I had the good fortune to attend the 25thanniversary celebration of Bay View being named a National Historic Landmark. For those who do not know Bay View, it is a religious community established in 1875 and located immediately north of Petoskey, arrayed on glacial terraces which face Little Traverse Bay.
Bay View’s designation rests on its historical significance as a 19th century Methodist Chautauqua. The Chautauqua Movement grew at a time when high school was the highest level of schooling attained by middle-class Americans and many yearned for opportunities for further intellectual and cultural enrichment. Within a setting like Bay View’s, men, women, and children had an opportunity to choose from a broad curriculum that might include studying the Great Books, listening to classical music, and hearing the lectures of well-known orators, all in a setting that was close to nature and meant to refresh.
But Bay View’s architecture is what makes it a spellbinding Northern Michigan gem for it is a stunning collection of over 430 wooden Victorian cottages. Modest in size but rich in detail, each cottage displays its own array of porches with turned balustrades, doorways with decorative enframements, bracketed eaveslines, and gable ends with fanciful bargeboards. The center of campus includes the public buildings – Epworth and Hitchcock and Evelyn Halls, and Woman’s Council – dating from the earliest days of Bay View, and others, like the Library and Hall Auditorium dating from the early 20th century. When you turn off US-31 into Bay View, you know immediately that you are someplace very, very special.
The ceremony itself was at Evelyn Hall, a huge Queen Anne structure that houses a warren of practice rooms for Bay View’s substantial music program. In the main reception parlor, it was standing room only for the Monday night celebration in July. Martha MacFarlane-Faes, Michigan’s Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer, along with Dena Sanford, an Architectural Historian with the National Park Service, spoke. They talked about the National Historic Landmark Program, discussed why Bay View is unique, and noted that conserving the buildings safeguards the NHL status. It was useful for them to point out that the physical integrity of a place like Bay View is not likely damaged by sweeping change, but rather by hundreds of incremental alterations that slowly erode the historic fabric.
At the close of the program, a proclamation from Governor Rick Snyder was read to the crowd. In it, the Governor thanked the property owners of Bay View for being stewards of an historic place important to our state. It received a warm round of applause. Then the gathering was opened for questions and the very first one was, “What is the possibility of getting the State investment tax credit back for homeowners like us?” The crowd was silent because there is no answer, but a shared sentiment clearly filled the room: How ludicrous for there to have been a proclamation thanking the Bay View cottagers for maintaining an irreplaceable part of Michigan’s architectural patrimony when, at the same time, the assistance they once had for doing so has been recklessly withdrawn.