Genevieve Gilmore knew her husband, Donald, would need something to occupy his time after his retirement, so she bought him a 1920 Pierce-Arrow that needed restoration.
It was a strange gift for a man who had never been a car enthusiast. But perhaps he’d just been too busy running the family department store and then a major pharmaceutical company that also was part of the family’s enterprises.
It took Donald Gilmore three years to complete the restoration of the Pierce, and during that span he also acquired nearly three dozen other vintage vehicles and bought a farm to house his growing car collection.
But Gilmore didn’t just restore his cars to look at them parked in the big red barn on the property. He built an oval track so he and his friends could exercise Donald’s cars and his friends’ cars as well.
In 1966, Gilmore opened a car museum at his farm, which like his car collection was growing. He bought the neighboring farm and then started collecting historic barns, which he took apart and had reassembled at what has become the country’s largest classic car museum.
Located in Hickory Corners in southwestern Michigan, about midway between Chicago and Detroit. the Gilmore Car Museum is celebrating its 50th anniversary by showcasing in its main gallery some of the cars Donald Gilmore owned when he opened the museum half a century ago.
Today, the Gilmore Car Museum has a 90-acre “campus” with 180,000 square feet of exhibit space in more than a dozen buildings, some of them historic barns, some of them “partner” museums that house the collections of groups including the Classic Car Club of America, the Pierce-Arrow Society, the Lincoln Motorcar Heritage Foundation, the Modal A Ford Foundation, the Cadillac-LaSalle Club and the H.H. Franklin Club.
The museum also includes the Blue Moon Diner, an operating 1941 diner, the Midwest Miniatures Museum with architectural models, a re-created 1930s Shell gasoline station, a barn full of pedal cars, another with motorcycles, and a unique Disney movie set, a Kalamazoo & South Haven Railroad tower, and more, including an automotive research library.
The museum also hosts a series of car shows throughout the warm-weather months and during the school year offers the Gilmore Garage Works program to teach area high school students how to restore and maintain classic vehicles.
For more information, visit the museum’s website.
Photos by Larry Edsall