Old City Hall

In 1885 citizens of the Village of Harbor Springs proposed to the Board of Supervisors of Emmet County that the village commission 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 moved 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.

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 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.

Permanent Exhibits

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.

Discovery Gallery

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.

West Vault

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.

East Vault

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.