Port Huron lies at the foot of Lake Huron and the head of the St. Clair River. Though incorporated in 1857, the city began its actual commercial growth in the 1820s, as people spilled out from the Fort Gratiot Military Reservation along the Black River. Aided by the construction of a military road from Fort Gratiot to Fort Wayne, Port Huron's economy began to flourish, driven by the lumber and related shipbuilding industries. Ironically, the fires of 1871 and 1881 that ravaged the Thumb's lumber supply benefited Port Huron by forcing economic diversification.
Thus a commercial district developed along Military Street and Huron Avenue. The most notable buildings date from the late 1870s through the 1920s. Particularly impressive are the unusual designs by local architect George L. Harvey of Butterfield and Harvey, of which a fine example is the polychrome Romanesque Revival White's Art Hall (c. 1888) at 1102 Military Street, as well as several outstanding examples of classical styles ( SC4, SC10). Though much of Port Huron's commercial architecture has been hidden by incongruous alterations, numerous significant buildings remain, recalling the image of a young, energetic city.
The Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Development selected Port Huron in 2004 to participate in its Cool Cities Neighborhood Award program. The program offers the community access to grants, loans, and other resources for revitalization. Studio 1219, an arts center and incubator owned by the Downtown Development Authority and Community Foundation of St. Clair County in a renovated furniture store at 1219 Military Street, received special recognition in 2006.
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