(Crystal A. Proxmire, April 13, 2017)
Holly, MI – It’s been over 10 years since former Fire Chief Jack Hollands was seriously injured when he fell through the floor of the Holly Waterworks Building in 2006. Since that time the building has been boarded up and officials have periodically discussed it’s future.
Those discussions have re-emerged as the economy in Holly continues to bloom. The Village is also considering becoming part of an effort to name the Shiawassee River a national river trail, which could help make Waterworks more of a destination location and improve the potential for acquiring grants. Waterworks Park is the trail head where people with canoes and kayaks can easily get in the water and enjoy the picturesque trip. The 85.5 mile water trail goes thorugh Fenton, Linden, Bancofft, Owosso, and Oakley, ending in Cheasning. The Friends of the Shiawassee River are spearheading the effort which would require no funding from the Village, only a representative to the advisory board. This matter is likely to be voted on in late April or early May.
This prompted the question: what should the Village do with the decaying Waterworks building?
Waterworks houses a horizontal waterwheel called a “Leffel Turbine,” made by the Leffel company in about 1910. According to WayMaking.com, the site originally had seven waterwheels with the basement originally being a sluice that controlled the flow of water. The wheels and a system of pipes, made of wood, pumped water to the Village of Holly and the Holly Milling Company. Holly Waterworks dates back to 1869, making it the first in the country. However the building is not original, and it is unclear when it was reconstructed.
Since the time of Chief Holland’s injuries Village leaders have occasionally discussed what to do with the building. Tearing it down and salvaging the wheel and other historic items would have a cost, as would making the necessary repairs to save and re-purpose it. With an unstable floor, holes in the roof and a significant mildew problem, saving it would not be easy.
Village Manager Jerry Walker stated that it would cost about $100,000 to make it safe enough to enter and another $100,000 to rehab it into something functional. Tearing it down, without including the cost of salvaging items, would cost at least $10,000.
Walker explained that grant money would require a specific purpose, a detailed plan, and a financial commitment by the Village. Many grants also have a long timeline that can take up to several years for projects to be approved and completed.
Discussion at Tuesday’s Village Council meeting ranged from wanting to save the building completely to wanting it demolished with the historical items saved.
Village leaders are open to ideas if people are willing to invest. Possibilities could include a public-private partnership, though the land is required to remain owned by the Village because it is a public park. Citizens could also come up with the money to restore it.
Resident Tony Engleberg said that asking for money for Waterworks may end up deterring donations further down the road when the Village decides to address the future of the train depot building. The train depot is a well-recognized landmark, but because it is situated in the midst of busy rail lines it cannot be safely re-purposed for public access. The idea of moving the building occasionally gets discussed although there are no funds allocated for it. He does, however, support saving the historic inner-workings.
Others expressed a desire to see the historic items inside the Waterworks building be put on display. “The buildings are just boxes of brick and wood,” Councilperson Chris Rankin said. “It’s what’s inside that is part of our history.” He suggested that a pavilion on the property displaying the items would be a draw for residents and visitors.
Councilpersons Rankin and Dave Cruickshank suggested that members of the public have an opportunity to get involved, but that any efforts would have to be citizen-led. Council voted on a July 1 deadline for any groups or businesses to come forward with feasible plans for the site.
“Originally, water was piped to houses with a spigot that merely ran all the time. There was no charge for the water. Over the years, Holly installed more pumping capacity, added a chlorination unit and started charging for water. On the same site, north of the Holly Milling Company, Holly built the Holly Electric Company. It eventually sold the rights to distribute power throughout the Village to Consumers Power and then tore down the Electric generating plant. The generating plant ran with a steam boiler and not off the waterwheel.
“The site is originally the site of Stiffs Mill. The foundations of which are south of the building behind the split rail fence. Stiffs Mill was a lumber mill. When the Milling Company was built, the lumber mill turned to making barrel staves. Across Broad Street was the building where the barrels were constructed. These were used to produce barrels for shipping flour from the Holly Milling Company. In the time of the Milling Company, flour was shipped in barrels instead of sacks. These assured that the flour would stay dry and free from rat or mouse attack. The barrels could be moved by barrel truck easier than flour sacks, which had to be carried. The warehouse for the milling company was directly across Broad Street from the Mill. Holly Velvet Flour was shipped as far as Russia and noted for it’s quality. A railroad siding passed next to the warehouse, past the mill and to a trestle over the Shiawassee river. The spur stopped over the river and was built there to aide in moving railroad cars. Wood pilings are still visible in the river bottom. The spur had a switch added and a second spur was used to bring coal to the power plant.”
Anyone interested in being on a committee, weighing in on discussion, or presenting offers to help can contact Councilperson Cruickhank (firstname.lastname@example.org), or Councilperson Rankin (email@example.com).