HARBOR SPRINGS AREA HISTORICAL SOCIETY
The History Museum
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 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 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. In October 2004, following extensive collaboration, the 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.
And grow it did. The Harbor Springs History Museum officially opened to the public in 2008 and history found a permanent home in Harbor Springs.
Local History Gallery
The first of our two permanent exhibits, the Local History Gallery guides visitors through a multi-layered chronology of the Harbor Springs region. Using text, photographs and artifacts, this gallery celebrates the various chapters in our history beginning with the Odawa Indians and concluding with a look at the post-World War II community and the emergence of the ski industry. Harbor Springs’ traditions throughout history are featured in the Celebrations exhibit which includes images of parades, regattas, the natural landscape and, of course, Fourth of July fireworks.
The Discovery Gallery is the second of our permanent exhibit spaces and is filled with hands-on activities for children and their families or teachers. Organized around the history of four area residents, visitors learn about locomotive inventor Ephraim Shay, Chief Andrew J. Blackbird, lighthouse keeper Elizabeth Whitney Williams and downtown merchant Rose Rosenthal. Trains, a fishing shanty, a play grocery store and more will engage and instruct children of all ages.
The West Vault was added to the former city hall building prior to 1896 and was used to store important records. The space currently features a display of Native American quill boxes.
The East Vault has been transformed into a small recording space for oral histories. Guests must ask for assistance if they want to use the space during their visit the museum. Guests can also set up appointments to use the space and equipment.
North and Main Galleries
Serving as the museum’s temporary exhibit spaces, the Main and North galleries host both traveling exhibits and temporary exhibits from the HSAHS collection. Visit our temporary exhibits page to learn more.