Museum celebrates song's centennial

REED CITY – One hundred years ago, local pastor, Rev. George Bennard, wrote a classic hymn that still is one of the most popular songs heard in many churches around the country.

“The Old Rugged Cross,” which tells of a Christian’s love for the wooden cross on which Jesus Christ was slain “for a world of lost sinners,” was written in 1913.

Rev. Bennard, who died 54 years ago, preached in the area and lived out his retired life in a house on Mackinaw Trail in Reed City.

Today, The Old Rugged Cross Museum and Historical Society in Reed City proudly offers a special exhibit devoted to honoring his life. Displayed at the museum are Bennard’s personal belongings, books and newspaper articles, a stereopticon; a photograph projector from the mid nineteenth century, pictures of Bennard and his family and his wife Hannah’s parlor organ among many other items.

“He was probably the most famous person who ever lived in Reed City,” said Betsy Randall, Museum president. “It’s important to remember that and to preserve our local history.”

Though “The Old Rugged Cross” was first sung in 1913 in Pokagon, Mich., the song’s centennial anniversary is celebrated this year because of Bennard’s own testimony.

“He is quoted as saying he had the words in his head months before it was written,” said Dianne Phelps, regular museum volunteer.

In the years after writing his famous hymn, Bennard wrote other gospel songs, but none reached the status of “The Old Rugged Cross.”

Bennard died October 9, 1958, at the age of 85. Near the site of his home on the west side of Mackinaw Trail stands a memorial cross and a small park area maintained by members of the Reed City Chamber of Commerce.

The Old Rugged Cross Historical Society, located at 780 N. Park St. is open from 1 to 4 p.m every day except holidays, from May 1 through September 30.

On the museum’s opening day, many visitors came to soak up a sense of history by viewing artifacts and talking to volunteers.

“A man from Ohio told us about this (museum) and we thought, we should go check it out!” said Treva Miller, museum

guest.

Miller and her friends Thelma and Wayne Weaver, all residents of Goshen, OH, were in the area for a funeral and were excited to discover the museum and learn about the area’s history.

Along with an exhibit about Bennard, the museum also contains other historical artifacts donated by area residents.

“We get more donated (items) all the time,” Randall said.

When locals find old items such as photographs, kitchen items or miscellaneous outdated tools, they often donate the items to be displayed at the museum for visitors to learn what life used to be like, from even the most mundane tasks.

“(Washing clothes) wasn’t a one-hour job,” said Paul Roggow, museum volunteer as he demonstrated to guests how to use a nineteenth century metal wash stick.

The museum and its artifacts are closely contained in 4,000 square foot building constructed in 1990, owned by the city and leased by the Old Rugged Cross Historical Society.

“We’d like to expand (our facility),” Randall said.

In addition to this display the museum contains a Mechanical Room which features a fully functional fire 1890s truck.

The west side of the facility has been divided and organized as a six-room house furnished as a turn-of-the century home.

The museum also has a collection of original printed, or microfilmed copies of newspapers dating back to 1879.

The Old Rugged Cross Historical Society often hosts tours of local students and CubSscouts, and other groups or individuals can request access to the museum outside of regular hours by appointment.

The society is funded by donations and is looking for more volunteers to staff the building during its open hours. For more information call the Reed City Chamber of Commerce at (231) 832-5431.