Heritage Hill is a vital historic neighborhood a heartbeat from downtown Grand Rapids. Threatened with destruction by the city’s various urban renewal plans of the 1960’s, residents successfully fought to save their neighborhood. The result was a historic district the protects Michigan’s largest and finest concentration of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century houses. Nearly every style of American architecture from Greek Revival to Prairie is represented by the district’s 1300 buildings. At the turn of the century, these were the homes of lumber barons, teachers, judges and legislators who shaped our city’s future. This was the city’s most prestigious residential area.
Today Heritage Hill is a thriving community of 4,000+ households. Professionals, artisans and students; couples, singles and families; renters and homeowners; people of all colors, backgrounds and incomes have made these historic houses their homes. People are drawn to the area for the houses but also its location and proximity to Grand Rapids’ universities, entertainment and medical districts.
It’s the unique blend of these two elements – the people and the place – that make Heritage Hill a one-of-a-kind community.
Heritage Hill is a National, State and Local Historic District. It was recognized as one of This Old House Best Neighborhoods in 2011. The American Planning Association designated Heritage Hill as one of the Great Places in America in 2012.
The neighborhood has three organizations that influence its growth and development.
The Heritage Hill Association is an action oriented neighborhood organization involved in land use, crime prevention, housing, preservation/maintenance, block club organizing and other issues that affect day-to-day life on the Hill. The HHA office is open Monday – Thursday 9:00 am to 5:00 pm and is located at 126 College SE. Contact 459-8950 for assistance or information.
The Heritage Hill Foundation is more directly concerned with educating the public on the fine points of historic preservation. Contact is through the HHA office.
The Grand Rapids Historic Preservation Commission is a city appointed body that oversees and enforces the Historic Preservation Ordinance which governs exterior changes and repairs to Heritage Hill properties. Applications and approvals from this Commission are necessary before exterior changes and repairs can occur. Contact is through the Grand Rapids Planning Department at 1120 Monroe NW, 456-3451.
The groups work separately yet together toward the common goal of creating a stable, secure environment for Hill residents to live and work.
A Little History
The goal was obvious in 1968 when a group of 125 neighbors banded together to resist three threatening trends: urban renewal, “redlining” and speculative buying by developers. The Heritage Hill Association was formed and its first battle was to halt urban renewal projects that would have demolished 75% of the neighborhood. Residents worked diligently to have the neighborhood placed on the National Register of Historic Places and invoked national preservation legislation to stop the bulldozers. Not only did this save Heritage Hill, it set a precedent throughout the U.S. for historic preservation.
The success of this initial battle was just the beginning of many “firsts”. To make a long, impressive story short, all the landmarks in Heritage Hill are not houses – there are many on legal and neighborhood organization levels as well.
Preservation and improvement of the neighborhood is continuous. In 1988, the Heritage Hill Association conducted a neighborhood wide planning process that produced the Master Plan of Heritage Hill. This plan now guides the Association, residents, city officials, developers and others on issues affecting the neighborhood.
The Association’s annual activities include:
- Community organizing/assistance on land use; crime prevention; traffic and parking; housing and other quality of life issues.
- A bi-monthly newsletter; website and digital media.
- Free Home/Apartment Security Surveys
- Available Apartments and Houses for Sale Listing
- Communication bridges with adjacent institutions, schools, neighborhoods and other community resources
- Referrals of Craftspeople/Service providers
- Neighborhood clean-ups
- Tenant/Owner Rights and Responsibilities
For the many who are involved in these critical projects, the work and results are rewarding. But Heritage Hill residents don’t spend all their time working. They like having a good time, so there’s plenty of opportunity for having fun on the Hill:
- Heritage Hill Weekend Tour of Homes – Third Weekend in May
- Neighborhood Yard Sales Day in June
- Heritage Hill Garden Tour in July
- Neighborhood Wide Picnic in August
- Holiday Potluck and Annual Meeting in December
Get in on the action!
So be a part of the Hill, for a day, for a decade, for a lifetime. If you’re visiting, we welcome you. If you live here, you’re a member and we need you! If you’re an interested non-resident, call the Association office, 459-8950, we have a place for you!! Heritage Hill is people – preserving a piece of the past – working together for the future. MEMBERSHIP FORM