On November 6, 1998, President Clinton designated part of Detroit (and mid-Michigan) as a National Heritage Area. “The area, the 18th of 40 National Heritage Areas in the U.S., has been renamed the MotorCities National Heritage Area. The Heritage region covers 10,000 square miles and is home to more than 6 million people. “Not just ‘Any Place, USA’ can be a National Heritage Area,” the National Park Service notes. “It requires a unique story that is important to the heritage of America and an act of Congress to become a National Heritage Area. It encourages residents and visitors to recognize, celebrate, and share with others that they are part of a region where great things happened and continue to happen in ways that shape and mold America.”
And that is exactly what we have at the Whaley Historic House; a unique story that is important to the heritage of America. Sure, on its own, the house itself is a gorgeous Gilded Age style mansion with a grand entrance, beautiful strained glass windows, and fine furnishings from around the world. But when we connect the home’s former residents to pivotal events in Flint’s past, a bigger picture of community awareness opens.
It is impossible to completely ignore the auto industry’s role in Flint, and Robert Whaley’s part as well. He was President of Citizen’s Bank when he approved the loan to William Durant for $2,000 to start a roadcart company. This loan would eventually turn into General Motors, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Mary McFarlan Whaley has also had a lasting impact in Flint, and the legacy of her generous contribution of her home as a retirement home for ladies continues to this day. After the house was incorporated as a museum, the McFarlan Home moved to its present location (next door). The McFarlan Home provides a loving and safe environment for women who are no longer able to live on their own. Robert and Mary also endowed the Donald M. Whaley Children’s Center, which continues to enhance the lives of local youth.