The GREAT LAKES HISTORICAL SOCIETY, organized on April 27, 1944, maintains the Inland Seas Maritime Museum, the largest and oldest marine museum on the Great Lakes. The society was founded at a meeting at the CLEVELAND PUBLIC LIBRARY by Frederick Wakefield, A. A. Mastics, Milton N. Gallup, and William Stage "to promote interest in the collection and preservation of written material and objects dealing with the history, geology, and folklore of the Great Lakes." The society has consistently been governed by a Board of Trustees (in 2007 a Board of Directors). The original officers were ALVA BRADLEY, president; Clarence S. Metcalf, vice-president; Louis C. Sabin, Donna L. Root, Leo P. Johnson, and A. A. Mastics. Captain H. Chesley Inches was museum director from 1958-1970 and was succeeded by Alexander Cook as museum curator.
The society originally housed its collections at the Cleveland Public Library. In 1953, it established a museum in Wakefield's mansion in Vermilion, Ohio, and was known for a time as the Wakefield Nautical Museum. In 1968, a $250,000 addition was built, later dedicated to Captain Inches. The museum holds the largest collection of ship models of any marine museum on the Great Lakes and features interactive historical displays such as ships' engines, tools used to construct wooden ships, and a simulated ship's bridge. The society contains the Clarence S. Metcalf Great Lakes Maritime Research Library, which currently holds over 125 linear feet of manuscript materials, including diaries, journals, and ships' logs. It also has an extensive collection of photographs, postcards, ship plans, and books related to Great Lakes history.
In 1999, the society purchased property located behind the museum and opened the Peachman Lake Erie Shipwreck Research Center in June 2000. The center serves as headquarters for the Maritime Archaeological Survey Team, Inc., as well as a research facility containing information on over 2,200 shipwrecks from Lake Erie, the Detroit River, Lake St. Clair, and the St. Clair River. The society publishes a quarterly journal, Inland Seas, and, in 2007, was in the process of planning a move to a new facility in Lorain, Ohio. In 2007, the Executive Director was Christopher Gillcrist.
See also STEAMSHIP WM. G. MATHER; LIBRARIES; ARCHIVES & HISTORICAL SOCIETIES