Preserving Michigan’s Historic Districts

Michigan Historic Districts

Michigan historic districts serve a public good, upholding beauty and memory as civic values that build resident loyalty, entice new homeowners and attract tourists. But an attack on district designation, as outlined in the Afendoulis bills, jeopardizes these essential protections.

Under current state law, local historic district commissions review any work done to the exterior of a property.

Bay City

On the central, eastern edge of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula lies Bay City, the center of a prosperous agricultural, fishing and salt mine region. It was also a manufacturing hub for the railroad and automobile industries.

The city’s historic district has more than 875 structures in Second Empire, Queen Anne and Richardson Romanesque architectural styles. Many of them were built by lumbermen and ship builders who made their fortunes in the Saginaw Valley.

Until the late seventeenth century, the area was occupied by the Sauk Indians, who were driven out by warfare with other tribes. Today, the district is protected by state and local ordinances. It is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The city also has a historic preservation commission, which approves solar systems in the district, provided they do not obscure character-defining features or alter the roofline.

This stunning Victor Nurmi designed home is located in one of the most desirable neighborhoods in Bay City! This 4 bed, 3 1/2 bath beauty is within walking distance to Downtown Bay City. Featuring gorgeous hardwood floors, updated kitchen with granite and stainless steel appliances and large dining room.

Grand Rapids

The lumber and furniture industries fueled great fortunes in Grand Rapids during the 19th century, and the city’s historic homes reflect the lavish lifestyle of those times. The Heritage Hill neighborhood, adjacent to downtown, boasts Michigan’s largest and finest concentration of old houses. Its 1,300 homes date back to 1843 and represent more than 60 architectural styles, making it one of the nation’s most impressive urban historic districts.

Many of the houses are open for tours, including the Voigt House Victorian Museum and two meticulously restored home museums that showcase “upstairs-downstairs” divisions of late 1800s life – an Italianate mansion built by a lumber baron and a simple dwelling of a rags-to-riches Dutch immigrant. The Meyer May House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1908, also is open for tours.

The city’s historic district was almost razed during the 1960s and 1970s when developers sought to commercialize the area, but Heritage Hill residents organized to save it. Today, the neighborhood remains a treasured part of the city’s history, and it continues to bring together people from diverse races, backgrounds and income levels – professionals, tradespeople, students and families.


The City of Kalamazoo first became Interested In historic preservation In 1965 when it established the Kalamazoo Historical Commission. One of the commission’s tasks was to make an Inventory of the City’s historic structures and sites. In 1971, WMU history Professor Peter Schmltt prepared this Inventory for the city.

The Marlborough Apartments is significant because of its intentional design as a primarily residential building with subsidiary commercial floor space in its garden level. This makes the Marlborough stand out from its Downtown and neighborhood commercial district counterparts, which were generally designed as mixed use buildings with office and residential uses secondary.

For those interested in learning more about the City’s history, Lynn Houghton is entering her 20th year of hosting free historic walking tours this summer and fall. Sponsored by Discover Kalamazoo, Gazelle Sports and the Western Michigan University Libraries Zhang Legacy Collections Center, the tours explore historic areas in the city of Kalamazoo. They are available to the public for no cost and are recommended to be taken at a slow pace.


With the charm of its riverfront, historic districts, fine restaurants and theatres, Saginaw is a fun-filled getaway! Catch a live event in the 25,000 square-foot Dow Event Center, or at the nearby outdoor Huntington Event Park during the summer months. Check out the Saginaw Art Museum, housed in a 1904 Georgian-Revival Mansion and featuring Italianate gardens. The permanent collection spans 4,500 years. Alternatively, Gingerblue Gallery showcases local and international artists in a wide range of mediums.

A local historic district commission is required to review and approve plans for construction, alteration, repair, moving or demolition of any structures in a designated neighborhood. The commission’s role is outlined in Michigan law, Public Act 169 of 1970. Many communities have passed local historic district ordinances, but not all of them are in compliance with the state enabling law. A few contain voluntary review or owner consent clauses which are not in accordance with the law. The city of Saginaw is currently undergoing the certification process to ensure that its ordinance is in compliance.

Lead yourself back to the main page

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *