ALBERTA — Efforts to preserve the sawmill and pumphouse building in Alberta are gaining momentum.
A group of citizens mobilized earlier this year in response to Michigan Technological University’s tentative plans to demolish the sawmill building and pumphouse. Tech is now working with the group to find ways to preserve the building and restore it as a working historic exhibit.
The citizens’ group now works as a subcommittee of the Baraga County Historical Society.
Michigan Tech provided strong support, said subcommittee member Wayne Abba. The Tech Forest Service provided an assessment of the condition of the sawmill done several years ago.
“It gives us a basis to determine what the priorities are and what needs to be done,” he said.
Mark Bevins, a subcommittee engineer, will review the site to provide an update to help form a master plan for restoration work.
Tech’s history department was also given the go-ahead to cooperate with the subcommittee, Abba said.
“They want to entrust students in their industrial archeology class with projects that would support the factory,” he said.
The sawmill was opened in 1936 as part of the planned community of Henry Ford in Alberta to provide a public demonstration of Ford’s logging operations.
It operated until 1954. Ford Motor Company funded renovations to turn the site into a museum, the Michigan Tech website said.
The museum remained open to the public from 1996 until it closed about five years ago. Tech’s website identified several safety issues, including electrical systems, walkways and lighting.
On Friday, the group met with the chairman of the council of the township of L’Anse to discuss the possibility of integrating the sawmill into the township system. The group plans to be placed on the agenda of a future city council meeting, Abba said.
Prior to that, the subcommittee has scheduled a conference call with Michigan’s State Historic Preservation Office, tentatively scheduled for mid-October. SHPO could give the sub-committee the options to designate the site as a historical monument. Members of the subcommittee could be joined by members of the historical society and Michigan Tech, Abba said.
“We don’t know exactly which is the best way forward, or what the criteria are for the different designations,” he said. “If it turns out that doing this in concert with a local township government is a good idea, then we can go from there.”
Help could also come from the Henry Ford Heritage Association, an 800-member group with ties to organizations such as the Ford Motor Company and the Ford Foundation. The group has taken an interest in preservation efforts, and its treasurer and chief operating officer plans to visit the Upper Peninsula to see the sawmill, Abba said.
“He’s been to UP before, but he’s never made a specific visit to a sawmill,” he said. “We are so excited to see where this affiliation could take us in the future.”
On Wednesday, the group hosted a lecture by historian Keith Whitman on Henry Ford’s developments in northern Michigan. Whitman also brought along a Ford fire truck he owns, designed in part by Henry Ford.
“The fire truck sat in Pequaming when the plant was open, and when Henry came to town he used it to entertain the kids,” says Abba. “He would take her to the store and buy them candy.”
About 140 people came to listen to the talk, which was held at the Whirl-I-Gig, a dance hall built in 1933 between L’Anse and Pequaming during their boom days as Ford lumber towns, Abba said. . Most of the participants, including Abba, had roots in the region dating back to Ford’s time. Many of them have spotted their parents or grandparents in historical photos presented by Whitman.
“For an audience to hear a historical presentation, it’s really great,” he said. “For me, this is a demonstration of the importance of preserving a sawmill.