Photos by Larry Edsall
When her husband retired in 1963, Geneieve Gilmore figured Donald might need a project to occupy his time, so she found a 1920 Pierce-Arrow that needed restoration and gave it to him.
Donald Gilmore hadn’t been a classic car enthusiast. He’d been too busy, first running the department store in Kalamazoo, Michigan, that bore his family name, and then becoming chairman of another local and family-related firm, pharmaceuticals producer Upjohn.
Apparently, Donald Gilmore didn’t do anything halfway, and within three years he not only had the Pierce-Arrow that Geneive had given him but he’d acquired nearly three dozen other old cars and bought a 90-acre farm northeast of Kalamazoo to house his growing collection.
One of the first things Donald did on the property was to install an oval track so he and his car-enthusiast friends could exercise and enjoy their vehicles.
Before long, there wasn’t enough room in the farm’s barn for Gilmore’s collection. He bought neighboring property and also started collecting not only classic cars but historic barns, which he’d find, buy, disassemble and then reassemble at the Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners, Michigan.
For example, the Campania Barn, built in 1897, now houses cars from the 1930s on its upper level and cars from the ’40s on its ground floor, which recently added not only a Tucker but a re-creation of Preston Tucker’s office.
Another barn houses steam-powered vehicles. The property also includes the re-creation of a 1930s Shell gasoline station and an authentic 1941 Silk City diner (meals served daily) originally parked in Meriden, Connecticut.
The newest buildings on the grounds include the Gilmore Heritage Center with a vehicle display area, meeting room, gift shop and research library (as well as the Franklin, Checker and some recently acquired Pontiac archives).
Even newer is what amounts to a car-dealer row, a series of re-created period new car showrooms sponsored by various classic car clubs. There’s the Model A Ford Museum in a 1929-style building and the Franklin Collection behind a cascade copied from a 1911 dealership in Los Angeles. The new Lincoln Museum opened in August and the Cadillac-LaSalle Museum is going into a circa 1948-style dealership that was under construction when we visited.
So far, seven national car clubs have established museums on the Gilmore grounds. The Classic Car Club of America has its museum on the museum property, which also includes a Pierce-Arrow museum, a pedal car museum, a motorcycle museum, old-time railroad depot and the train switch tower that used to be in downtown Kalamazoo.
Two large gallery linked to the Heritage Center buildings showcase Hudsons, a display of cars built in Kalamazoo — Checker, Michigan, Dort, Barley, Roamer and Handley-Knight among them — a display of Chevrolet Corvette concepts and a large area for temporary exhibitions; when we visited, and through the end of 2014, the featured display was American hot rods.
The museum also has weekly Wednesday night cruise-ins in the summer months, hosts various car shows, offers a Model T driving school and is the site of the Gilmore Garage Works, a twice-a-week auto shop and restoration program for at-risk teenagers from area high schools.
For more information, visit the www.gilmorecarmuseum.org website.
Editor’s note: This is the first of several Eye Candy galleries we’ll be publishing on the Gilmore Car Museum and the vehicles housed there.