After the fire in downtown Holly, the community stands vigil in their historic city

Hundreds of Holly residents who tasted ice cream and the smell of smoke stood side by side near Battle Alley late Tuesday. Videos The post on social media shows residents watching billowing smoke in white smog, which hovered over the devastation caused by a wildfire in their historic city center. Ziggy’s, a local ice cream parlor, distributed free scoops as embraced by community members.

Their meeting was not planned, Holy Bridge, Michigan resident Katie Golden told Wednesday. Nothing was official. One by one, they were drawn to the same place, standing shoulder to shoulder with family, friends and neighbors as they tried to make up for what they had lost.

“People didn’t know what to do,” Golden said. “It seems the fire didn’t just happen to these buildings, but to us personally.”

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The fire started just before 4 p.m. Tuesday at Battle Alley Arcade Antiques, a storefront that’s been around by various names since the 1890s. Holly resident Josh Murphy, dubbed “Mayor of Battle Alley,” has been a Downtown Development Authority volunteer for the past two years as the Historic District Superintendent. He lives above the Battle Alley Coffee Co. He patrols the alley to make sure it’s still clean and safe.

When he noticed a small fire in the arcade at 3:54 p.m. Tuesday, he called 911 and ran to the local business, calling on staff and patrons to evacuate.

Then I climbed to the top of the roof [Holly Vault, a former bank that is now a wedding venue] Murphy said to Bridge. He said that when he watched the “lightning and thunder” of several electrical transformers flashing and then exploding loudly, “there was nothing we could do.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, several firefighters were taken to hospital with light injuries and heat exhaustion, but no civilian casualties were reported.

However, the Arcade Hotel, along with Andy’s Place Restaurant, the Holly Hotel and Moose Lodge were badly damaged. Each holds a special place in the hearts of those who live in Holly, due in part to the historical significance of the buildings themselves.

Holly Village was founded in 1838, and Holly Village in 1865, named after the sacred trees that flourished in the area. A fire in 1875 destroyed most of downtown’s wooden buildings, replacing them with brick frames as the city was rebuilt—many of these are still standing today and have been visited by US presidents, athletes, and celebrities for decades.

But after years of physical history erupting in smoke, Golden said, it was the memories residents left inside the buildings that led them to stand together on Tuesday night.

“People have been remembering and remembering why these buildings and this history that is now gone are so important to us,” said Golden, who has lived in Holly her whole life. “Everyone has their own unique stories to share and it looks like we’ve come together to do just that.”

Take Nicole Edwards Rankin, vice president of the Sacred Historical Society, for example. She has lived in Holly for six years and knows the history of Holly inside and out. She knows Tuesday’s fire is the fifth to have occurred in the same location – where the Holly Hotel is currently located. She knows that the city’s last major fire occurred in 1978, which means that this is the first time many residents have witnessed a fire in their hometown.

Along with the dates and facts, Edwards told Rankin-Bridge that her story is closely connected to the place.

“My husband and I had our first date at Andy Bliss,” she said. “Just 10 days ago, we went to the Holly Hotel for my birthday dinner as we used to do every year. I think we all relate to this part of our town.”

Both Golden and Edwards Rankin were at home when the fire started, but as the sun set, they, like many residents, headed downtown to stand as a witness.

“We have a small community – it’s my family,” said Edwards Rankin. “They are people I see every day. I think it is a common sadness. Everyone was watching in disbelief and I think we were still trying to understand what this means?”

Golden said that small moments, like eating ice cream with neighbors in the aftermath of a tragedy, may not seem important in the grand scheme of history. However, Golden said last night’s gathering is where locals started talks about rebuilding and how they can support the area they love.

This is what pushes history forward.

“Everyone wants to see this come back better than ever,” Golden said. “I’m not sure how quickly that will happen, but there are some very important events that have taken place in our community that I believe ‘The Fire of 2022’ and Battle Alley will be part of the fabric of Holly’s history forward.”

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