Why Vicksburg, Michigan for an NWTA event?

By Sue Moore

This village, population 2,950 in the village and 10,000 plus in the school district, is not exactly on the beaten path. It is 10 miles from I-94 and 6 miles from US 131. Because of that, its isolation from the usual growth along expressway corridors, has solidified the rural nature of the village. In the early times it was an agricultural community with high productivity farm land and it has stayed that way. The Vicksburg area is blessed with lakes and streams that were once home to summer visitors from the big cities of Chicago and Detroit in the early 1900s. The east west Canadian National Railway runs through the center of the town and its surrounding lakes. There was a north/south Pennsylvania railroad line crossing the CNN, thus creating a hub of industry in the early years.

Those summer cottages on Long, Pickerel, Indian, Barton, Howard, Portage, Austin, and Sunset Lakes then became year round homes with the summer settlers often building upscale homes to stay on the lake when jobs developed here. Business and industry has flourished along with a well-regarded school system that houses approximately 2,800 students.

Much of this movement of population and business has been well documented by a very active Vicksburg Historical Society. This group has built a fine example of a Historic Village on property just north of the downtown. During the observance of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the Historical Society was given a grant from the Michigan Humanities Council and the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation in Kalamazoo to bring the Dodworth Saxhorn Band from Ann Arbor to the Historic Village. They entertained the community in two separate presentations of music from the Civil War. They performed in costume, marched through the downtown, much like the Pied Piper. This brought over 400 people from around the area to the Historic Village for the concert. The Historical Society has also sponsored many speakers over the course of four years who represented re-enactors and historians speaking on selected battles of the war.

There is terrific interest in our history. When Stefan Sekula, Ric Hansen, and Larry Hengesbach spent a Saturday in April with the Boy Scouts of Troop 251, celebrating the 75th anniversary of its charter. We observed that the young people were enthralled with their uniforms, their weaponry, and their history lessons.

In watching this interaction and we asked Stefan what it would take to bring his whole unit of re-enactors to Vicksburg to continue this exercise for a much larger audience. Thus, we started planning for such an event to be held in June of 2016, selecting the last weekend of the month, because there appeared to be an opening in the NWTA’s calendar for just such an occasion.

A committee was convened that included the Boy Scout representatives, the village of Vicksburg’s president and village manager, the Historical Society’s president and secretary, the chair of the area DAR, a representative of the SAR. There was a lot of enthusiasm from this group and every other subsequent group that has been contacted. We believe this is a tribute to the feeling of pride in this community for events such as this, and the willingness to work to make big things happen.

For example, we planned and built a beautiful pavilion to house the Vicksburg Farmers’ Market at a cost of $360,000. All of that money was raised locally and nearly all of the work on the building was done by volunteers in cooperation with volunteers from the Timber Framers Guild, overseeing the mortise and joinery construction. The Guild is a national organization, and served as our guides. It was constructed of locally sourced trees, donated by area farmers.

This isn’t the only example of what this community and its volunteers can do. For the past 63 years, the Vicksburg Rotary Club has staged a Showboat on the stage at the high school with all volunteer singers, directors, pit band, and really awful jokes. Attendance has been in the thousands each year and the club has been able to put more than $550,000 back into the community for worthy causes.

Similarly, the Lions Club has celebrated each summer for 43 years with its Beer & Bratwurst (B&B) to thousands who flock to the community for the food, the bands, the horseshoe pitching contests, and most recently the cornhole tournament.

During the summer of 2015, the World Championship Amateur Disc Golf tournament selected the Recreation Park as one of it eight competitive sites. When it was over, the participants from all over the nation voted the course as their number one favorite. The cooperation the management of the tournament received from the village, was given even more praise.

The Chamber of Commerce also sponsors events, especially the Taste of Vicksburg, which attracts thousands to dance in the street, taste all kinds of good food, and drink some beer on tap.

Now the newly formed Downtown Development Authority has big plans for the rejuvenation of the downtown. It is really on the move, taking over the sponsorship of the Christmas parade with an all-day event called Christmas in the Village. The DDA has just formed an Arts Collaborative which will focus on the works of a lot of talented artists, potters, sculptors, and photographers in the community. The DDA is also working on raising $2.3 million to build a 4 mile trail that will extend from our neighboring Portage, through the village and ultimately down to Three Rivers, Michigan. We are going out on a capital campaign for a total of $7.5 million for matching grants from the DNR and MDOT.

All of this is to say, that there is a spirit of giving and working like you will not find in very many other small towns in the state of Michigan. Why is this important? Because you should know that this enthusiasm has carried over to putting on the Battle of Sunset Lake in 2017 as it is approved by the NWTA.

We have received early approval to add this event to the NWTA calendar. We invite you to visit and take part on June 24 and 25.