Wednesday, April 25, Keith Harrison, the director of Eaton Rapid’s Grand Army of the Republic Museum, as well as a few volunteers set to work on giving the museum some much needed cosmetic changes.
The most noticeable of the changes is the complete paint overhaul in both levels of the museum. The upstairs and the downstairs are completely painted white, a drastic difference from the dim, 1970’s wood paneling. The whitewashed walls are further highlighted by the installation of overhead LED lights, which not only liven the exhibits, but also protect them. According to Harrison, florescent light bulbs, like the ones the museum used previously, are harsh on old documents and other 19th century artifacts. Using LED bulbs will protect the artifacts so they can be on display for years to come.
The upkeep of the G.A.R. museum has been an ongoing process, according to Harrison. He’s pleased with the new updates, as well as the many other building projects undertaken by the museum, but to do so has often been years in the making. The Eaton Rapids G.A.R. museum is non-profit, and free to the community. All projects have been funded by donations and implemented by volunteers.
“All donations come primarily from individuals. There’s hardly a day we’re open where we don’t get something from somebody,” said Harrison.
While the budget for the museum is modest, there have fortunately been gracious donors who have covered half of certain projects. The city provided half of the funds for an entirely new AC and furnace unit. Since the museum opened in 2013, the building projects have been a constant need, according to Harrison. When the museum first moved in, the back wall of the building had to be repaired and painted. In the future, Harrison hopes the museum can rebuild the front balcony, either as a walking balcony, or simply as a decorative addition.
It may be difficult for some readers to grasp the significance of the G.A.R. museum. Not only is it a memorial for the civil war era, but it is the original G.A.R. building of Eaton Rapids. According to Harrison, not many small communities had a designated building for the post Civil War veteran’s organization, but Eaton Rapids was one community that did. To have that building restored and honoring its original purpose is unique and rare, not just because of the building, but also because the Eaton Rapids museum is the only museum in the state completely dedicated to the Grand Army of the Republic.
The G.A.R. museum is also a testament to the roots of veterans organizations around the country. The Grand Army of the Republic was the first nationwide veterans organization, after which all other organizations like the VFW and Eagles Club are modeled. Throughout the museum visitors can learn about how the organization was structured, where other G.A.R. locations were throughout the state and the county, and much more.
The Eaton Rapids’ G.A.R. museum remains active and present in the community. It’s opened the first two Wednesdays of the month, any patriotic holiday, and usually by phone call request. The museum also has an annual Civil War Discovery Camp, a day camp for kids ages 8 to 14 years old to learn about the Civil War, what life was like for a Civil War soldier, how to march and hold a musket, and more. The discovery camp will take place Wednesday, Aug. 15.
Painting walls and installing new lights may seem like a simple change for a local museum, but success and longevity is always in the details of preservation. The G.A.R. museum is a piece of United States, Michigan, Eaton County, and Eaton Rapids history that honors the legacy of the Civil War and continues to remind us that freedom, even in our own borders, isn’t free.
The G.A.R. Museum is located 224 S. Main Street in Eaton Rapids. To learn more about the museum, how to donate, volunteer, or visit, readers can call (517) 694-9394, or email G.A.R.firstname.lastname@example.org.