can learn about life during the Civil War period, when Gov. Wisner, a staunch abolitionist, mustered 1,000 soldiers to support the war effort.
“Education has always been a big part of our program,” says Barbara Frye, a member of the Summer Social planning committee. “One of the highlights is our porch talks. Back in the day, people would gather on the veranda to hear a speech. This year, we will have President Lincoln and Gov. Wisner speaking.”
Wayne State University history Ph.D. candidate Rochelle E. Danquah
will speak about the Underground Railroad movement in Oakland County.
On the side porch, the Peace Jubilee Brass Band
will entertain, and the mansion, which dates back to 1845 and is filled with original furnishings, carpets, wallpaper, and chandeliers, will be open for tours. Attendees can register to show off a vintage car on the mansion’s front lawn and will receive a photo of their vehicle in front of the mansion.Barbara Frye, volunteer coordinator of the Summer Social, in her Civil War-era costume and Victorian-style bonnet.
Because no social would be complete without summer sweets, members of the Sashabaw Plains
chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) will serve cake and ice cream to guests. Some members of the Lydia Barnes Potter
chapter will also volunteer at the event.
The DAR is a service organization whose members can trace their ancestry to a patriot who helped secure the freedom of the United States during the Revolutionary War.
“Your patriot doesn’t have to be a soldier, or even male. It could be a city official, or a beef supplier to the army,” says Charlotte Cooper, past regent with the 75-member Sashabaw Plains chapter of Clarkston and president of the OCPHS. “If you were feeding the revolutionary soldiers rather than King George’s guys, you were on the right side.”
Cooper, whose sons and husband are members of the Sons of the American Revolution, and grandchildren members of the Children of the American Revolution, had eight generations of lineage to prove when she joined the DAR. As a member, Cooper volunteers to feed the hungry, work in classrooms, and has organized a genealogical society.
“We do grave markings of patriots, and are working with a cemetary in Ortonville to recognize the grave of Norman Phelps, who was a musician who enlisted and played the fife,” Cooper says. Oakland county has the largest number of DAR chapters in Michigan, with eight distinct groups.
Membership in the DAR connects Cooper to her ancestry and to her country, and she enjoys knowing about not just the Revolutionary War patriot whose lineage she can trace, but her grandfather who died in the Civil War four generations ago, and her ancestor who came to the United States from England in 1609, and whom she believes lived in Jamestown, Virginia, in the first English settlement.
“It gives me great pride and joy to make history come alive,” she says. “History matters. These guys gave their lives and their fortunes during the war. They lost their homes, their families, their livelihoods, and some lost their lives.”
The Oakland County Pioneer and Historical Society Summer Social is on Saturday, July 28, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., at Pine Grove, 405 Cesar E Chavez Ave., Pontiac. Cost is $7 per person, or $15 for a family of five.
Photo of Barbara Frye taken at the Pontiac Little Art Theater by Robert Karizim.