When I signed up for the Heritage Hill Weekend Tour of Homes, I expected to learn about Grand Rapids history and home architecture, but what I took away from the experience was so much more! I witnessed community in action.
The annual home tour takes place the third weekend in May. It invites community members to visit select private residential homes as well as designated public buildings.
“More than 1300 homes dating back to 1843 stand within the boundaries of Heritage Hill, which is Michigan’s largest historical home district and the second largest in the country…Nearly every style of American architecture is represented,” stated Karen Coy, Heritage Hill Home Tour Committee Member.
With the help of more than 300 volunteers, this event raises funds for the Heritage Hill Home Association which was established in 1968. After World War II, many families struggled to maintain their homes and many houses were split into apartments. In the late 60’s the once most prestigious area of Grand Rapids had become so neglected the city proposed to demolish 75% of the neighborhood. Homeowners had their own plans; neighbors banded together to preserve the community and worked to have the area zoned as a historic district. The neighborhood was saved by a grass root community effort and today the pride of the community continues to be shared during the tours.
Residents offered their homes to be featured in the tour and volunteers helped tell the stories unique to each house. Former homeowners and neighbors toured to see the changes and preservations, teachers showed off their historic school and volunteers shared their passion of history, architecture and Grand Rapids. The pride and enthusiasm was inspiring and contagious!
The tour included a variety of elements to appeal to people of all interests. The history buff could enjoy learning about Grand Rapids political and economic history through the occupations and influence of the original home owners. While the artist could appreciate learning about the attention to detail, level of intentionality and the preserved period pieces and architecture. I walked the school halls of Betty (Bloomer) Ford and peaked into bedroom of Edmund Booth, founding editor of The Grand Rapids Press. I admired the work of many builders and architects including Frank Lloyd Wright.
Now, if your eyes begin to glaze over as you hear the words “Victorian architecture” or “history” don’t worry – this tour also offered engaging stories. These stories painted pictures of what life was like in the late 1800’s and 1900’s and how families interacted with each other. The tour highlighted how their homes reflected their social lives, quality of life and daily routines.
This tour was a unique way to experience the unique history of Grand Rapids but more importantly it showcased community pride. If you missed this annual event, mark your calendar for 2016. In the meantime, you can get a taste for the Heritage Home tour by visiting the Meyer May House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright or the Grand Rapids Public Museum for more West Michigan history or take a stroll around the neighborhood on a nice day.
Were you able to make it to the Heritage Hill Home Tour this year? What are some of your favorite homes or pieces or architecture in Grand Rapids?