During the summer and fall months, TAHS offers walking tours of Oakwood Cemetery, Downtown Traverse City and, new in 2022, Old Towne Traverse City. Each costs $15.00 per person, and all proceeds will go to Traverse Area Historical Society.
Virtual Downtown Walking Tour
This virtual walking tour of downtown Traverse City is presented free of charge to all persons with an interest in our shared history. It may be used as a guide for those walking with an internet-capable device, as a helpful aid for those not able to walk the approximate 1.5 mile trip, or as an illustrated tour for persons who may not live in the Traverse City area.
Note: Text and 2016 photographs courtesy of Richard Fidler; 2022 photographs courtesy of Jordan Anderson. Unless otherwise noted, all historical pictures are courtesy the Traverse Area District Library Local History Collection, which may be reached at https://localhistory.tadl.org/
1. Horizon Books: Formerly the J.C. Penney’s store, it was built in 1926.
Penney’s store, about 1926
Horizon Books, 2016
2. State Theater, home of the Traverse City Film Festival, represents Art Moderne style with its flashing marquee, glossy panels, and soffit lighting. The inside features a full balcony with a glorious starry ceiling that shows summer constellations. The Lyric theater occupied this space until 1948 when it was destroyed by fire. Behind the theater, in 1924, TNT was detonated, the perpetrator thought to be a member of the KKK. At the time, the Klan was active in the area and much of its effort was directed against Catholics and immigrants.
Lyric Theatre, 1936
State Theatre, 2016
3. Martinek Clock: Martinek Jewelers occupied this building until relatively recently. The clock has its original workings and must be wound every three days.
Martinek clock, 2016
4. Old National Bank and Trust/People’s Savings Bank (corner of Cass and Front). As a relic, observe the deposit box at side of building. Note the transformation of the old bank to its modern configuration. Currently, the bottom floor is home to the restaurant Spark's BBQ, while the upstairs is an event space called Encore 231.
Old National Bank and Trust building
Former National Bank and Trust building, 2022
5. View of the Waterfront: Note the Bijou Theater, formerly the Con Foster Museum, built in the 1934. Clinch Park was created in 1931 through a community effort: After a bond failed to establish a new city park, city leaders organized a city-wide volunteer effort. Five hundred workers were expected to participate, each business downtown supplying two of them. Citizens brought 37 small trucks, two tractors, two steam cranes, and a flotilla of 12 boats to remove the mud, stones, debris, and concrete slabs from the Bay. The Women’s Club prepared 42 pans of beans to feed the multitude, prepared in 42 separate kitchens. At the end of the day the R-E noted how many unemployed men had participated (this was the middle of the Great Depression), approving their sacrifice.
Bijou theatre, 2016
Clinch Park entrance, 1940
Miniature City, Clinch Park, 1940’s
Before 1930, the waterfront was devoted to industry and to transportation, with railroads and boats (both passenger and freight) occupying much of the space. At this time Traverse City proper did not seek to attract visitors to this place by providing scenic views or clean beaches.
Waterfront view, 1870’s
View of dock, Clinch Park, 1912
Before that, it was the site of one of the first logging operations in the area, the Hannah, Lay steam-powered mill. Lumber was shipped out from the wharf all over the country, but to Chicago in particular after the great fire of 1871.
Hannah, Lay sawmill, nineteenth century
6. Whiting Hotel: Formerly a relatively elegant hotel, it has been transformed into inexpensive studio apartments. Constructed in 1893, it is one of the oldest brick buildings in the downtown area.
Whiting hotel, early 20th century
Whiting Hotel, 2016
7. Note the prismatic glass above The Exchange. Its purpose is to let light into businesses at a time when electric lights provided poor illumination.
The Exchange boutique (2022) showing prismatic glass in front window
A single pane of prismatic glass
8. City Opera House building: Its architectural style is Richardsonian Romanesque, as shown by its narrow arches and massive brick exterior. Erected in 1892, it closed after 1920, was later refurbished beginning in 1980, and finally reopened in 1985. It currently features plays, concerts, and other performances from around the world.
City Opera House, 2022
9. Green House Café: An example of Art Moderne architecture. The rounded glass windows, metal frames, and panels were probably installed in the 1930’s or 40’s.
Green House Cafe, 2016
10. Corner of Front and Union: The Masonic building, built in 1890, occupies the southeast corner of the Union and Front intersection.
Masonic Building, 1890 - Spring of 1891
Masonic Building, 2022
The present Fifth Third Bank building used to be called the Traverse City State Bank. It was one of many assets owned by town founder Perry Hannah.
Traverse City State Bank building, about 1904
View of Fifth Third Bank (formerly Traverse City State Bank), 2022
The Traverse Hotel Building stood on the SW corner of the intersection. It burned 1960, leaving only the lower two floors (which remain).
Traverse Hotel, corner of Union and Front
11. Hannah, Lay Mercantile building (1884). The Hannah Lay company split about the time it was built into two branches: logging/real estate and commercial. Entrepreneur Perry Hannah knew the logging industry would play out in the years to come, so he had a department store constructed that was the largest (by far) north of Grand Rapids. It closed in 1929 (except for the hardware division, which persisted for a time). A fire took out the eastern-most bay in 1940.
Hannah, Lay department store, late 19th century
Former Hannah, Lay department store, 2022
12. Weaver Building. Formerly the Anderson funeral home. At one time a cigar industry existed on the second floor, the workers almost entirely women. The cigar industry was important to early Traverse City in part because wages were so low that employers could make handsome profits.
13. Wilson’s Antiques building: Formerly Wilson’s Furniture. A fire destroyed the front of the building in 1955. The building featured a roller skating rink on the third floor at the turn of the 20th century, complete with a band that would provide music for the skaters.
Wilson’s Antiques, 2022
14. Post Office: Erected in 1937, its construction was funded by FDR’s “stimulus” money. Note the Art Deco features: the lamps on either side of the door, the eagle perched above.
Post office, 2016
Post office, 2016
15. Union Street dam: Built in 1867, the dam supplied power for Hannah & Lay’s flour mill (grist mill), an enterprise that lasted until 1926 when it was destroyed by fire.
Union Street Dam, 1875 (courtesy of Marty MacLeod)
Flour Mill, Union Street dam, early twentieth century
In the early days the dam had a chute for logs, and a wager was made about who could ride a log down the shoot and then stand up on it at the bottom. A former logger named John Bush took the wager, and, in front of 1200 townspeople perched on the trusses of the Union Street bridge, accomplished the feat in 1902. Another time he rode a log he, himself, carried to the Front Street bridge, keeping afloat until he reached the northern Union Street bridge. He was supposed to smoke a cigar the whole way, but the winds being too great, he was excused from that stipulation.
16. Old Bell Telephone building: Built 1927 in Art Deco style, it was designed by Wirt C. Rowland, the architect who designed the Guardian building in Detroit and Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor.
Bell Telephone building, 2016
17. At the corner of Cass and State Streets is the Old City Hall building. Before serving that purpose, it was the town post office. Designed by John Knox Taylor, Architect of the Treasury, the building was erected in 1904. Taylor was responsible for many post office plans across the United States.
Old post office, about 1920
Old City Hall building, 2022
18. The Old Fire Station: Built in 1886, this building served as a fire station until (approximately) 1975. Originally it had a tall bell tower to announce fires, but that was sacrificed when electronic sirens made their appearance. For a time the city had two teams of matched horses, one black and one white, which pulled the fire wagons through the streets. Steam engines pumped the water through the hoses before the advent of gasoline powered engines. Presently the building serves as condos available for rent through Airbnb.
Fire Station about 1900
Fire Station 1, 2022
19. Ladies Library: The Ladies Library was founded in 1869, occupying a large frame building on Front Street. It was one of many in Michigan. The only other state to feature Ladies Libraries is Vermont. Supported solely by the activities of its women members, the Ladies Library offered library services to both men and women until 1940.
Ladies’ Library building, 2022
20. The region of the city especially devoted to churches began at Central United Methodist on Cass Street and extended down Washington. In order, the churches in the district are the First Baptist, Presbyterian, Congregational, and Grace Episcopal. To preserve magnificent stone masonry, the Congregational and Presbyterian churches were preserved to form wings of the Robert P. Griffin Hall of Justice.
Central United Methodist church, as captured on an Orson W. Peck postcard (courtesy of Marty MacLeod)
Central United Methodist church, 2022
First Baptist church, 2016
The Congregational church cost between 25 and 32,000 dollars to build at the time, a sum greater than the cost of the Carnegie library on Sixth Street. The Congregationalists moved to a large building at the base of Old Mission peninsula in 1960. The Congregational Church forms the east wing of the Robert P. Griffin Hall of Justice and a former Presbyterian Church makes up the west wing.
Former Congregational Church, 2016
Presbyterian church (west end of the Court of Justice)
Postcard view of Congregational and Presbyterian churches
Across the street, Grace Episcopal was built in 1876. That building was moved by horse to this location in 1897. In 2005 parts of the original building were retained in enlarging the sanctuary—including some stained glass windows.
Grace Episcopal church, 2016
21. Beth El: Said to be the oldest synagogue still in service to its members since 1885. Land for the synagogue was donated by Perry Hannah, one of the town’s founders. The Jewish community in early Traverse City consisted of Russian Jews, some of whom escaped the tyranny (and conscription) of Czar Nicholas in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. One of them, Julius Steinberg, became important in the city, starting his own department store and building his own opera house.
Beth El, early twentieth century
22. Grand Traverse County Courthouse: Built in 1900, the courthouse was considered the center of the community. Famous speakers—like William Jennings Bryan–would come to speak on the courthouse steps. In 1984 it was saved from demolition by the actions concerned citizens. Now it is especially beloved for the tones of its bell tower, recently restored after many years of silence.
County Courthouse, 2016
23. Trail marking tree: The curious zigzag of the first branch has triggered speculation that this white oak served as a trail making tree before white settlement. In the 1890’s the tree was first photographed, that image showing it to be quite large, perhaps big enough to have been a sapling before white settlement. It is still unclear as to whether the configuration of the tree is manmade or natural. Another such tree exists on the Civic Center grounds, though its stem was bent horizontal close to the ground.
Trail marking tree, 1890’s
Trail marking tree, 2016
24. Park Place: Originally called the Campbell House, the Park Place was built in 1879. Perry Hannah purchased the hotel soon after that. The present building was erected in 1930, about the time Detroit and Chicago began to build much taller skyscrapers. The Park Place had one feature that made it their equal—a powerful beacon that could be seen from 25 miles away (or so it was reported). Traveling on a circular track around a central chimney, the light generated 2.5 million candlepower, more than the Palmolive Building in Chicago. Now it has only a weak beacon that is directed at the Bay. The Park Place is counted as a federally recognized lighthouse by the Coast Guard. Although it was razed in 2016, the Park Place Dome was revolutionary in its design and construction method. For many years, it served as home for the Cherry County Playhouse, a long-time summer stock venue.
Campbell House (early Park Place), nineteenth century
Park Place Hotel, 2022
Park Place Dome, 2016
In it's place...the new Park Place Hotel Conference Center
25. Home of Winton C. Hull: W.C. Hull was the son of Henry S. Hull, founder of the Oval Wood Dish Company, at one time the largest employer in the city. The factory was located near the present library at the north end of Boardman Lake, and manufactured oval wood dishes (used for butter, meats, and the like), clothespins, flooring, and other hardwood products. Designed in Ionian classical style, the home was built in 1908. That of his father is located across the street.
Winton C. Hull house, 2016
Henry S. Hull home, 2016
26. WTCM building: Traverse City got its first radio station (WTCM) in 1941. Founded by Les Biederman, it moved to this location which was constructed in 1949. The building showcases the dominant design of its day with its rounded corners and the use of glass bricks.
WTCM Building, 2022