The year was 1885 and a movement was afoot in the Village of Harbor Springs. The village citizens proposed to the Board of Supervisors of Emmet County that the village could erect a building that would house both the county offices, the circuit court and meetings of the board of supervisors. In addition, the proposition insisted that the building would be “superior to the building now used for said purpose.”
The group of citizens rallied the community which supported the new courthouse in a November 1885 vote. The land on East Main Street was purchased for $1,000 and the citizens contracted Charles W. Caskey to build the courthouse for $4,000. By April 1886, Emmet County had a new courthouse and residents of Harbor Springs had a shining new jewel on Main Street.
And so our story begins. The courthouse would serve the citizens of the county until 1902 when the county seat was removed to Petoskey. In the intervening years, 349 East Main Street served as an opera house, a shooting range, a fire station and, for most of those years, Harbor Springs’ City Hall. When the city moved its offices to renovated buildings on Zoll Street in 2003, City Hall’s future was uncertain.
The Harbor Springs Area Historical Society, founded in 1990 by a small group of citizens working to protect this area’s history, was simultaneously looking at its future. In 2003, the Historical Society organized a Museum Planning Committee to look at the possibility of opening a history museum in town. That year, the group also organized a successful tour of the Little Traverse Lighthouse, acquired Ephraim Shay’s Aha boat and began visioning and strategic planning.
In October 2004, following extensive collaboration, the Harbor Springs Area Historical Society signed an agreement with the City of Harbor Springs for a long-term lease of the historic City Hall building. The plan for the future was that a museum would grow in Harbor Springs. Our capital campaign, A Museum Grows in Harbor Springs, began quietly in 2005, was publicly launched on June 21, 2006, and has included a broad base of community support.
Parallels can be drawn between those concerned citizens of centuries past, the founders of the historical society who took important steps in 1990, and the citizens of today whose vision has made possible the remarkable transformation of this historic building. With sincere appreciation, we look forward to welcoming you to the Harbor Springs History Museum.