Renovated Ludington Legacy Plaza pays homage to origins
Nestled next to a clocktower, a closed down portion of James Street has served as Ludington's town square for more than 14 years.
Now, after a year of construction, it’s reopening as Ludington's Legacy Plaza.
The Ludington Downtown Development Authority has dreamt of a town square since the late 1980s.
It inched closer when the first block of James Street was closed to traffic more than a decade ago to create the James Street Plaza.
The street had already been turned into a one way and some parking years earlier.
But as the farmers market and other events were moved into the space, there were some issues.
“We started realizing how unusable it was in the condition it was, because it was just a road that we had closed,” says Downtown Development Director Heather Tykowski.
“So there was a lot of curbing in there– a lot of tripping hazards. Even though we tried to paint that area and make it visual that some of those hazards were there, it still wasn’t the best acceptable space for people to use.”
So, the DDA started figuring out what changes it would need to make the plaza better.
The project started with the idea for a farmers market pavilion and a place for the Christmas tree.
It quickly evolved into renovating the community bathrooms and upgrading the electrical systems for a stage.
“And then we started looking at the plaza, and it's like, if this is going to be a public gathering space, what else do we want to recognize?” says Tykowski.
“That's when the idea came forward of looking at the legacy and history of Ludington.”
The new plaza has several features that connect to Ludington's origins, including its indignous history.
The DDA worked with the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians to figure out what to include.
Upon entering the plaza, you are greeted by a three sided fireplace which represents the original tribes of the Mason County area.
“Odawa, Ojibwe, and Bodwayottomin, were known as the people of the three fires,” says tribal historian Jonnie Sam II. “It represented the three nations; the three entities that were in the Anishinabek community.”
Seven words in English and Anishinaabemowin are embedded in the concrete surrounding the fireplace.
“Love, honesty, bravery or courage, respect, humility, truth and wisdom were brought back [from the spirits] so that we have a grounding to live our lives by.”
The seven words represent the seven grandfather teachings.
“Truth is always telling the truth,” says Sam. “Using your bravery to tell the truth, even if it's not good for you to do so at that point. Those are the seven grandfather teachings that tribal life, along with the medicine wheel, is based around.”
Further inside the plaza, there is a brick mosaic of a compass rose to represent Ludington's maritime history. It includes the four colors that are sacred in native culture: yellow for east, red for south, black for west, and white for north.
Sam says the tribe's involvement in Ludington's Legacy plaza development was a good opportunity to include Anishinaabe culture.
“Somehow we alway get ‘yeah they were here first, and then we logged, and then these people settled and farmed.’ Well, we farmed. We hunted, fished, farmed, traded,” he says. “We had a full society...We would like to have people at least know: this is how it all began. This is who’s here, this is what starts it.”
And Ludington's lumbering history is also included.
DDA Director Heather Tykowski says they had some of the original lumber company stamps re-created.
“So that we could use them in concrete,” she says. “We’ve hidden the actual lumber stamps; three different designs throughout the back area of the plaza, so it can be a nice little scavenger hunt for the kids.”
The clocktower that has stood at the entrance for more than a decade has been moved to the other end of the plaza.
Even with all the completed changes, a couple items from the original plan for the plaza will be missing at the grand opening.
An entrance archway that was meant to look like the back of the SS Badger is still being fundraised for.
A clay tile apple tree mural is still being created with help from the general public. The mural is expected to be unveiled in the fall.
Overall, Tykowski hopes the new plaza will be a place for people to gather downtown – just like the original DDA hoped.
“The whole main street philosophy is to live, work, and play in your downtown to make a vibrant downtown, and this is one of those play elements.”
A grand opening for the newly renovated Ludington Legacy Plaza is taking place Thursday, July 1st at 3:00pm