Manistee’s story has many pieces to the puzzle

When you talk about the story of Manistee, it all boils down to something like a big puzzle made up of lots of little pieces that all play a role in telling the story.

Manistee County is unique in how the citizens of this region enthusiastically embrace our history. This is evident with the many historic structures that have been preserved for present and future generations to enjoy.

This isn’t always the case in other cities where wrecking balls have basically destroyed most of their historical landmarks. They have been replaced by buildings that do not have the same charm and have a lifespan of a few decades instead of a century or more like ours.


What makes these structures so interesting is that they are a still living piece of our past before our eyes in 2022. Buildings from the past play a key role as they go to the heart and soul of a community , but they are just part of the puzzle.

For those like me who really enjoy local history, it goes beyond just bricks and mortar, but also includes the people who call Manistee their home. They used, and sometimes built, these buildings long before we came on the scene.

We don’t often think about this aspect of the role that everyone who lived here played in Manistee’s history until you visit one of our local cemeteries to see how many people are buried there. Looking at the virtual sea of ​​tombstones, it reminds us that each of them represents someone who was a living, breathing person who was part of this community and impacted in some way the Manistee we call home today.

It’s pretty amazing when you think about it. Some may have worked or lived in one of these historic structures or homes that exist to this day. But the one thing they all share is having their own unique story, be it a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter or a book to help make Manistee the community that exists now.

For some, it may have been as simple as being part of an image snapshot that captured them forever in front of one of these historic buildings.

Speaking of an “image”, this is what made me think in this direction for this column. A few weeks ago, Manistee County Historical Museum Executive Director Mark Fedder posted a photo with his weekly “From the Museum Archives” column in the News Advocate that really caught my eye.

It was a 1921 photograph of a Manistee Eastlake and Filer City streetcar passing on River Street. What made the photograph fascinating was that it was taken in front of the Manistee County Savings Bank (now PNC Bank). If anyone didn’t know better, they would have thought this photo was taken yesterday because the background looks exactly like it does today.

The photograph captured with great clarity the people aboard this tram. I started wondering who they were and what had drawn them to this place at this exact moment to be photographed? More importantly, what happened to them in their own little life story and did all of this happen in Manistee?

One of the many things I did before my retirement at the News Advocate was to process material that Mark Fedder contributed for his daily Looking Back column and his weekly museum page. Although the things he wrote were incredibly interesting, what always caught my attention were the photographs that accompanied the stories, as they provided a visual step back in time.

It really is displayed better than ever with the number of historic buildings we have in this area that still look exactly the same as they did over 100 years ago. Buildings like the Ramsdell Theatre, many churches, the Ramsdell Building, Downtown Manistee, City Hall, Briny Inn, Tippy Dam, Portage Point Inn, Elks Lodge and the Masonic Temple to name a few a few as well as countless private homes.

The fun part of these images was seeing these same structures looking like today 100 years ago in the background, but with a very different foreground. Instead of today’s cars, trucks, motorcycles and people, there were perhaps horse-drawn carriages, women in early 1900s long dresses, men in bowler hats, Model T cars, trams and more.

What caught my eye one day was a photo looking east from the corner of Maple and River streets in a 1908 photograph of a young boy on what would today be an incredible antique bicycle. He didn’t look more than 10 years old in this photo, which always made me wonder if he had lived his whole life here and what was his story regarding Manistee?

Something I’ll never know, but there it was captured forever in photography as part of Manistee’s forever story.

But what many of us never think about is that every community like Manistee has a living history that happens every day. Somehow you wonder if 100 years from now in the year 2122 someone will take a photo of one of us standing in front of a building that still exists and saying “Look this building still looks the same and I wonder what is the story of the people in this photo was all about?

All are pieces of Manistee’s ongoing historical puzzle that will continue to fall into place long after I see you again on Monday.

Ken Grabowski is the retired deputy editor of the Manistee News Advocate who spent 36 years in the newspaper business.

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