From the new Executive Director


My name is Daniel Conner and I would like to introduce myself as the new Executive Director of the Whaley Historic House Museum.

I have been involved in public history within the Flint area since I started as a student at the University of Michigan-Flint in the History program in 2012. During that time, I had the opportunity as a community member to see the great museum the Whaley House is, the fantastic programming that it offers, and what the museum means to the city and people of Flint.

As a student, I worked as a Collections and Archives Intern at the Ruth Mott Foundation and Applewood, as well as working as a village attendant/historic interpreter at Crossroads Village & Huckleberry Railroad. I even started up a small business/hobby celebrating the city of Flint and its heritage. But my mind always came back to the Whaley House. These past couple of years, I was able to see the amazing things that the previous director, Samantha Engel, was able to provide for the community and the growth under her leadership. Recently when she took a new position, my friend and interim director Jason Botz continued momentum and did a phenomenal job. You couldn’t find two nicer people that care more about the Whaley Historic House Museum than Samantha and Jason. These are going to be some big shoes to fill.

Looking to the future, I plan to continue the outstanding work that Samantha and Jason started, along with plans of growing the museums’ footprint in the Cultural Center, in Flint as a whole, and all of Genesee County. Including – the exciting and informative programming, like the Kearsley Street Walking Tours, History Happy Hour, the Whaley Dinner Club, and looking to 2018, the quilting groups in partnership with Flint Handmade. We hope to be adding some new programs and events in the future, so stay tuned with us on our blog and socially with facebook and twitter.

In other news…

After taking a hiatus in July, our monthly History Happy Hour event will start again in August at our gracious host Tenacity Brewing. The lecturer will be non-other than Samantha, speaking on her new adventure, Beyond the Company: The Dow Family in Midland, Michigan. Details can be found on Facebook!

Thank you for your continued support and friendship to the Whaley House and I hope to have a chance to meet you all!

Yours Truly,

Daniel Conner
Executive Director

Michigan Titanic Survivors

Hello Friends,

I have recently been doing some research for my History Happy Hour lecture next week (Thursday, April 6th at 7:00 pm at Tenacity Brewing), and I found myself intrigued by stories of nine survivors from southwest Michigan. What truly struck me, aside from the fact that these nine people survived, was the different circumstances that brought the three families aboard the ill-fated ship. Yet, despite these differences in wealth and origin, these people shared the fact that not only did they survive, they all ended up living within twenty miles of eachother.

One of the families, a newly wed couple, Dickinson and Helen Bishop from Dowagiac, was just returning from their honeymoon in Europe. They had first class tickets, as they were both from wealthy families, and as such, Dickinson faced some problems in his societal circles fo having taken a space on the lifeboat. However, the officer loading first class passengers gave priority to newly wed couples.

Nellie, Ruth, Richard, and Marion Becker, were aboard the Titanic for quite different circumstances. They were second class passengers, and were moving back to Benton Harbor from years of missionary work in India. Ruth, who was seperated from her mother and siblings at the time of the wreck but still made it to a life boat, told people of how she saw the ship break in half just before going under. No one believed her until divers photographed the wreckage in 1985.

Hanna, Miryam, and George Tu’mah had a completely disparate journey. From Tibnin, a small villiage in Lebanon, Hanna and her two children were immigrating to the US to be with her husband, who had moved to Dowagiac already. As this is my own family, and the focus of my lecture, I won’t get into too much about these steerage passengers. After arriving in Dowagiac, they eventually moved to Flint and became part of a growing Lebanese community there.

The Titanic had passengers from all walks of life and many varying circumstances. Yet despite these variations, survivors of that day always had that shared near death experience. That some of them also shared a destination in southwest Michigan is quite exciting for those of us Michiganders who love to hear about any piece of history involving our state. These are only three examples of Michigan Titanic survivors, but they highlight the diversity of the survivors of that fateful day.

Interim Executive Director Introduction

Greetings to all friends of the Whaley Historic House Museum!

My name is Jason Botz, and I would like to formally introduce myself as the Interim Executive Director for the Whaley Historic House Museum. Samantha Engel, our previous director, has now embarked on an exciting new journey as the Historian for the Dow Foundation. Our loss is most definetly a huge gain for them, and I know that Samantha will be a hard act for me to follow.

I have been involved with the Whaley House for three years now. I started here as a work study student while working on my bachelor’s degree in history. During that time, I had the pleasure of working closely with Samantha on projects such as collections cataloging, program planning, and even some general maintenance on the house. The Whaley Dinner Club is my own pet project, something that I developed to combine my culinary skills, as a former Chef, with my passion for history.

After I graduated, I was invited to join the Board of Directors for the Whaley House. I had been serving in that capacity for approximately nine months when Samantha informed us that she would be leaving. The board honoured me by voting to place me in the interim director’s position, and that brings me to today.

While I am acting in this capacity, I plan to continue with Samantha’s vision for the Whaley House by offering exciting and informative programming. We will be holding our monthly History Happy Hour events at Tenacity Brewing in Flint, our quilting groups at the Local Grocers, the Kearsley Street walking tours, and of course the Whaley Dinner Club. Along with these events, some new programs are in the works. So be sure to keep up with us on FaceBook, and join us as we celebrate the history of our city, Flint.


Jason Botz

Open Floor Plan?

If for some reason you had ever made it to the third floor of the Whaley House, maybe as a volunteer or because you told me you just really like old houses and I’m a sucker for that kind of history talk, then you know it was divided it a few rooms. It was a finished third floor, but it wasn’t always like that.


This is a picture of the third floor after the fire. You can see all of the walls that were once there.

When the Whaley family lived at 624 E. Kearsley the third floor was one large room used for storage. Often during this time the third floor could have been used for bedrooms for children, particularly sons I read in one book on the gilded age. The Whaleys, however, had no need for more bedrooms, so we have it on record that the third floor was just storage space.

After Mary passed away in the mid-1920s the Whaley House became the McFarlan Home for Elderly Women. It was at this point that the third floor was finished and divided into bedrooms. Once the house became a museum in 1976, the third floor returned to being a storage area. One room was dedicated to Christmas decorations, others to collections and programs storage, and still another to odds and ends.

After the fire all of the walls on the third floor had to be demolished. Suddenly, we realized that we had an opportunity to make the Whaley House even more historically accurate than it had been! We are going to return it to one large, open room!


This is the same space pictured above! You can also see the difference between the new lighter colored wood and the darker charred wood. The burned planks that are left are still perfectly fine and we were able to save them. Less of the roof came off than we thought!

Not only will this better represent the house as it been during the Whaleys tenure on Kearsley Street, but it will also increase the amount of storage and work space we have. As an historic house, which is all on display for visitors to see, the third floor and the basement are the only spaces we have for this and neither is conducive to work space. Before I would set up tables in the summer kitchen (the lobby area) work on what I had to do, be it collections or exhibit construction, then pack it up before a tour. Anyone who came into the museum would see whatever mess I was in the middle of. This will eliminate that and make work more efficient!


There are steel beams that run along and sit on the brick wall and extend around the house. This absorbs the weight of the roof and distributes it, to avoid pushing the brick walls out.

It isn’t just going to be a big open unfinished attic, though. Since there will still be artifacts kept up there, we need to make sure that it is insulated and the climate controlled, as much as an old house can be. We are going to attempt to leave some points of interest exposed, so some brick, some beams, maybe a glimpse of the steel beams they added to reinforce the structure, but overall it will be a finished, clean space for us to store collections and work on those items we don’t want people to walk in on when they show up for a tour.

The progress we are seeing is amazing! All conversations are positive and we can’t wait to continue to show you more.. Feel free to share the progress with your friends and hopefully we’ll see you at a program soon!


This photo shows the middle of the roof. You can see where the large steel supports come together. There is essentially one huge triangle.

Restoration Update

If you’ve recently driven past the Whaley House, you have probably seen the work being done. I am happy to report that work is progressing very smoothly at this point!


So, what’s been done so far?

Masons have completed the brick repair to the chimneys and the interior of the third floor. Once that was done, steel plates were installed for new steel support beams to rest upon. The portion of the roof that needed to be removed was then demolished (we were actually able to save more than we thought!), and then they installed the steel supports and began rebuilding the roof! It’s been pretty amazing to see how it’s all coming together!


Here you can see one of the steel support beams. They are connected to supports that run all of the way to the basement, so they can help take pressure off of the brick walls, which were beginning to bow out after standing for over 150 years.

And now what happens?

Well, we will continue with the roof repair and it is estimated that that will be done by the end of the February. Once the roof is buttoned up, though, they can begin preparing to work inside. It is not clear what will happen first inside, but we will be sure to keep you updated!

Finally seeing progress on the house has been incredible. Even though we’ve been working hard to prepare everything for work and making the appropriate plans, it still seemed that restoration was so far away and completing it loads further. Now, however, it seems that the end is actually in site, even though it will take most of this year to get there.


Here you can see another steel beam sitting on top of the brick wall and new wooden members going in. Additionally, you can see another steel beam that has been added to the floor of the third floor. All of this will ensure that house stands for many generations to come!

Be sure to stay in touch in order to stay up do date with the restoration process!

Thank You, Flint

It’s now been one year since the Whaley House fire. At this point I’ve heard many stories about how people heard about the fire, whether they received a call from someone who saw the house, or they saw the breaking news coverage cut into their afternoon programming. I remember the day like it was yesterday and still have moments where those feelings swell inside me.


This year has been tough. I’m going to be honest, because I see no reason to hide emotion behind some veil of professionalism. I’ve cried a lot, and I still do sometimes. I’ve wanted to give up. I’ve wondered how something like this could happen to an innocent little museum just tyring to get by. I’ve put on many happy, positive faces when talking to the community at moments when all I want to do is pull my hair out and stomp my feet. I’ve made grim jokes with other museum colleagues who have been through similar things or can, at least, imagine what I’m experiencing. Laughing has helped. But, something else has helped even more… Flint, you’ve helped.

I’m not a Flint native. I was born and raised on the sunset side of the Mitten and continued there, by going to Ferris State University for my Bachelor’s degree and then Western Michigan University for my Master’s. Our in-state family vacations were spent along Lake Michigan or in the Upper Peninsula, so I really wasn’t very familiar with the East side of the state at all. But, I’ve come to love Flint.


These things happen to Flint. Hardships, setbacks, disasters of magnificent proportions, but we’re still here. We still care about the city and its businesses, institutions, and the people who call it home. When faced with a blow, ten hands will shoot out of the dust to pull you up, because it’s what we do. The city has grit. It’s residents have huge hearts. Whether I walk into the Farmer’s Market on a personal coffee or cookie mission or am taking part in a community event, I am constantly amazed at the resiliency and bond the people of the city have. It’s unspoken, but it’s there. We’re in it together. We’re working to move it forward. I can’t give up on Flint, either. The Whaleys didn’t give up after the fizzle of the lumber industry. They continued working in and caring for the city through their philanthopy and business. Robert contributed to the creation of General Motors, Mary participated in several community groups, one of which grew into the Flint Public Library. They set aside the resources to create the Whaley Children’s Center and the McFarlan Home. They kept going and so will I.

So, after the fire, I didn’t even need to ask and folks from all over offered help. Some from museums, others with space to offer as an office, and other individuals asking if we’d need furniture donations or donations of time for whatever volunteering we’d need. Throughout the year numerous organizations have offered us space to hold programs and offered their programs as opportunitie for us to stay active. Many have donated money, far more than I could ever mention, while others have simply stuck by us and offered words of encouragement. Our members have renewed their membership, letting us know that they still care for and believe in us.


Myself and a Whaley volunteer working a Whaley House booth at an Applewood event over the summer! 

And that, it seems, is what Flint has always needed and is never in short supply of: someone to believe in it. In its early years it needed someone to believe in it as the location of a city, then in the various industries that made it. It took people with ideas and money to believe in the city’s future and then it took the people who actually used their hands in factories, stores, and other aspects of its economy. Once GM closed up shop, it took people believing in a new future for the city, believing that there is more to Flint than the decades of its “Vehicle City” fame and now look at where we are. Look at downtown, the Cultural Center, and the colleges and universities. Look at all of the small business owners and the visionaries behind some of the city’s amazing nonprofit organizations. Look at the changes a few decades have made, all with an unspoken bond, an ample helping of grit, an appreciation for this city’s heritage (because loving this city is loving its history), and a belief in the future.

So, this December, please support the city. Take your friends out to eat downtown. Shop for local gifts. Give to the organizations that support Flint. Those of us fighting to make it better, appreciate the support, in any way it may come. Hopefully next year we’ll be back in action with even more entertaining and educational opportunities than ever.

Thanks, Flint, for everything.


Greenhouse Restoration Fundraiser

Have any you heard of Giving Tuesday?


If not you’ve surely heard of Black Friday, Shop Local Saturday, and/or Cyber Monday, right? Well Giving Tuesday is the charitable version of those shopping days. Most statistical reports agree that almost 1/3 of all online charitable giving happens during the last month of the year. That’s a lot for nonprofits!

I can see two possible reasons for this, first many individuals choose to make their donations during the holidays. It feels like a Christmas gift. I know I tend to feel my most “it is better to give than to receive” during December when I’m buying and making gifts for friends and family. Additionally, some folks (especially millenials it seems) are foregoing extensive Christmas lists and encouraging charitable donations in lieu of yet another Christmas sweater. Finally, at the end of the year, folks are trying to give their final gifts for tax purposes. They can see how their home budgets are ending and where they can and need to give a bit more for that tax write-off. Whatever the reason, we in the nonprofit sector are incredibly thankful for the feeling of charity and good cheer that seems to permeate the hearts of everyone during December.

So, Giving Tuesday highlights the work and needs of nonprofits. It provides a way to kickstart a month of charity or at least provide a medium for people to use in making their final donation decisions of the year.

Last year I had a Giving Tuesday campaign planned out. We were, as you may recall, attempting to raise funds for our regular restoration projects around the house. We had been awarded a grant from the state, as well as two other grants for projects like replacing the gutters, repairing the chimneys, and painting the house. Last year Giving Tuesday was December 1 and the fire occurred on November 3o. This year, though, we’re giving this another go!


The Lyman Estate of Historic New England highlights its greenhouses.

One project that myself and our board has been discussing is the restoration of the greenhouse on the west side of the house. You can see the greenhouse frame as you drive by on Chavez and the rest of the pieces are in our basement. The greenhouse isn’t original to the Whaley House, but we do know, from conversations with their grandson, that Mary Whaley had a “flower room” off of the dining room, where the greenhouse frame is today. The structure we have was actually given to us by Gordon Anthony florist and it is an authentic Victorian-style greenhouse. Today, the Gordon Anthony florist is now owned by Vogt’s. We have some money that came with the structure to restore it, but that isn’t enough, which now explains why it still sits in the basement.


Although our greenhouse won’t look exactly like this one, found on, it will be similar coming off of the side of the house. 

We would love to set up the greenhouse! From the time I began at the Whaley House I daydreamed about the programs we could have with it, as well as the added room for regular tours. In the past the museum hosted programs on flower drying and even had a small vegetable garden, but I see so many opportunities. Children could learn about planting and growing flowers. We could hold programs on herb drying and the medicinal uses of various herbs. Greenhouses also have an interesting history connected to the rise of botany in the 1800s.

With all of this in mind, then, we would like to focus our Giving Tuesday campaign on raising $10,000 to aid in the restoration of the greenhouse. You can find our GoFundMe page here. Now that the house is being restored, it is the perfect time to work on the greenhouse and its installation and restoration. On Tuesday, November 29 we will be sharing our campaign and hope that you will too! Every small donation helps us move toward our goal and toward our dreams for the greenhouse.