Milan looks to restore old fire barn
The Ann Arbor News
By Pamela Appea
Milan, Michigan—The old, red brick Milan Fire Barn has served as the town prison, village office, public library, Jaycees headquarters and fire station. Many Milan community members, said Bonnie Jurgensen, president of the Milan Area Historical Society, have a father, uncle or grandfather who was a firefighter, or they recall meeting at the Fire Barn themselves.
When the City of Milan gave the Fire Barn to the Milan Area Historical Society in 1983, the community saw the building as a focal point for the city’s historic preservation efforts. But time had taken its toll.
Located at 153 E. Main St. in downtown Milan, the 112-year-old building in recent years had fallen into a state of disrepair, with damaged brick work and burst water pipes.
Currently the barn stands empty, save for the town’s antique 1938 red Ford fire truck.
But town residents are working to do something to make the building habitable for community use again.
Led by Jurgensen, the Milan Area Historical Society has been the driving force for the past four years to raise enough funds for a total restoration of the Fire Barn. The Old Milan Fire Barn Committee hopes to raise $236,000 to cover projected renovation costs.
A lifelong Milan resident, Jurgensen said the group has raised $60,000 for restoration so far. An architect who drew up a master restoration plan estimated total costs will top $200,000. So, committee members plan to raise the total amount—$236,000—by themselves.
The Fire Department did some construction work on the barn that ended up saving the group around $4,000-$5,000, Jurgensen said. But that amount, in addition to other donations, was still not nearly enough.
In the past year, board members started brainstorming for new ways to raise money, Board member Isabelle Schultz said.
Fund-raisers have not had much luck with corporations or larger grants, though.
“It’s been slow getting funding,” Jurgensen said.
The committee has planned a Saline Fiddler’s Philharmonic concert for January, and an all-town garage sale for May.
Barbara Gaines, a member of the Old Milan Fire Barn Restoration committee, said the group has started selling engraved bricks for the sidewalk near the building. The idea came from the success of similar brick pavers outside Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor and elsewhere.
So far, Gaines estimated half of the pavers have been bought in memory of someone who has died. Others have bought brick pavers—at $75 a piece—to celebrate the birth of a child or a wedding anniversary.
Jurgensen said she can’t imagine Milan without the Fire Barn. She said she hopes to see a time soon when people can begin using it again.
“It would leave a big void if it wasn’t there,” she said.
For information on the Milan Fire Barn, call Bonnie Jurgensen at (734) 439-7522.
Originally published Friday, November 26, 1999
Photo Caption One: The Milan Fire Barn, built in 1887, was at one time used as a fire station, a prison and a community meeting place. Milan citizens are trying to restore it and hope it will one day be the home of the Milan Chamber of Commerce.
Photo Caption Two: Birds find a resting place near the cupola of the old Milan Fire Barn.
Photo Credit: Leisa Thompson