Harrison Library will move to Surrey House

April 29, 2016

02-23 Surrey House outside

2012 file photo of the Surrey House in Harrison.

By Pat Maurer

In a couple of years Harrison District Library patrons, numbered at 57,000 just last year, will have a new, more spacious place to go —  just a block north of the present location.

The Library Board of Directors is purchasing the historical Surrey House from owners Brook and Kim Wood and has plans to renovate the building and house the library on the first floor of the building.
In addition the Woods are generously donating $50,000 of the $125,000 purchase price back to the library, which will help begin the planned renovations.

“We are really excited about it,” Library Director Sheila Bissonnette said Thursday. “It was so generous of Brook and Kim to help us make it a reality.”

The building will be renovated and updated while keeping its historic look and architecture, Library Director Sheila Bissonette said earlier, adding that they hope to make the move in 2018.
Closing on the Surrey House purchase is scheduled in mid-July, then the Library Board will have to look for grants and donations to help raise about $350,000 for the building renovations and another $115,000 to add 27 parking spaces to the 19 also available there .

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. No plans have been made to renovate the second floor, which will be used for storage.

After standing vacant for the last few years, the Surrey House needs some work.
Renovation plans have already been made including a new main entry near the north side with a vestibule and ramp, replacing the roof, stripping the interior to the studs and installing new floors and ceilings, new wiring for internet services,  adding a drive-up window for patrons’ convenience.
“We are now beginning the process to develop plans for the renovations,” Bisonnette said. “Some will start right away including removing the old kitchen equipment in the building and some repairs to the roof until it can be replaced.”

Inside there will be designated areas for computers; a childrens’ area; an historical collection area, which will be dedicated to former Library Director Ann Smith; and the 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 Library Board has been looking at options and for a new location for some time. The recent upgrades helped, Bissonette said, but they are still badly cramped for space as the library continues to grow.
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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2 Responses to Harrison Library will move to Surrey House

  1. Zmj Reply

    April 29, 2016 at 11:31 pm

    The Ghosts will love it

  2. Beki Reply

    August 30, 2018 at 6:45 pm

    My husband is related to Lucille and Margaret. He has great memories of working in the restaurant as a child, during summer break.

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