Museum Exhibits

Fatal Crossing: Mysterious Disappearance of NWA Flight 2501 and the Quest for Answers.

Travel back to 1950 when Northwest Airlines Flight 2501, a DC-4, mysteriously disappeared in the waters off St. Joseph, Michigan, with all 58 souls on board: America’s worst aviation disaster at the time. “Meet” the individuals lost, see some of the actual items recovered from Lake Michigan by the Navy and Coast Guard, and ponder the  mystery of its loss. This exhibit is based on the award-winning book Fatal Crossing by Michigan historian and exhibit designer, Valerie van Heest, and as seen on the television show “Expedition Unknown.”

Valerie van Heest is an award-winning author, documentary filmmaker, underwater explorer, and a member of the Women’s Divers Hall of Fame and has been featured guest on the History and Travel channels. She has been honored for her work preserving and promoting Michigan’s maritime history. Books are available for purchase in our gift shop.


Lighting the Way:
Fresnel Lenses from St. Joseph’s Lighthouses

The historical 4th and 5th Order Fresnel lenses from our St. Joseph lighthouses are restored, reunited, and on display at the Heritage Museum!

Fresnel lenses dramatically improved maritime safety and saved countless lives. Before their invention, lights were equipped with several oil lamps and mirrored reflectors. Invented in 1822 by French physicist Augustin Fresnel, these new lenses projected light nearly 20 miles across the horizon.

St. Joseph is the only community in Michigan to have preserved two of its own Fresnel lenses.  The United States Coast Guard removed one of the historic lenses in 2003 and the other in 2012, replacing them with solar-powered, modern optics. Through an agreement to restore and display the Fresnel lenses, the Heritage Museum received both on long-term loan.


The Big Three: Boat and Shipbuilding in Benton Harbor and St. Joseph

Located in the Spelman Gallery on our lower level, this exhibit features images from collections that were recently donated to the Heritage Museum. These photographs came to the museum in poor condition and the Heritage Museum’s staff spent five months carefully restoring them for preservation, research and display. The exhibit tells the story of the boat-building industry in the twin cities and includes the 1897 Truscott boat that was acquired by the Museum in the early 2000s.


The St. Joseph North Pier Inner and Outer Lights: Lighthouse Tours and Exhibition on the North Pier

An ongoing seasonal exhibit; open hours and tour tickets available on our Tours page. Made possible in part by a grant from the Michigan Humanities Council, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, a grant from the Berrien Community Foundation, and a gift from Entergy – Palisades Power Plant.


Other Exhibits Currently on Display at The Heritage

Faces of Southwest Michigan: Winter Wonderland. Located in the Parlor on our main level, this crowd-sourced public history exhibit is one of the newest to debut at The Heritage. Combining images and stories contributed by community members with others from our Archives, The Heritage team has crafted a digital exhibit of our community’s shared experiences.

The Venetian Festival Collection. Located in the Balcony Vitrine on our upper level, this exhibit showcases the 33-year history of St. Joseph’s annual festival along the river. On display you will see a small portion of the items recently donated by the Venetian Festival Committee, with much more being cataloged, studied, and cared for by our historians.

The Past is Prologue. Located in Exhibit Hall A on our upper level, The Past is Prologue is about learning from our past to build a stronger, brighter future. While The Heritage is hard at work developing our next major exhibit, The Past is Prologue reflects on previous major exhibits at The Heritage, to include community favorites such as The Fruit Belt, Shared Waters, Working Waterfronts, and many, many more.

Lakeside Visions. Located in the Spelman Gallery on our lower level, Lakeside Visions shares various interpretations for how to develop our beautiful lakefront.

Industry and Commerce in Southwest Michigan. Located our lower level, this exhibit highlights the businesses and trades supporting the growth of St. Joseph, Benton Harbor, and the surrounding region.

The China Collection. Located in the Ballroom Vitrine on our main level, this exhibit showcases vintage items rediscovered in The Heritage’s Archives.

Miss Blossomtime. Located on our lower level, Miss Blossomtime was one of the carousel horses that were St. Joseph’s first public art display in 2004.

First Methodist Church Stained Glass. Located in the Shepard Hall Ballroom on our main level, this breath-taking work of art was salvaged from St. Joseph’s 101-year-old First Methodist Church that was located at the corner of Main Street and Broad Street. The lower portion of the window was painstakingly restored by local a local artist thanks to a very generous donation to The Heritage.

Lighthouse Experience. Located in the Audio/Visual Room on our upper level, peer into the past and present of the St. Joseph North Pier Inner and Outer Lights. This display includes a digitally remastered recording of St. Joseph’s Diaphone Foghorn.

City Cemetery Mausoleum Doors. Located in the Spelman Gallery on our lower level, these works of art have had quite the journey. Originally part of St. Joseph’s city cemetery mausoleum when it was built in 1913, over time the structure fell into disrepair. In 1992, the City of St. Joseph donated the doors to the Fort Miami Heritage Society (now known as The Heritage). The Fort Miami Heritage Society kept the doors at the Landmark Center, until a fire destroyed the Landmark Center in 1994. The doors survived the fire, and were restored thanks to the efforts of Burnett’s Traders.

The Richard Haas Historical Murals. Located in the Shepard Hall Ballroom on our main level, these beautiful works of art are a great starting point in exploring Southwest Michigan’s history. The two murals, one focused on industry and commerce and the other on resorts and recreation, depict Native Americans from the Miami nation, La Salle, Fort Miami, Father Marquette, the fur trade, the fruit market, R. Wilcox & Co. fruit packages, the lifesaving station, the old Berrien County Courthouse, shipyards, the outer harbor railroad bridge, the St. Joseph North Pier Inner and Outer Lights, the 1900 Washer Company Cooper Wells Building, Augustus Herring’s powered flight at Sliver Beach, Lake Front Park circa 1900, Blossom Parade circa 1910, the Firemen’s Memorial, Hotel Whitcomb circa 1900, Eastman Springs Park and miniature train, the House of David Park and Baseball Team, Truscott Boat, the Liberty Theatre (site of the first talking picture in Michigan), Brother Benjamin, Morton House in Benton Harbor, bathers at Silver Beach, Hotel St. Joseph circa 1890, and the Silver Beach roller coaster and amusement park.