Michigan’s oldest African American neighborhoods to be documented thanks to grant

Ferry Street Historic District will join 2,000 other Nationally Registered places in Michigan

The Ferry Street School, built in 1867 to educate local African American children, continues to serve the neighborhood as the Ferry Street Resource Center today (Michigan State Historic Preservation Office)

NILES, Mich. – On Tuesday, an announcement was made that some of Michigan’s oldest African American neighborhoods will be documented.

A $50,000 grant administrated by the National Park Service from the Historic Preservation Fund’s Underrepresented Community Grant will allow a preservation consultant to complete a survey for the Ferry Street District in Niles. Along with the survey, the Ferry Street District will be nominated to be a part of the National Register of Historic Places.

“The Ferry Street area is rich in history and remains an active neighborhood with a church and resource center. The city’s Master Plan emphasizes history as a tool for revitalization,” said Niles History Director Christina H. Arseneau. “Documenting the untold stories here will contribute to pride of place for local residents and enhance placemaking efforts throughout the city of Niles.”

According to a press release, the Ferry Street District on the west side of Michigan was established around 1846. Michigan’s first African American Freemason Society lodge was founded in this neighborhood in 1857.

“There are endless American stories yet to be recognized on a national stage like the National Register of Historic Places,” states National Park Service Director Chuck Sams in a press release. ”The Underrepresented Community Grant program provides our state, Tribal, and Certified Local Government partners the means to identify and nominate their most significant places and stories for the benefit of all.”

The state acknowledges that many prominent African Americans lived in Niles -- from Lottie Wilson, the first African American graduate of the School of the Art Institue of Chicago, to activist and educator Isaac Burdine.