MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — An effort is underway in Muskegon to save a piece of the city’s history from the wrecking ball.

Built in 1869 by lumber Barron Charles Nelson, Nelson House was set to be torn down by its current owner, Muskegon Public Schools.

“It is one of the few remaining houses from the lumbering era that was owned by a lumber baron,” Muskegon City Planner Jamie Pesch said.

But the historic home has seen better days.

It’s been empty since the church next door, which used to own it, closed a few years back.

Now, the paint is peeling and the concrete is crumbling.

The Nelson Mansion in Muskegon. (March 16, 2023)
The Nelson House in Muskegon. (March 16, 2023)

But the ornate wood working and other features inside the home have convinced some at city hall that the old house has plenty of life left in her.

But time is running out.

The school district planned to bulldoze the home and others it owns on the block to make way for a future expansion.

“This house is currently not in an historic district, and therefore has no protections at the local level, there are no state or federal protections on in. And it could be demolished at any time,” Pesch said.

So the city has stepped in with a plan.

The city would take ownership, hire a house mover, and tow the house about three-tenths of a mile to a city-owned lot. There, it would join other homes in the city’s Houston Historic District, where it would be protected from the wrecking ball.

The city would then put the house up for sale.

“We would plan to write in some previsions that would require the proper repairs being made to allow for a certificate of occupancy,” Pesch said.

City commissioners have given the go ahead to staff to put together some numbers they can consider.

Pesch said the cost of moving the home is expected to be between $190,000 and $225,000.

The purchase costs probably won’t cover that expense, so the city is looking for grants and other funding sources.

Once sold, the property would return to the city tax rolls.

“It would be located in a local brownfield. It’s an increment finance district where the property taxes after the improvements made to the house are complete, would be funneled back into reimbursing the city for any losses that are associated with that move,” Pesch said.

So why save the old house?

The answer dates back over 50 years ago, when urban renewal programs included getting rid of places like Nelson House in the name of progress.

But much of a community’s history was lost with those programs.

“That was actually the impetus to form the historical district commissions in the city. It was a reaction to seeing so much history lost in the city is such a short time,” Pesch said.

The city hopes to have a deal in place by September, when the school district plans on tearing down other homes it owns on the block.