Historical society plans major changes including downtown research center.

August 27, 2019

Proposed research center in downtown Ludington

Historical society plans major changes including downtown research center.

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

PERE MARQUETTE TOWNSHIP — The Mason County Historical Society is planning some major changes within the next few years, including the purchase of a former downtown Ludington bank building. An announcement was made today to the historical society’s membership. The changes, which will cost over $5 million, will include three phases, including relocating the MCHS’s research library and headquarters to downtown Ludington, expanding the Port of Ludington Maritime Museum through the creation of a Heritage Park, and re-organizing and expanding many of the exhibits at Historic White Pine Village.

Proposed replica of Butters & Peters Sawmill, admission building to White Pine Village.

“For many years the historical society has focused on operating White Pine Village, then the Port of Ludington Maritime Museum,” said Executive Director Rebecca Berringer. “While operating two museums is certainly an important part of what we do, we need to also return to our roots of being a historical society and preserving Mason County’s history.”

The Mason County Historical Society is a private, non-profit organization that is funded by membership fees, museum admissions, donations, and gift shop sales. It does not receive any tax funds.

Currently, the research library is located in the Admissions Building at White Pine Village. “The Admissions Building is not really the best place to store some of our county’s most precious historical documents,” Berringer said. “The building is actually in a state of disrepair and does not provide adequate preservation methods needed for these items.”

The historical society’s first phase of its new direction will be to purchase the former PNC Bank building, located on the southwest corner of Ludington Avenue and Harrison Street, from the Mason County Sports Hall of Fame.

“The MCSHF will continue to have a relationship with the historical society,” Berringer said. “We will continue to house the hall of fame’s main exhibit at White Pine Village and will also dedicate space in the new research facility downtown Ludington.

Last year the society’s board started working on a new strategic plan.

“It was determined that the admissions building at the Village has outlived its purpose,” Berringer said. “We receive many comments from visitors that our front door to the Village is not a pleasant experience. After much conversation, we knew that the building really needs to be removed. Our archives need to be in a climate controlled building which can be accessible to the public year-round. The historical society began in Ludington in 1937, and had a presence in Ludington until the early ‘90s. It’s time we return.”

The downtown building will be more than just a research facility. It will also have exhibits, a gift shop, offices, and a gathering hall that local organizations will be able to use.

“The main floor will be accessible to the public while the basement will house the historical archives and will be limited access,” Berringer said.

Changes to White Pine Village

Phase 2 will include updates at White Pine Village. Berringer said the admissions building, and the condemned house to its north will be razed and the parking area will be expanded. The new welcome center will be a replica of the Butters & Peters Sawmill, which was located about 1/2 mile to the north White Pine Village. That facility will house a gift shop, along with temporary exhibits and also the Mason County Sports Hall of Fame and the Scottville Clown Band and local music exhibit and the military exhibit.

“Presently, White Pine Village does not follow a chronological timeline,” Berringer said. “It consists of exhibits that are intermixed between the 19th and 20th centuries. We are going to design a more chronological flow with a visitor experience that begins in the 19th century and ends in the 20th century.”

Berringer said the Village will also expand its event venues, allowing private parties, such as wedding receptions, to take place in an indoor facility. For several years the Village’s chapel has housed weddings but there has been no official location for receptions, she said.

Creating an event space will allow the historical society another area where it can produce income, she said.

Phase 3 of the plan is the creation of the Maritime Heritage Park, to be located to the west of the Port of Ludington Maritime Museum and Coast Guard Station Ludington. In 2013 the Ludington City Council passed a resolution devoting the southern portion of Stearns Park, located south of the Loomis Street boat ramps, to the heritage park. This area, which will be accessed by admission fees, will house several large maritime items from Mason County’s history, including the 44-foot long Coast Guard boat that was once moored in Ludington, along with Finlander charter boat, a life boat from the City of Midland carferry, Gile boat engines (manufactured in Ludington in the early 20th century), and the facade of the old fish building, that most recently had been located at the Lake Michigan Carferry docks. The exhibit will also feature sculptures, beginning with the sculpture “Driving Force” which will include the propellor from the SS City of Midland.

Berringer said the fundraising of the $5 million-plus project will begin soon. The board’s goal is to have all the phases completed in five years, she said. The construction of the research center is expected to cost $1.25 million. Revitalization of the Village is expected to cost $1.5 to $2 million. Expansion of the maritime heritage park is expected to cost about $2 million. 

For more information, visit www.masoncountyhistoricalsociety.com.

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