ELK RAPIDS EAST AREA

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Boundary Description for the Historic Landscape:
The boundaries of this sub-area begin with the shores of Elk Lake/Elk River on the south, southeast and to some extent the southwest. The western boundary of this sub-area overlaps the industrial area to the west because of the undeveloped character of the subdivision that was planned
but never built. The northwest corner is vaguely overlapped with the commercial/industrial developments towards U.S. 31. The northeastern boundary is nominally the city limits but philosophically should also extend northeast along the old route of Cairn Highway (US 31) to Wandawood Resort and the 45th Parallel Cairn.
 
Period of Significance:
The period of significance begins with the initial platting of area subdivisions and related developments beginning in 1881 and ending in 1893. The main impetus for this development was the hiring of large numbers of workers for the Dexter and Noble Iron Company. The Nobles themselves were the principals in the creation of several of these plats, which contributed to the reality of their so-called “Dukedom.” The second phase of development built upon the community established by the three churches, the school and the social institution of the German picnic ground. This lasted until the iron company closed in 1914. The third phase for East Elk Rapids again built on the existing infrastructure but expanded along the state highway and included commercial as well as resort development along that route. This included changes at Rainbow Gardens, the development of Rainbow Lodge and furthers north, the development of Wandawood Resort and the 45th Parallel Cairn. The closing of the school and the failure of the various tourist enterprises, notably Rainbow Gardens, brought an end to this phase.

Later Development:
The development of the public school complex, which gradually ended agriculture in East Elk Rapids, represents a significant change of landscape character. This change of character is further affected by the expansion of the Catholic Church campus, the infill development of 1960's style tract housing in the plats, and the splitting off of lots along the shore of Elk Lake for lake-front housing (City Assessment roll). With the re-routing of US-31 away from Ames/Cairn streets, after 1954, the original commercial buildings changed to residential uses and the west end of Ames sprouted modern commercial buildings where there had been housing or undeveloped land.
 
General Recommendations:
Elk Rapids is one of, if not the, classic northern Lake Michigan community(s) to study and interpret with regard to its historical scenario in the settlement, development, and natural resource exploitation of the Lake Michigan basin, particularly between 1850 and 1915. The Elk Rapids story is not only one of local significance, it is a story with links to the social, cultural, and physical development of Chicago and the provision of a basic industrial metal, charcoal pig iron, to an overseas market. The history of this community is truly vibrant. The landscape of the East Elk Rapids community today, however, defies, to a large extent, imagining the landscape of the community at the turn of the 20th century or even to the mid 20th century.

Having said the above, however, much of the early landscape structure, the system of streets and land division, for example, are the same as when created in 1880 – 1890. The golf course remains much the same as when created in the early 1920’s. There remain a number of early buildings which continue to frame the historic landscape spaces, particularly along Ames St,/Cairn Highway. The Ames St./ Cairn Highway, Riverside Dr., Center, Brand, Charles/Henry streetscapes retain considerable historical landscape integrity. These landscape elements are worthy of recognition, protection, enhancement as appropriate, and exposure and interpretation. The issue, which looms largest regarding the East Elk Rapids historic landscape, is that of private ownership of all of the property other than the public street rights of way. The use of private property and to some extent the resultant landscape is regulated by the public through the Village Zoning Ordinance. The current ordinance, however, was not, and is not, designed to address the historic landscape of the area. There are other regulatory tools, in addition to a zoning ordinance, which potentially could be developed and put in place, such as the establishment of a local historic district under the enforcement authority of a local historic district. It is questionable; however, whether this is a possibility for the East Elk Rapids area under current Michigan Law and/or would be acceptable to the local community, particularly the property owners in the area. The greatest likelihood of implementing a cultural landscape plan for the area is one which relies on the private sector in partnership with the public sector acting to achieve the communities’ goals as articulated in the communities planning documents such as the Master Plan and Recreation Plan.