Surrey House to be renovated and revitalized

February 24, 2012

Plans are underway to renovate and restore the Surrey House, considered to be the oldest historic landmark in Harrison.

According to information from the Middle Michigan Development Corporation, the economic development plans for the more 130 year old building were the brain child of the Small Business Initiative Council, a grass roots organization comprised of economic development agencies, civic organizations, workforce development organizations and representatives from education, the United States Department of Agriculture and Consumers Energy. The SBIC was formed six years ago and its focus is “to foster entrepreneurial activity in Clare and Isabella Counties and create an atmosphere that will be inviting for business growth and development.”

The ambitious Surrey House project will, when complete include space for city offices, a place for incubator businesses, a small restaurant, community kitchen, upscale hotel rooms and a spa for business travelers and tourists. The SBIC objective is to use the facility as a “spring-board for new business development and as a catalyst for the revitalization of downtown Harrison.”

A release from MMDC said, “The project will also meet the need brought out by a Business Incubator feasibility study completed in 2010 that indicated there are a number of diverse businesses and industries needing services to start or grow a company.” Services would include help with marketing, packaging, information, accounting, legal services and all types of services a business needs to get started.

February 20th, following a presentation outlining the plans by MMDC Director and SBIC Vice-Chair Kathy Metner, the Harrison City Council authorized the City to execute a purchase agreement for the property contingent on if grant funding and no interest loan funds are available to finance the estimated $1.3 million project.

The building is listed for $250,000.

In an interview Tuesday, Metner said, “It is all dependent on grants and loans to fund it. It is a wonderful old historic building with lots of space. It would be ideal for Harrison, to revitalize the downtown with a mixed use concept.”

“We are about to submit a grant application to USDA – Rural Development for $340,000 to use to purchase the building and begin renovations,” Metner said. “The City has agreed to be the building owner. They have been looking for a place for the city offices with more space and parking. This would be an ideal location.”

The building, currently owned by Cimarron Properties, LLC., has been vacant for about a year. It has had a long and varied history.

Reportedly in 1880 the Flint and Pere Marquette Railroad sold the property at the corner of Beech and Second Street to some prominent Harrison Citizens. A hotel and tavern with a livery stable attached were built on the site and named the “Lockwood House. It was originally established as a boarding house and restaurant during Michigan’s wild and rough logging era.  “Rumor even  has it that in the late 1800s, the upper floors were used by “ladies of the evening.”

Later the building was named the Ohio Tavern and after that for many years it sat vacant, with only one exterior wall used as an outdoor movie screen. Then in 1945 Edward Groehsl, a Flint businessman bought the building and began renovating it. The business was renamed the Colonial House and managed by Arthur D. Butterfield. In 1949, two sisters and their husbands: Lucille and Omar Austin and Margaret and Leonard Baker became new owners and renamed it again. It became The Surrey House.

Many famous people have visited the Surrey House over the years – Governors, politicians and even television personalities. It was  a showplace of fine dining for many years. Later the Surrey House was owned by Rumsey Swollow and then by Brook and Kim Wood, closing for the last time in January of 2011.

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