In the quiet of winter, when the streets of Mackinac Island are snow-covered and bear no resemblance to their summertime bustle, the fate of two important areas on the Island were being determined behind the Community Hall’s early 19th century doors. On January 9th, Mackinac Island’s City Council voted to adopt two local historic districts. The vote took place after the City held a public hearing to discuss the possibility of designating the proposed districts. Of the forty-five or so people in attendance, only one spoke out against the designation, stating that property values would be negatively affected and that the historic buildings in the district were built in a hurry and, therefore, were not of a quality worthy of preservation. There were many more voices that spoke in favor of adopting the districts. Several people were concerned about the steady development and new construction that have been taking place in the City’s commercial district over the past few years.
In June of last year, the Mackinac Island Local Historic District Study Committee held its own public hearing to provide information about the implications of adopting the West End and Market and Main (Huron) districts and to gather public feedback. Efforts to incorporate protection of the Island’s resources have been ongoing, but have been steadily gaining momentum since 2009. Nan Taylor, former Greater Michigan Field Representative of the Michigan Historic Preservation Network (MHPN) and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, first began working with local advocates when she heard that the group, Save Our Island, was working to raise preservation awareness. At that time, the group was rallying to save McNally Cottage from demolition and helping to establish the Island’s first historic district. That same year, the City requested that MHPN and the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) present information about local historic districts and the Island’s wavering National Historic Landmark status, which had landed on the “watch list” due to the lack of protection in place. This outreach on behalf of the City to better inform its Planning Commission and City Council says a great deal about Mackinac Island’s proactive approach at fully understanding the best way to preserve its heritage. In response to strong development pressures and possible demolitions, the City declared an emergency moratorium that put a halt to inappropriate additions, alterations, and construction in the downtown. During the time that the moratorium was in place, the first Local Historic District Study Committee was formed and an ordinance was adopted in preparation for the later establishment of local historic districts.
McNally Cottage, the last remnant in the commercial downtown that reflected the area’s former residential past, was razed in 2011 despite the tremendous work to save the building. This loss, along with the rapidity of new development, was an alarming devastation to the community. Despite setbacks, Mackinac Island continued to move forward with preservation efforts, including steady attempts to promote historic preservation education. Residents, advocates, the local community foundation, and the City were able to raise funds and received a National Historic Landmark matching grant to assist with educational outreach. Among their progress was developing a five point strategy to focus efforts, inviting Donovan Rypkema to speak of the economic benefits of historic preservation, hiring consultant, Nore Winter of Winter and Company, to create design guidelines for the downtown, conducting numerous educational sessions and trainings in conjunction with SHPO and MHPN, completing an architectural survey of downtown resources, and successfully establishing Hubbard’s Annex, the Island’s first local historic district of residential seasonal cottages. The forward motion towards protecting the historic integrity of other important areas on the Island was carried through by motivated community members and the City working together, which culminated in this most recent adoption of two additional local historic districts. Extensive letter writing campaigns, petitioning, and media outreach brought a large response and outside support from people throughout Michigan and from across the country poured in as the news spread of the pending adoption of the districts.
Mackinac Island’s Historic District Commission will be adjusting to the changes, focusing on how to administer the influx of work that they will be doing, and looking ahead to a spring with fewer bulldozers beeping through the streets.
Congratulations, Mackinac Island! We thank you for your stewardship, for recognizing and protecting all of your historic treasures, and for your inexhaustible hard work.
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