Harbor Springs Area Historical Society wins major preservation award

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The 50-foot long, all-steel Aha is now on permanent display in Shay Park in Harbor Springs.
The 50-foot long, all-steel Aha is now on permanent display in Shay Park in Harbor Springs.

HARBOR SPRINGS — The Harbor Springs Area Historical Society’s Aha ship restoration project has won the 2022 Gem Award from the Michigan Historic Preservation Network.

Announced May 13 at the network’s awards presentation in Holly, the project was notable as a restoration of a historically significant structure or object.

“We were as pleased to win this prestigious award as we were proud to have accomplished such an ambitious restoration project,” said Kristyn Balog, executive director of the historical society.

“This project was a component of our current comprehensive fundraising campaign, which includes restoration of the 1892 Ephraim Shay House, preservation of the 1896 former county courthouse, now home to the Harbor Springs History Museum, and installation of exciting new interpretive exhibits.”

The ship Aha, a 50-foot steel watercraft, had been built in the 1890s by Ephraim Shay, the inventor of an innovative geared locomotive and resident of Harbor Springs. In his retirement, Shay operated machine and blacksmith shops, built a railroad line and constructed the city’s first waterworks.

More: A homecoming for the ‘Aha’

More: Historic ‘Aha’ ship to find new home in Shay Park

More: Harbor Springs Historical Society explores restoration of Ephraim Shay’s “Aha”

Long abandoned and washed up on the shore of Lake Michigan, the derelict Aha was restored beginning in 2019 in a partnership with the Industrial Arts Institute in Onaway, and placed in the city’s Shay Park in June 2021, where it is on permanent exhibit.

The vessel’s restoration followed the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation wherever possible. Though the boat could not be used for its original purpose, it was returned to the site of its creation and to a landscape directly connected to its builder.

Financially, the project was supported through in-kind services, individual contributions and grant funds. Local residents and civic leaders helped support the initiative from the beginning.

This article originally appeared on The Petoskey News-Review: Harbor Springs Area Historical Society wins major preservation award