By Betty Parsons
Miller Art Museum volunteers have the opportunity to collect and share stories from visitors. My favorite is about a twelve-year-old boy, who asked the volunteer to show him a master’s painting, his favorite being Rembrandt. The volunteer said she was sorry to disappoint him, but the museum didn’t have any Rembrandts. Before she could say anything else, he said, “Well then, a Van Gogh will do”. Who can’t love the enthusiasm and the value of art history education, as evidenced by this child?!
Our local classrooms visit the Miller, so one thinks about a restored granary and envisions classes touring it, as well as the Michigan Street Bridge, the waterfront, and the Maritime Museum.
History is all around us and presents itself in many ways. Our town and families include components of a variety of history. The more variety, the richer we are as individuals and community, and historic preservation is known to draw visitors.
The County and Sturgeon Bay market our museums, which collect and preserve objects of cultural importance for educational purposes. We are fortunate to have our Historic Third Avenue, Maritime Museum, Door County Historical Museum and Miller Art Museum. Remove these collections of the past and what are we left with? Surely, we are diminished.
After the coop buildings were removed and the granary remained, it became a principal part of the city’s first waterfront redevelopment plan.
Why then, has the granary become an object of controversy and fierce rejection? Why can’t an idea morph and move beyond its original plan? Across the US, projects have encountered twists and turns, and with each reiteration, what emerges has value and is often more meaningful than the initial vision.
We know the granary raze order can be reversed, and/or other options explored, however, City Council steps related to the granary have been confusing and contradictory. A partial list includes: 1. Information related to the raze order doesn’t meet state statutes for such an order, 2. The anticipated plan to allow an engineering survey of the granary was reversed, which means no structural analysis and plan can be developed, 3. There is an eagerness to enact the raze order, despite a pending ruling on the Ordinary High Water Mark, which will influence the future of private development, 4. The city never put the pledged $1.25 million dollars for the granary, which is a plan, on the council agenda, nor, when requested, did it allow the Sturgeon Bay Historical Society to put their plan on the agenda, 5. There has been contradictory information regarding what role the Waterfront Redevelopment Authority plays in having requested items put on an agenda, 6. The WI Department of Safety and Professional Services wants the city to have negotiations and to independently resolve this issue, but no opportunity has been provided for discussion,
In our community, we have a gentleman, George Evenson, who spent his career in agriculture and public service, and has given his time and talents to history and preservation. For Crossroads, he organized the moving and preservation of a church, school, grocery store and residential home. He was involved with the Belgian Heritage Center efforts and was president of the Door County Historical Museum for twenty-two years. At a Council meeting, he spoke passionately for historic preservation of the granary, and said, “It would represent the city’s strong agricultural roots, upon which our county was founded”. Additionally, the Visitor’s Bureau and the city’s Historic Preservation Committee are on record to save the granary.
I think of the distant future, fifty, one hundred years from now, when the past is really the past and hope our grandchildren have the opportunity to become familiar with county history through as much authenticity as possible. I understand not everyone is a history or preservation enthusiast. However, most of us would agree that retaining our heritage is a worthwhile goal, as it offers connection and continuity to our past.
Unfortunately, the West Side Development waterfront history is messy. My fervent wish is that each idea can be viewed objectively and on its own merits. Remove, gone forever. Save, possibilities remain. We know the granary can be restored. In fact, our Mayor stated such at a City Council meeting.
By its actions, the city administration seems determined to want to reject ideas by those who want to save our history, and this opens serious questions to their motivation.
I’m confident, if preserved at its current location, the granary would become a community icon and would be featured on the cover of a Door County magazine. I hold onto hope.