Harrison Library Hoping Grants Will Renovate Surrey House

January 20, 2020

File photo of Surrey House.

By Pat Maurer
Correspondent

If the Harrison District Library Board is successful in their December request for matching grants from the Midland Community Foundation (which will hopefully be awarded this spring or early summer), work to renovate the historic Surrey House could be complete within a year, Library Director Sheila Bissonnette said.

Bissonnette estimated the cost for the Surrey House renovations at “between $400,000 and $500,000.”

Fundraising efforts have been ongoing since the purchase of the historic old building in Harrison in April of 2016. To date Bissonnette said “just over $200,000 has been raised for the massive project.

The community has been generous in supporting the project, beginning with former owners Brook and Kim Wood who donated $50,000 of the $125,000 purchase of the Surrey House back to the Library Board. Since then, fundraisers have been held on the Surrey House site, events held, donations have come in and a “Turn the Page” project fund established through the Clare County Community Foundation, where donors can help with the progress of the fundraising.

The fundraising goal, originally $650,000, has been downsized, Bissonnette said, and the goal for completion, originally 2018, has been moved back a couple of years, but Sheila said that isn’t unusual with a project of this size.

“We started planning for the new Pere Marquette District Library in 1999,” she said. “We didn’t finish until 2007.”

She wasn’t sure when they will know if their bid for another $200,000 from the Midland Foundation is successful. “We applied for three grants; one from the Strosacker Foundation, one from the Gerstacker Foundation and one from the Herbert and Grace Dow Foundation.”

If the matching grants are awarded this spring or summer, work would begin on the renovations immediately and could be completed “hopefully within a year,” Bissonnette said.

She said the exterior of the old Surrey House is good, but the interior finishes have been removed and the building needs lighting, electrical, wall finishes and fixtures. “Then we will be able to move in,” Sheila said.

The space is badly needed. The library, despite many renovations and several location moves, has little parking and is outgrowing its space. The move to the Surrey House will expand their floor space from the present 5,500 square feet to 7,200 square feet just on the first floor where the library will be housed. The building will be renovated and updated while keeping its historic look and architecture, Library Director Sheila Bissonnette said earlier.

Inside there will be designated areas for computers; a children’s’ area; an historical collection area, which will be dedicated to former Library Director Ann Smith; and a new parking area on the north side of the building.

The library, which opened in the 1940s, has been located in several sites over the years: first a room in the former City Hall: later across from the Surrey House on Second Street; at the present City Hall in a room that is now the Council Chambers; and in 1980, with the donation of a new site on Second and Main by businessman John Collins, the library moved to its present location. A federal matching grant from the Library Services and Construction Act enabled a renovation in 1993, and the library was renovated again in 2013 with the help of a grant from the Robert C. Reinhardt Library Fund.

The Harrison Library District includes the City of Harrison and two other townships, Hayes and Greenwood, which has a dedicated millage. Three other townships, Hatton, Hamilton and Frost, have limited services at the library which has outgrown its present building.

The Surrey House fits the bill. It has abundant space inside and out and will continue to be a landmark in the community when the library moves in.

The building 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 even 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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